How to Leverage YouTube Advertising for Your Direct Response Campaign

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Liron Katzav
Liron Katzav


While brand advertising on YouTube has been around for a while now, adopting the platform for direct response B2B advertising is relatively new.

Unlike branding, direct response focuses on compelling people to take immediate action after watching an ad. This action can be a site visit, sign-up, download, or purchase, which an advertiser can then track and measure.

Google has recently shown an increasing interest in expanding YouTube's offerings for performance advertisers with TrueView for Action — a powerful campaign type that helps drive leads and conversions.

So it's an ideal time to capitalize on a social platform that's currently less competitive, slightly more affordable, and has a goldmine of nearly 2 billion monthly engaged users ready to take action. Here, let's explore how to leverage YouTube for your next direct response campaign.

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How to Create Effective Video Ad Creatives

Many advertisers perceive the video production process to be both intimidating and costly. And it can be, but it certainly doesn't have to be.

Yes, YouTube requires specifically tailored video creatives, and that does require some money, time, and effort. But, for direct response, having an effective video ad is less about making sure you have polished video creatives. Instead, it's more about having the right messaging strategy that will make people want to watch your ad and take action.

You only have a few seconds to grab the viewer's attention before they have the option to skip your video ad — that's it. Investing in an overly expensive production crew to produce perfectly polished videos isn't going to be enough to captivate your audience.

That's why you should focus on developing and testing the right messaging to help you with your KPIs, rather than worry about fixing bad white balance or low-quality audio.

Develop the Right Messaging

What exactly is the right messaging, though? It really depends on your audience. Before you start trying to write the perfect script, it's important to determine who your target audience is and how to tailor your message to them.

Relevant messaging is incredibly important because a viewer's first instinct is to skip an ad so they can continue to the video they intended to watch. You need to grab the viewer's attention in the first few seconds while also making sure that they're a relevant audience for your product.

This means, don't use clickbait tactics. Why? Because it's expensive. You pay when someone watches your ad beyond 30 seconds, watches until the end of the ad if it happens to be shorter than 30 seconds, or clicks the ad. So if you get a lot of people watching the full ad without any interest in your product, it could end up costing you a lot while offering you very little in return.

At the same time, you also don't want to "leave the best for last." It's not a TV commercial with a build-up to an eventual climax that ends with a big reveal. YouTube ads are different.

As soon as the skip button appears, viewers begin skipping, and the number of people "dropping off" continues to increase the longer the ad runs. You want to make sure the relevant ones stick around, so it's critical to lead with a captivating message so they keep watching.

A good approach is to lead with a specific problem or pain point that your product or service solves. Then, follow that up with why your product or service is the solution, and show them how it solves that problem or pain point.

You need to do it in such a way that's either interesting or entertaining, and aligned with your brand personality — that's where your team's talent comes in.

Let's take a look at examples of brands that get it right.

For instance, this video ad begins with a woman in an office talking about a major pain point for managers, which is "managing a team." Then she shares that even though managing a team is hard, makes it easy.

If the viewer is interested in learning more, the ad continues on with what is and how the work OS solves this major pain point for managers.

Nectar mattress is another brand that uses a similar strategy in its direct response ads. It begins with a voice-over, "Hello there, are you sleeping on a Nectar mattress, or are you sleeping on a piece of garbage?"

In this case, the ad immediately follows this statement with what happens to your brain when you don't get enough sleep, supported by scientific facts. If the viewer sticks around to watch the ad long enough, they're told they can try the mattress out before they make a purchase, and so on.

Once you're ready to start putting your ad's script together, think about what you want the viewer to take away. Make sure you don't over-do it. If you have a lot to communicate, don't try to fit it all in the first few seconds, or even in a single video ad. If you push too much information out all at once, you risk drowning the main message and confusing the viewer. And that's something you don't want.

Starting with TrueView for Action

There are a few campaign types offered on YouTube, but for someone just getting started with direct response, TrueView for Action is a good place to start.

TrueView for Action pre-selects the ad type format to skippable in-stream. This means the ad is unskippable for five seconds before a "skip" button appears, allowing the viewer to continue to the video they were about to watch.

There is no maximum length for your ad, so it's totally up to you, but there's a minimum length of 12 seconds. The goal is to create a video ad that's captivating enough to keep the viewer interested in watching beyond the first five seconds.

