20 YouTube Tricks, Hacks, and Features You'll Want to Know About
1. You can turn any YouTube video into a GIF using the URL.
Everyone loves GIFs, but knowing how to make them isn't common knowledge. Well, it should be, because all it takes is a little YouTube URL trick.
To create a GIF from a YouTube video: Select a video to watch on YouTube and find the URL at the top of your browser. Add the word "gif" right before the domain name so it reads, "www.gifyoutube.com/[your-video-tag]."
This will bring you to gifs.com, with your video already uploaded and ready for editing. Here, you'll find a menu of options to the left-hand side with a timeline bar along the bottom of your video. You can set the GIF duration, crop its frame, add captions, and more.
Click "Create GIF" on the top-right and it'll prompt you for a GIF title and set of tags. Then click "Next," and you have a handy landing page from which to share your newly minted GIF. Keep in mind you can only download this GIF to an offline file by signing up with gifs.com.
2. You can create a link that starts a YouTube video at a certain time.
Ever wanted to send someone a YouTube video, but point them to a specific moment? Let's say you're trying to recruit your friends to learn the dance in Justin Bieber's "Sorry" music video with you.
Instead of sending your friends the general YouTube link and instructing them to fast-forward to the 0:50 minute mark, you can actually send them a specific YouTube time link that starts the video at whichever time you choose. Click here to see what I mean.
Alright, here's how to do it:
To create a link that starts a YouTube video at a certain time: Open up the video and click "Share" to the far right of the video title. Then, in the window of options that appears, check the box next to "Start at:" and type in the time (in hours:minutes:seconds) you want. Alternatively, you can pause the video at the time you want it to start and that field will autofill.
After a few moments, you'll see a tag add itself to the end of the generic YouTube link (in this case, ?t=50s). Simply copy that link and paste it wherever you'd like.
It's worth noting that you can't embed a video so it starts at a certain time; you can't only link to it.
3. You can easily see the written transcripts of people's videos.
Did you know YouTube automatically generates a written transcript for every single video uploaded to its website? That's right -- and anyone has access to that transcript unless the user manually hides it from viewers.
I can think of a number of different situations where video transcripts can come in handy. For example, maybe you want to write down a quote from a video, but the tedium of pausing-and-typing, pausing-and-typing would drive you up a wall. Or perhaps you need to find a specific section of a video, but don't want to rewatch the whole thing to find it. With a transcript in hand, you can find information like this without doing it all by hand.
To see a video's transcript: Open the video in YouTube and press the "More" tab underneath the video title. Choose "Transcript" from the drop-down menu.
(If you aren't seeing this option, it's because the user chose to hide the transcript.)
This transcript will appear as a new module in the same window. In many cases, the user who uploaded the video will not have gone back and manually polished the transcript, so it won't be perfect. But it'll certainly save you some time and pain.
4. You can help your video get found in search by editing or uploading a transcript.
Both YouTube and its parent company Google look at a number of factors when ranking videos in search to determine what your video is about, and your transcript is one of them. (An even bigger ranking factor is your video's description, which is why Digital Marketing Consultant Ryan Stewart suggests that you actually paste your transcript right into the description box, too.)
To add a transcript to your video: Open the video on YouTube, and you'll see a row of icons just below the play button. Click the icon on the far right for "Subtitles/CC." (CC stands for "Closed Captions.)
Set your language if you haven't already. Then, you'll then be prompted to choose among three different ways to add subtitles or closed captions to your video ...
- Upload a pre-written text transcript or a timed subtitles file. (Learn more about the file types you can upload and more here.)
- Paste in a full transcript of the video, wherein subtitle timings will be set automatically.
- Type them in as you watch the video.
The folks at YouTube have done some great things to make that third option (typing as you watch) as painless as possible. For example, if you check a box next to "Pause video while typing," it'll make the whole process a lot faster. Here's a GIF showing that in action:
Learn more about optimizing your YouTube videos for search in the below video.
