How One YouTube Creator Grew His Subscribers to 375,000+ in 4 Years


Hootsuite interviewed Hafu Go, a Canadian YouTuber who grew his YouTube audience from 0 to 375,000 subscribers in 4 years.

Hafu Guo standing in front of fence

Hafu gave us a super transparent look into how he gained his first 1,000 subscribers, his average retention rate, and why he thinks you shouldn’t waste time sharing your videos on other channels. Read on for the exact tactics and formulas he has used to earn millions of views on his videos.

1. Choose a single-topic channel

What’s one tactic that’s helped your channel grow the most?

The first thing was honing in on my channel focus. The best YouTube channels have a singular topic. That’s just the nature of YouTube’s algorithm, which promotes videos to people based on their watch history. If they’ve watched one video from your channel before, and your next video is the same type of video, YouTube will promote that video to them. But if it’s a different type of video, YouTube won’t promote it to them (even if they’re a subscriber).

person standing in front of blue sky with clouds

Here’s how you can pick your niche: Come up with all the things you’re interested in and make 10 different videos about them. Don’t expect these videos to get any views; it’s just for your own discovery. In the process of making the videos, you’ll discover if you enjoy making a cooking video better than a tech review video. So from there, you can pick a topic.

YOUR ACTION: When you’re first starting your channel, create 5-10 different types of videos to test which content resonates best with YouTube’s algorithm and which content you’ll enjoy creating long-term.

READ MORE: How the YouTube algorithm works in 2021

2. Research your video topics before filming

How do you come up with topics for successful videos?

Here’s an arbitrary formula for getting views:


Choosing the right topic probably has the biggest impact on views. There are a couple of strategies for choosing topics. For example, you can choose a topic based on SEO (search engine optimization). You can also choose a topic based on trends (for example, a 24-hour challenge). If you’re able to catch a trend at the very beginning, you can get lots of views. But if you chase trends, you need to be very fast. You need to get a video up on the first day of the trend.

meditation with monk

One trick is to look at the views-to-subscriber ratio. Let’s say there’s a YouTuber who has 100K subscribers who made a video with 2 million views. That’s a signal that the topic is interesting. On the other hand, if someone with 2 million subscribers makes a video with 100K views, that means the topic is not interesting. So, look for videos with a high views-to-subscriber ratio.

YOUR ACTION: When you come up with a potential idea, search the idea on YouTube first. Look for the top video for that topic and then see how many videos there are. Ideally, you want to find a topic where the top video has high views, but with only a few videos on the topic. Then your video will have a better chance at getting views.

If you’re creating videos for trends and SEO, make sure to optimize your video descriptions.

READ MORE: 17 tips for writing YouTube descriptions

How can new YouTubers with no subscribers get views?

On YouTube, you can get views from search traffic and browse feature traffic. Search traffic is when people search for keywords on Google or YouTube and find your video from that search. Browse feature traffic is when a user is scrolling on their homepage or app and starts watching your video.

When you’re just starting and don’t have strong videography skills, making content for search is a good strategy because it doesn’t rely on your video quality. You can still get views even if your video is subpar because people are searching and interested in the topic. Once you’re good at making videos and you can make high click-through rate, high-retention videos, then you should go for a browse strategy. This will help you get more views and reach a wider audience because you’re not limited by search terms.

on campus with Hafu Guo

When I was first starting on YouTube, I went on exchange to one of the best universities in China called Tsinghua University. Before I left I searched YouTube for vlogs about the school but couldn’t find any good ones. So when I went there, I started creating content about the school, my experiences there, and what exchange students should know. That’s how I got my first 1,000 subscribers.

3. Optimize for click-through rate

How do you optimize your videos based on click-through rate?

Click-through rate is dictated by two things: the title and the thumbnail.

For your video titles, make them 50 characters or less. And always make it clearly state what’s going to be in the video. That’s the best practice right now—not using clickbait titles.

You can also test titles in everyday conversation. For example, tell your friends that you’re making a video about a topic and see if they say, “ah, cool” or if they say, “oh, I want to watch that”. Do this test with a couple of different titles with different people and use the one that gains the best reactions from your friends.

With thumbnails, keep them simple. A rule that you should follow is to limit your thumbnail to three main objects. So if it’s a travel video, the objects could be you, the place behind you, and some text or a graphic pointing out something.

