Why Doing Sub-for-Sub Promotion is Harmful for Your YouTube Channel

sub-for-sub is a bad idea

This is the perfect tactic for destroying your channel:

Today I found a forum thread that was 5 years old, and it started like this:

“Hey Guys I opened a Discord where you can join to grow your YouTube channel fast. Every time you upload a video link it to the community, and all will like, view, and comment. Also, you will do the same because the more likes, views, and comments, the more chance your video will get in the first pages, so join us to grow, and get more and more Subscribers. Join Now!”


Alright, alright. This one isn’t as bad as the sub-for-sub comments that I read in every YouTube video that teaches about growing a channel. Those are the ones that truly make me cringe.

people asking sub-for-sub collaborations

But going back to the forum post, do you know what’s sad about it? The people that answered this call actually thought that it was a good idea.

They’d reply things like: “What an awesome idea… here’s the link to my channel.”, “Great idea! Mine is…”

Since I love studying what works for YouTube growth, I went ahead and took a look at each of those channels.

I created a Google Sheet and started inputting the numbers to see how many subs they had after almost 5 years.

Here are the numbers:

  • 36% had less than 100 subs
  • 73% had less than 1000 subs (I’m including those with less than 100 here as well)
  • 1 of them had 19,000 subscribers

Remember, this is after 5 years.

I did notice something very interesting about the ones above 1,000. They were the only ones doing actually good things:

  1. They all had their own designed thumbnails (some could be better, but they were overall pretty ok)
  2. They were publishing constantly (even as of today)
  3. They had valuable content focused on one single niche.

This is what actually works, not doing sub-for-subs. They didn’t need this “tactic” from the beginning.

And even worse:

Doing so can hurt your growth in the long run.

Let me show you why.

Unauthentic viewers will bounce off your videos and hurt your rankings

The YouTube algorithm—that mysterious entity that most new YouTubers love to hate—will promote your channel only if people watch it for a decent amount of time.

If people tend to start watching your video and then bounce off immediately, the algorithm is going to take it as a signal that your video is doo doo.

1-minute average view duration means people are leaving your channel too soon

And what do you think is going to happen when all of your subs bounce off each of your videos in the first 5 seconds—which is what’s going to happen if all your subs are fake—?

Yeah, your channel is going to get buried 6 feet under the rest that are creating good content.

I believe the person who started this forum thread had good intentions, but for it to work, you need people to watch your videos thoroughly.

This is extremely unlikely to happen unless your content is good in the first place, and the people coming to your channel are interested in it.

What’s likely to happen if you have a lot of subscribers who are only there because you subbed to their channel, is that they’re going to open your video, leave a random comment that doesn’t add any value, hit like, and instantly leave.

Nobody is going to stay watching a video just to help YOU.

This will happen for a while, and then they will end up ignoring your channel completely.

And the number of benefits harvested from all this will be a big rounded zero.

You’re setting up yourself for failure

If you keep doing the same thing over and over hoping for better results, you’re bananas. Don’t believe me? That’s exactly what Einstein said! (well, not EXACTLY that, but you get the point).

You’re already giving yourself a huge handicap if you keep promoting your channel this way.

As I said before, your engagement signals will be pretty bad and the algorithm will bury your channel pretty fast.

It’s not a coincidence that the first metric that you see when you enter your channel’s analytics tool is Watch Time.

The Watch Time inverted pyramid shows what the ultimate goal is

This is the single most important metric that will make your channel get promoted to thousands of people or more for free.

If you have a lot of watch time, YouTube will start recommending your new videos to more and more people.

YouTube—and everyone—could give a crap about your sub count if you can’t get viewers to watch a lot of your content.

I know some YouTubers with over 100k subscribers who struggle to get more than 1,000 views per video.

The algorithm started recommending her videos less and less. This is a horror story without explanation from YouTube and the reason why you should take your subscribers elsewhere.

How do you think they’re doing in terms of revenue?

Pretty terrible for a 100k+ sub count. They can’t go full-time on YouTube because of it.