5. You can use YouTube to easily get free transcriptions of your videos and audio files.
This is the last one about transcripts, I promise -- but I'll bet you never thought about them this way. As you know from #3, YouTube automatically adds a transcript to every video. But if you're looking for a one-off transcription of an audio or video file and don't want to pay for a service, YouTube's built-in captioning system isn't a bad place to start. You can always clean it up later.
To get an automated transcription for a video: Simply upload your video to YouTube, open it on YouTube's website, press the "More" tab underneath the video title, and choose "Transcript" from the drop-down menu. The transcript will appear as a new module in the same window. If you want to clean it up, follow the steps outlined in #3 for a user-friendly experience.
To get an automated transcription for an audio file: You'll need to upload your audio recording to YouTube using a service like TunesToTube. It'll take anywhere between 2–30 minutes for YouTube to upload it. Then, follow the instructions for getting an automated transcription for a video, outlined above.
6. You can create, share, and collaborate on video playlists.
Just like on your other favorite media sharing sites like Spotify and iTunes, you can create a "playlist" on YouTube -- which is really just a place to store and organize the videos (your own and others'). You can keep playlists private, make them public, or even share them directly with others.
Playlists are useful for many different types of users, from an individual collecting cooking videos for their upcoming dinner party to a brand that's segmenting its YouTube video content by topic. For example, Tasty's YouTube playlists break up recipes by meal type, making it easier for people to browse and find what they're looking for:
To create a playlist on desktop: Go to your Playlists page by clicking here or clicking your account icon in the top right, choosing "Creator Studio," clicking "Video Manager" on the left, and choosing "Playlists." Then, click "New Playlist" on the top right and choose whether you'd like to keep it private or make it public.
To create a playlist on mobile: Click here for instructions explaining how to create new playlists using your iOS or Android mobile devices.
To add a video to a playlist: If you're adding a video to a playlist while you're watching it, click the "Add to" icon below the video title and check the box next to the playlist to which you'd like to add it.
If you want to add a video to a playlist right from your Playlists page, simply click "Add Video" and either paste in a video URL, choose a video from your uploads, or search for a video on YouTube. Once you find the video you want to add, select the "Add to" menu from that video and add it to the playlist.
Your friends can contribute to your playlists, too. All you have to do is turn on the ability to collaborate on playlists. Once you turn it on, anyone you share a playlist link with can add videos to that playlist. (They can also remove any videos they've added, too.)
To add friends to a playlist: Go to your Playlists page again and open the playlist you want to collaborate on. Click "Playlist Settings" and choose the "Collaborate" tag. Toggle on the setting that allows collaborators to add videos to the playlist, and from there, you can send them a link where they can add videos to the playlist.
Once your friend's been invited to a playlist, they'll be able to add new videos to it and remove videos they've added in the past. They just have to follow some on-screen instructions first to confirm they want to be a contributor and to save the playlist to their own account.
When you add a video to a playlist you're collaborating on, your name will appear next to the video in the playlist, and everyone who's been invited to collaborate on that playlist will get a notification that a new video has been added.
(To learn more about how to manage contributors, stop accepting contributions to a playlist, and so on, read this YouTube Support page.)
7. You can save videos to watch later.
Ever seen YouTube videos you wished you could bookmark for later? Maybe you aren't able to turn the sound on at the moment, or perhaps you just don't have time to watch it. Well, YouTube took a page out of Facebook's ... book ... by adding something very similar to Facebook's "Save for Later" feature. On YouTube, you can save videos to a "Watch Later" playlist to access whenever you want.
The "Watch Later" playlist operates just like a normal playlist, so the instructions are identical to the previous step (except you can't invite others to collaborate on your "Watch Later" playlist).
To add a video to your "Watch Later" playlist: Open the video on YouTube and click the "Add to" icon below the video title and check the box next to the playlist you'd like to add it to, just like you did in the previous step. The steps are very similar on mobile, but click here if you want the full instructions from YouTube's Support page.
To access those videos: Simply go to your YouTube homepage and choose "Watch Later" from the menu on the upper left-hand side of your screen.