Day 1 YouTube Challenge

Should the title of the video be in the thumbnail?

Never repeat information in the title and thumbnail because the audience always sees them together. So you don’t need to re-type your title in the thumbnail. They should complement each other, not repeat each other.

YOUR ACTION: Keep video titles short and sweet (<50 characters) and make them clearly describe the content in the video (no clickbait titles). Limit video thumbnails to three objects, such as a person, location, and a title or graphic.

READ MORE: The complete guide to YouTube marketing

4. Constantly analyze and improve your video metrics

How do you measure the quality of your videos?

YouTube is great because it gives you a lot of data. One of the data points is audience retention, which is the percentage of your video that the average viewer watched. If a 10-minute video has a 50% retention rate, that means all viewers watched five minutes on average.

Learning how to create a high-retaining video is one of the hardest things about being a successful YouTuber. Even the top YouTubers are always analyzing their retention graphs to see how they can improve.

Many things go into improving retention, like storytelling, sound effects, and graphics. One important factor is your intro. The first ten seconds should clearly state what you’re doing in the video and why people should watch the rest.

Note that a 50% retention rate is really good. 40% is average, 60% is what the top YouTubers are getting, so you should aim for 50% retention.

practising yoga with a monk in Vancouver

What’s more important: subscribers or views?

I think subscribers are a pretty useless metric now. Just because someone subscribes to you, does not mean your videos will be promoted to them. That’s how YouTube worked six years ago. Now, subscribers might have a slightly higher chance of getting your video promoted to them, so I think it’s more important to focus on views. People subscribe naturally to channels with consistently good content.

YOUR ACTION: After publishing your videos, pay close attention to your retention rate. Aim for a 50% retention rate, and take notes from your highest-retention videos to implement in future videos.

READ MORE: How to use YouTube analytics to grow your channel

5. Focus on video quality over cross-promotion

What’s a common mistake that YouTubers make?

What you should not do is spend time driving traffic to YouTube from other channels. That time is better spent making a better thumbnail or coming up with a better idea, because if your video is good enough, YouTube will eventually find the right audience and promote the video for you. Put otherwise, even if you drive traffic to YouTube and your video sucks, it’s just pointless.

The traffic you can get from Facebook and Instagram is so insignificant compared to if you spent that time making a better video. Especially for those who don’t have a large audience, if you spend an hour creating an additional video to get 1,000 impressions with a 2% click-through rate, that’s 20 views for an hour of your time. Instead, spend that time making a better thumbnail and you’ll get way more than 20 views.

YOUR ACTION: When it comes to growing your channel, focus your time on the YouTube platform and your content itself. In addition to that, here are 15 more tips on how to get YouTube subscribers.

6. Prioritize good sound over a fancy camera

What’s your tech setup?

I use very expensive equipment. Currently, I shoot on a Sony a7S iii. But I don’t think the camera is important when you’re getting started. I started with a used Canon t3 that I bought off Craigslist for $300. Once I found I liked making videos, I upgraded to the Canon t5i which I used to go from zero to 1,000+ subscribers. As you get more into YouTube, you can invest in whatever fits your financial needs.

What about sound and editing?

Sound is really important. You can have “bad” video quality (shot on a phone camera), but you should have good sound. There are two microphones worth investing in: a Rode shotgun mic, which is good for vlogging, and a wireless lavalier microphone, especially if you’ll be talking in front of the camera.

YOUR ACTION: Many new iPhones and Samsung models have excellent video quality (even better than many entry-level DSLR cameras). To maximize sound quality, attach an external microphone to your phone.

7. Go beyond your comfort zone

What’s your one top tip for aspiring YouTubers?

When you feel like giving up, don’t! Go beyond and keep making videos. In the beginning, I took huge breaks between uploads because I felt like I wasn’t getting views proportionate to the amount of effort I was putting in. What I eventually learned is that you’ll get views when your video is good enough. The YouTube algorithm knows what a good video is. So, keep making videos and eventually, one of your videos will pick up and that will start your whole career.

YOUR ACTION: Be patient! It might take 2-3 months for YouTube to find the right audience for your type of videos. Once that happens, all your other videos will start getting more views. Focusing your content around a singular topic will help the YouTube algorithm find your audience faster.

READ MORE: How to Get More Views on YouTube

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With files from Hafu Go.

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