This is why your main focus should be Views and Watch Time.

Subs-for-subs are going to give you a bunch of new subscribers that won’t watch your videos, and will not accumulate watch time—and you also need 4k HOURS of watch time to be able to put ads and earn money through your videos.

They’re literally just a number on a screen.

Nothing more.

You’re starting your channel with the wrong focus

Your channel is not entirely about you and how big the number in the red button is. It is 80% about your viewers, and 20% about what you want to do.

It’s not about having a higher number and ego. Your main focus for your channel should be getting people who WANT to watch more of your stuff.

For that to happen, you have to provide true value to your audience. You need to do things that people care about.

The kind of value that gets you comments like this:

Increasing your sub count with fake numbers doesn’t do you any good, and nobody else besides you cares.

Do you want real people talking to you and sharing your stuff? Do you want to make their lives better, and happier and influence them? Do you want to have a voice, build a real business, or a side income that can change your life?

Or do you want a number on a screen?

If you’re concerned that your sub count is too low and people will think twice before subscribing to you because of it—I used to worry about this—, then just hide your subscriber count.

There’s an option for that in your channel’s settings:

You’re starting your channel not only because you love making videos and the attention you can get, but also because you can make other lives better in some way.

So worrying about a sub count is not what you should be focusing on.

Change the focus to your viewers. Understand them and do stuff that they want to see.

The first step to becoming successful on YouTube is throwing your ego away and focusing on everyone else.

What to do instead

Your number one priority as a YouTuber and any kind of content creator: providing top-quality content.

Also, remember that you’re working with a search engine. The way that you’re going to get the most views will be thanks to the people searching on YouTube for new content.

Sharing your videos on social media is not going to be too effective unless you have content that can go viral easily.

The truth is that nobody can constantly publish content that is going to go viral. Youtubers who grow fast are masters at finding what content is going to be interesting for the audience already lurking on YouTube.

I shouldn’t tell you to stop promoting your channel, but you shouldn’t make it your number 1 priority.

Instead, focus on posting content that is discoverable on its own on YouTube.

By discoverable, I mean making videos about things that people are searching for on YouTube or Google.

The following types of content are discoverable:

  • Tutorials: “Ultimate SolidWorks Tutorial for Absolute Beginners- Step-By-Step Part ONE”
  • How-tos: “How To Fall Asleep In 2 Minutes”
  • Top lists: “TOP 5 Elegant Summer Shoes That You Can Walk In (NOT Sneakers!)”
  • Product and services reviews: “Best Cameras for Photography in 2019”

If you’re truly being helpful, more people are going to come to your channel and stay:

Does your content look helpful or valuable?

This works 1000x better than going around telling people to sub to your channel or watch your video.

The more helpful content you create, the more people are going to watch your videos and subscribe.

I wouldn’t recommend making all your videos about pure entertainment value.

It’s really hard to get new viewers this way when you’re starting. This is when promoting your video—the right way— is more helpful.

But I’d still recommend that you also make discoverable content.

If you only make content for entertainment purposes, you’re essentially competing with other entertainment services—Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, movies, and video series.

You don’t want to compete with Netflix unless you’re truly making something unique and original.

The most secure way to grow a YouTube channel is by doing something that people can only find there: useful videos, interaction, engaging, and creating a community.

Now that’s something Netflix can’t compete with.

The right ways to promote your channel

Doing anything of this will be much better than a sub-for-sub:

  • Use tags that are related to the subject of your video
  • Leave meaningful comments on other channels so they start recognizing you. After a while interacting, send them an email and ask them if they’d like to collaborate.
  • Make your titles evoke curiosity and deliver the content you promised
  • Make your thumbnails attractive
  • Go to forums or Reddit with people interested in solving a problem and help them—link to your videos there occasionally

No, I didn’t forget to put sharing on social media here. Don’t waste your time doing that. No one exploded on YouTube because they pressed the “share” button.

Now, it’s your turn!

Have you ever done sub-for-subs? What are other ways of promoting your content that you like doing? Comment below