From there, you can watch the videos you were saving, as well as easily remove videos from that list that you've already watched.
8. You can create your own custom YouTube URL.
Want to give people an easy-to-remember web address to get to your YouTube channel? You can actually create a custom URL, which you can base on things like your display name, your YouTube username, any current vanity URLs that you have, or the name of your linked website. HubSpot's, for example, is https://www.youtube.com/hubspot.
Important Note: Before you do this, make sure you're positive this is the custom URL you want -- because once it's approved, you can't request to change it, nor can you transfer it to someone else. Keep in mind that it'll be linked to both your YouTube channel and your Google+ identity, too.
Unfortunately, not everyone's eligible for a custom URL. To get one, you have to have 100 or more subscribers, be at least 30 days old, have an uploaded photo as your channel icon, and have uploaded channel art. If that sounds like you, keep reading.
To claim your custom URL: Open up your YouTube account settings and click "Advanced" in your name section.
If you're eligible for a custom URL, you'll be prompted to claim yours by clicking a link.
Select the box next to "I agree to the Terms of Service." Then, once you're absolutely sure it's the URL you want (since you can't ever change it), click "Change URL" to make it final.
9. You can add an end screen or cards to promote content.
In 2008, YouTube began allowing clickable links YouTube called "annotations" that you could insert into your videos. These annotations worked kind of like call-to-action buttons for directing people to subscribe to your channel, see merchandise or a fundraising campaign, visit another resource to learn more, and so on.
In order to make them more natural parts of the viewing experience, YouTube has replaced annotations with end screens, where you can display more visually pleasing call-to-action cards in the last 30 seconds of your content.
How to Add an End Screen
Do your favorite YouTube creators have a fancy closing screen that encourages you to keep watching their videos? For example, here's one from Saturday Night Live:
You can create a customized end screen, too. They help keep viewers on your channel by suggesting other videos and sites they can check out. Here's how to do it:
Navigate to your Video Manager, tap "Edit," and select "End screen & Annotations" from the drop-down menu:
From there, you're taken to the End screen creator studio, where you can play around with different templates and background to determine how you want your end screen to appear. Then, click the "Add element" menu to decide where you want to send viewers from your end screen.
Any YouTube creators can add an end screen to customize their channels. Here's an explainer article with more details and inspirational ideas.
How to Add a Card
You can use cards to advertise products used in your videos or links on your website you want to market on YouTube. If viewers tap the "i" in the upper-right hand corner of a video, the cards expand, as in the example below:
To add a card to a YouTube video, head to your Video Manager, tap "Edit," and select "Cards" from the drop-down menu.
Then, choose where in the video you want cards to appear, and tap the "Add card" drop-down menu to choose what you want the card to promote. From there, customize the content that will appear to viewers when they tap the "i" while viewing your video:
10. YouTube has a big library of high-quality, royalty-free sound effects and music you can browse and download.
Want to add some cool sound effects or music to your YouTube video (or any video)? YouTube is there for you. It has a whole library of high-quality, 320kbps audio tracks and sound effects that you can download royalty-free and add to your videos. (Or listen to in your free time. We won't judge.)
To add music or sound effects to your video: Open YouTube's Audio Library by clicking here or opening your Creator Studio, clicking "Create" in the menu on the left-hand side, and choosing "Audio Library."
Now, the fun begins. By default, it'll start you on the "Sound effects" tab. Here, you can search sounds using the search bar, like I did in the screenshot below for motorcycle sounds.
You can also toggle by category (everything from human voices to weather sounds) or scroll through favorites that you've starred in the past. For easy access in the future, select the star to add the track to your Favorites. The bars next to the songs show how popular a track is.
If you switch over to the "Music" bar, you can browse through all of its royalty-free music. You won't find the Beatles in here, but you will find some good stuff -- like suspenseful music, uplifting music, holiday music, jazz, and more. Instead of toggling by category, you can toggle by genre, mood, instrument, duration, and so on.