The big advantage of using TrueView for Action is the clickable assets and the smart bidding strategies that help support your ad creative. Let's dive into those features next.

Clickable Assets

The clickable assets consist of a CTA overlay, companion banner, and an end screen that each has a customizable headline and customizable CTA button. These assets are designed to drive clicks, making them great for direct response.

CTA Overlay

The CTA overlay appears as an interactive asset over your ad for 15 seconds at the bottom left-hand corner before it collapses into a thumbnail image of your company logo.

Companion Banner

The companion banner is available with other in-stream ad formats, but the difference here is that it sticks around even after your video ad ends. It accompanies the viewer as they continue onto the video they intended to watch and will remain visible until another companion banner takes its place.

These banners work best when you can tie it back to your video ad through similar visuals or messaging. That way, if the viewer happens to notice it two videos later, they'll easily recognize it's connected to your video ad.

End Screen

The end screen is a single screen that appears when a viewer reaches the end of the video ad with a headline and CTA. It also includes your company logo, which is taken directly from your YouTube channel.

Later on, you might want to consider using other campaign types. For example, if your initial campaign has been running for a while and you want to remarket to viewers who've already seen the ads, you can add bumper ads. These ads are only six seconds, non-skippable, and use cost-per-mille (CPM) bidding rather than CPV or Target CPA.

Smart Bidding Options

With TrueView for Action, two smart bidding options use machine learning and conversion data to optimize results to your KPIs. They are Maximize Conversions and Target CPA.

Deciding between these two options depends on timing, advertising needs, and business goals.

Maximize Conversions Bidding

Maximize Conversions bidding strategy focuses on helping you get as many conversions as possible using the entire daily budget you've set for the campaign.

Google Ads recently expanded this bidding strategy to TrueView for Action, so you may be familiar with it from Google Search and Google Display.

Maximize Conversions is a great way to help ramp-up new campaigns and drive action. It optimizes ads for the most relevant audience based on how likely they are to convert without limiting delivery until its accumulated enough data.

After running with this bidding strategy from anywhere between a few days to one week, you should see the cost-per-action (CPA) stabilizing. This means the machine learning algorithm has already implemented the learning it acquired from those initial conversions.

It's at this stage where you can decide if you want to switch to Target CPA.

Target CPA Bidding

This bidding strategy focuses on helping you get as many conversions as possible, at or below the Target CPA you've set. In most cases, it makes sense to use this as your long-term bidding strategy since it spends your budget more efficiently than Maximize Conversion.

A case where you may want to start with Target CPA from the beginning is when traffic from the new campaigns is expected to be similar to campaigns in the account that are already using this bidding strategy.

Targeting Relevant Audiences

One of the greatest benefits of using YouTube for direct response is its advanced and wide-ranged targeting capabilities. Some may be familiar to you from other channels, while others will be completely new and unique to YouTube.

As with bidding options, choosing the right target audiences will depend on your product, your funnel, and your goals.

Targeting Based on Viewer Interests and Characteristics

YouTube campaigns tap into Google's wealth of search and browsing history data. This is primarily the reason why YouTube's targeting capabilities are so strong.

If you've been advertising on other channels, you're likely familiar with a lot of the targeting options available within YouTube, such as demographics, similar audiences, and in-market audiences.

What's worth mentioning are the audience categories you may not necessarily be familiar with that can boost your targeting strategy.

Custom Intent Audiences

Custom Intent audiences on YouTube are not the same as in Display. With custom intent on YouTube, you can target viewers based on their recent search activity on Google. If you already have active Search campaigns, you can leverage your existing keyword knowledge to create custom intent audiences using those keywords.

One of the biggest advantages with Custom Intent on YouTube is that you can use it as a workaround for highly competitive keywords or keywords with low-quality scores in Search. This allows you to reach your target audience on YouTube without the high CPCs in Search. So if, for example, you know what your target audience is searching for but your product is not the direct answer to it, you're still able to reach a very relevant audience.

Keep in mind that, unlike Search, you are unable to define match types or exclude keywords or phrases, so you should choose keywords that could work in broad match type, or without exclusions.

Life Events

Life Events is relatively new and allows you to target viewers based on key milestones in a person's life, including graduation, marriage, first home purchase, and so on. All of these major life events can be related to purchasing decisions.