(Note: Some of the music files in there may have additional attribution requirements you have to follow, but those are pretty clearly laid out on a song-by-song-basis. You can learn more on YouTube's Support page here.)
Once you've found a track you like, click the arrow to download it and it'll download directly to your computer as an MP3 file. Then, you can do whatever you want with it.
If you want to source sounds for your videos outside of YouTube, you'll just have to make sure to you're following all the rules for sourcing them. Refer to this YouTube Support page for best practices for sourcing audio, and this one to learn YouTube's music policies.
11. Add adjustments and creative effects with YouTube Enhancements.
YouTube has faded a number of features it experimented with at one time -- including annotations and a not-so-popular slideshow creator -- but one editing tool that remains quite handy is Enhancements. Nine effects you'd normally find on third-party video editing software, you can now take advantage of natively through YouTube:
- Auto-fix lighting and color
- Stabilize shaky camera motions
- Apply slow motion
- Apply time lapse
- Trim out parts of your video
- Rotate the view
- Apply filters
- Custom blurring
- Blur faces
To make enhancements to an existing video: Click into your Video Manager and find a video you'd like to edit. Select the drop-down icon next to "Edit" to the right of the video, and select "Enhancements."
Images via filmora
If you're editing on a computer, this button will open all nine tools to the right of your video, where you can add various fixes, filters, and blurring effects and see how they change the final product in real time.
Note that not all enhancements are available on mobile devices. On Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, you can only trim, add music, and apply filters. Read this article to learn more about YouTube enhancements.
12. Play YouTube videos in the background on mobile devices.
Sometimes, your own music playlist just isn't cutting it. Or maybe you want to listen to your favorite artist's performance at an awards show.
Either way, if you've tried listening to music on YouTube via your mobile device, you may have noticed one thing: You can't navigate out of the app. You have to keep YouTube open, and you can't use your phone for anything else, in order to listen to something on YouTube. Kind of frustrating if you're trying to multitask on your commute home, right?
Now, there are hacks so you can listen to YouTube content in the background while still using your mobile device. Here's what you do:
How to Watch YouTube Videos in the Background: iOS
Open Safari on your mobile device, and navigate to a video you want to watch on https://www.youtube.com. Start playing the video you want to listen to, then tap the Home button to close out of Safari. (I chose Katy Perry.)
Then, swipe up on your home screen to reveal the Action Center.
Then, swipe left to reveal the second screen on your Action Center. The details of the video you selected on YouTube should appear, and from there, simply tap Play to keep jamming.
How to Watch YouTube Videos in the Background: Android
Launch Firefox or Chrome on your mobile device, and navigate to a video you want to play on https://www.youtube.com. Then, tap the "Settings" menu in the upper right-hand corner (the ellipses) and select "Request Desktop Site."
Image via DigitalTrends
Then, start playing the video on YouTube, and tap the Home button to return to your home screen. The audio will keep playing in the background as you use other apps.
13. You can live stream videos to YouTube.
Live streaming video has been a big topic of conversation for the past few years. It's seen massive growth, especially in the past few years with the advent of Twitter's Periscope, Facebook Live, and Instagram live videos.
Learning how to go live on YouTube is a little more complex (and confusing) than live streaming using similar platforms. On YouTube's easier streaming option, there's no simple "start" button; instead, you actually have to download encoding software and set it up to use live streaming at all. YouTube has identified 13+ encoders that are Live Verified.
If you're streaming a live event, though, all you need is a webcam. We'll get to that in a second.
Live Stream From Your Desktop Computer
Log in to YouTube and click the "Upload" button at the top-right of your screen. Normally, this is where you'd upload a pre-existing video -- but instead, you'll want to find the "Live Streaming" module on the right-hand side of your screen. Click "Get Started" in that module.
Before you go live, YouTube will first confirm that your channel is verified and that you have no live stream restrictions in the last 90 days. Once that's all set, you have two options for streaming: "Stream now" and "Live Events."
Stream Now is the simpler, quicker option for live streaming, which is why it's YouTube's default for live streaming. You'll see a fancy dashboard like the one below when you choose "Live Streaming" on the left-hand Creator Studio menu:
Again, you'll notice there's no "start" button on the dashboard. This is where you'll need to open your encoder and start and stop your streaming from there. Here's YouTube's Live Streaming FAQ page for more detailed information.
Live Events gives you a lot more control over the live stream. You can preview it before it goes live, it'll give you backup redundancy streams, and you can start and stop the stream when you want.
Choose "Live Events" from your live streaming dashboard once you've enabled it. Here's what the events dashboard looks like, and you can learn more about it here.
When you stop streaming, we’ll automatically upload an archive of your live stream to your channel. Note that your completed live stream videos are automatically made public on your channel by default as soon as you're done recording. To make them disappear from the public eye once you're done, you can select “Make archive private when complete” in the "Stream Options" section of your live dashboard.
Live Stream From Your Mobile Device
YouTube has also rolled out live streaming from mobile devices for YouTube creators with 10,000 or more subscribers (as of the date of this posting -- that will be available to all creators soon, according to YouTube's blog post).
Live streaming is more intuitive from mobile devices than on desktop computers. Qualified creators can simply open their YouTube app on mobile, tap the camera icon at the top of the screen, and choose "Go Live."
From there, creators can enter details about the broadcast before immediately recording live for their subscribers, as shown below:
Image via YouTube
For more instruction on how to go live on YouTube across devices, YouTube published a Help article here. Want to see what live videos others are recording on YouTube? You can browse popular YouTube videos that are live right now by clicking here.
14. You can upload and watch 360-degree videos (live and pre-recorded) -- and in VR.
YouTube first announced its support for 360-degree videos back in March 2015, and it was a total novelty -- not to mention a game-changer. Since then, brands, athletes, and other users have created some awesome 360-degree content, like this video from Samsung:
As you can see, the experience as a viewer is really, really cool. On desktop, you can click around the video to see all the different angles while the video plays. On mobile, it's even cooler: You can move your camera around to change the angle. You can browse the trending 360-degree and VR videos here.
How to Create a 360-degree Video on YouTube
For this, you'll need some serious equipment. Cameras with 360-degree capability that are compatible with YouTube are listed here on YouTube's Support page, along with how to create and upload a 360-degree video file.
What about live video in 360 degrees? That announcement would come a year after the first one, in April 2016 -- the very same week Facebook announced its own design for a 360-degree camera. Luckily for the folks at YouTube, it beat out Facebook by supporting both live video and 360-degree footage all at once.
How to Watch Any YouTube Video in VR
The Verge called 360 live-streamed videos "the gateway drug to virtual reality" for YouTube. Other than the YouTube website or app, you don't need any fancy equipment to be able to watch a 360-degree live video and feel like you're basically there.
That doesn't mean a headset isn't an option -- and an awesome one at that, since YouTube released its Cardboard feature. Cardboard is available on any YouTube video you watch or upload, and works with Google Cardboard (an actual VR headset by Google) and several other VR headsets available today.
To use Cardboard while watching a YouTube video via mobile: Select any video in your YouTube mobile app, then tap the three dots in the upper-right hand corner of the video. In the drop-down, select "View in Cardboard." You may already see this option visible in the bottom-right of 360-degree videos.
This will prompt you to connect your mobile device to a compatible VR device. Once you do, prepare for a stellar experience, and just imagine what this could mean for the content with which you populate your own YouTube channel.
15. YouTube ads target you based on an algorithm similar to Google and Facebook.
How does the YouTube algorithm decide which ads play on the videos you watch?
Turns out it works a lot like Google and Facebook ads do. Like on other free sites, the advertisers help fund the YouTube experience in return for exposure to ads. You'll see certain ads over others because of your demographic groups, your interests (which is judged in part by what you search on Google and YouTube) and the content you've viewed before, including whether or not you've interacted with the advertiser's videos, ads, or YouTube channel.