The targeting criteria is segmented into two: before, and after, the specific life event — so "getting married soon" and "recently got married" would be examples of these two segments. With this segmentation, you are able to specify your targeting according to what is relevant to your product.

If you can tie your product to a key milestone, Life Events is a more comprehensive targeting option that goes beyond just targeting the specific keywords that people are likely searching for around that time.

Video Re-marketing

As the name suggests, this type of re-marketing is specific to Youtube and allows you to target viewers based on their past interactions with your videos or YouTube channel.

For example, if you have a lot of channel subscribers, you can use this option to target them with your ad. Since they've already shown interest in your product or content, they make a high-potential target audience.

Targeting Based on Video Content

Rather than targeting based on personal characteristics or interests, you can target viewers based on the content of the video they intended to watch. That means you decide on the placement of your ad.

If you're not targeting based on the video content, then your ads will appear on various videos automatically, regardless of whether the video content relates to your ad.

Keep in mind that you can use both types of targeting, but you may find yourself with a tiny audience since those with specific characteristics or interests who also happen to be watching a particular video is extremely accurate.

There are two ways you can approach placements: Managed and Automatic.

Managed Placements

This is a more manual placement option, meaning you need to research and handpick specific monetized YouTube videos or channels you want your ad to appear on.

While finding managed placements can be a tedious process, the placements are likely extremely accurate and therefore more likely to bring better results.

There are also external tools out there to help make this process a bit less manual, so it's definitely worth testing.


Targeting by Topics is similar to Google Display campaigns since the category options are the same. YouTube videos are assigned a specific topic based on what the video is about, making it easier for you as an advertiser to target.

It is a much more scalable option compared to managed placements since you select topics rather than specific videos, and there are many sub-categories that help you narrow down the selection to get a more accurate result.

Understanding Your Campaign's Impact Beyond Clicks

There are several ways to determine if your video campaigns are effective.

Viewers interested in your product or service will see your video ad and then typically take action through the clickable assets to reach your website, and hopefully continue through the funnel and eventually convert. For those who track campaigns on other channels, tracking click-through is standard and straightforward.

But there's actually another way viewers can and do take action, and it's not necessary during or directly after they've watched your ad.

If your ad left an impression, these viewers may type your brand name into their browser, click the paid brand ad or an organic search result, visit your website, and start moving through the funnel — all of which can be attributed to the YouTube ad they watched.

They may not even remember your brand name, but decide to search for the relevant product or service in hopes of finding you.

These impression-based viewers are critical to track and measure because they went the extra mile to get to your site, which is a good indication that they're higher quality than someone who clicked on your ad.

The problem is, while important, they can be challenging to track.

One of the best ways to measure is to invest in an impression tracker like DoubleClick Campaign Manager and integrate it with your business intelligence software. If you're able to do this, you can identify at the user-level those viewers who got to your site after seeing your YouTube ad.

If you're not ready to invest in an impression tracker or if it isn't relevant right now, you should consider using proxies to understand the full impact of your video ads.


Proxies indicate a noticeable change in metrics from other data segments that exist in your BI software.

There are, of course, many proxies you can explore, but two easy ones to start with are geographic splitting and testing and brand searches.

Geographic Splitting and Testing

If you don't have many user acquisition traffic sources and your traffic is relatively stable, then you should be able to see a lift in site visits that are unattributed to paid sources or attributed to paid brand campaigns. These additional site visits could then be attributed to your YouTube direct response campaign.

If you have multiple user acquisition sources, a simple way to isolate the impact of direct response on YouTube would be to target your ads to specific geographic locations. Then you can compare any lift in traffic there to other geographic areas where you didn't run YouTube direct response, and attribute the gap to your YouTube campaigns.

For example, if your traffic from New York and Chicago typically behave the same and, after launching a campaign only targeting New York, you see a clear lift in site visits compared to Chicago, then you can attribute those extra site visits to your direct response campaign.

Increase in brand searches

Similarly, you might see an increase in brand term searches parallel to running direct response YouTube campaigns, either through your paid brand Search campaigns or other traffic sources. You can also then attribute that lift in site visits to your YouTube direct response campaign.

What To Expect Down The Road

YouTube is regularly coming out with new features and targeting capabilities. It's important to stay in the loop so you don't miss out on any changes that may affect your campaigns or new opportunities these features can open.

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