YouTube’s algorithms also try to make sure people aren’t overloaded with ads while watching videos -- so it actually sometimes won't show ads on monetizable videos, even when there's a demographic match.
Here are the five ad formats you can expect to see on YouTube, and how they work:
A. Display ads, which show up next to the video and only appear only on desktop and laptop computers. The advertiser gets paid when you see or click on the ad, depending on their selection.
Image via YouTube's Creator Academy
B. Overlay ads, which appear across the bottom 20% of the video window and currently only appears only on desktop and laptop computers. You can X out of the ad at any time.
Image via YouTube's Creator Academy
C. TrueView in-stream, skippable video ads, which are most common ads. These are the ones you can skip after watching for five seconds. Advertisers can put it before, during (yikes!), or after the video plays, and they get paid only if you watch at least 30 seconds of the clip or to the end of the video ad -- whichever comes first.
Image via YouTube's Creator Academy
D. Non-skippable video ads, which are those longer, 15-or-more-second ads you see before plays and can't skip after any period of time, no matter how much you shout at your screen.
Image via YouTube's Creator Academy
E. Midroll ads, which are ads that are only available for videos over 15 minutes long that are spaced within the video like TV commercials. You need to watch the ad before continuing through the video. How the advertiser gets paid depends on the type of ad: If the midroll is a TrueView ad, you'd have to watch 30 seconds of the end or the entire ad -- whichever is shorter. If it's a CPM-based ad, you have to watch the entire ad no matter how long it is.
Image Credit: YouTube's Creator Academy
F. Bumper ads, which are short, non-skippable ads up to six seconds long that play before the video the viewer has selected. Bumper ads are optimized for mobile devices and must be watched in their entirety before viewers can progress to the video they want to view.
16. You can remove ads from YouTube videos (and watch videos offline) for 10 bucks a month.
Video ads are the reason you can watch videos for free on YouTube. It's a fact many of us have come to accept. But with YouTube's subscription service YouTube Red, that doesn't necessarily have to be true anymore.
For $9.99 a month, you can watch YouTube videos ... without any ads. And, in addition to ad-free videos, you can save videos on your mobile device and watch them in the background and/or offline, and you can use YouTube's Music App (on iOS and Android) in the background, offline, and/or on audio mode. This is not a drill.
You'd think the lure of ad-free videos would have caused more of an uproar since its launch in late 2015, especially given YouTube's domination in the music space. Surprisingly, I haven't heard much noise about it. But YouTube hasn't disclosed subscriber numbers (the service reportedly has around 1.5 million subscribers) so it's hard to tell how well it's doing. Either way, it's good to know about -- especially if you like collecting songs and music videos like I do, but don't like when they get broken up by ads.
17. You can use Google Trends to explore and compare popular YouTube search terms over time.
You might already use Google Trends to look at the popularity of specific search terms over time. (It can be a great marketing tool for making smarter keyword choices, for instance.) But did you know you can use it to compare the popularity of YouTube search queries, specifically?
All you have to do is open Google Trends and type a search term into the "Explore topics" search bar at the top. Once that page opens up, click on "Web Search" to open a drop-down menu, and choose "YouTube Search" so it filters by YouTube searches specifically.
You might find that, for some search terms, the search trends are very different on Google (above) than on YouTube (below).
18. There's a 'safer' version of YouTube available for your kids.
Any parent will tell you how scary it is for their kids to theoretically have access to everything public on the internet. But for your younger kids, there are ways to curb that access and have more control of what they're watching and finding -- including a kids' version of YouTube called YouTube Kids.
The folks at YouTube call YouTube Kids "a safer version of YouTube." It's not a wide-open library of online videos like YouTube is; instead, it uses filters powered by algorithms to select videos from YouTube that are safe for kids to watch. It's also totally free, thanks to ads (which are regulated as carefully as possible).
You can either turn the search feature on or off, depending on whether you're cool with your kids searching for videos themselves -- or if you'd rather limit them to a certain set of videos selected by the app, along with those the app recommends based on what they’ve watched already. You can set a timer to limit how much time a child spends on the app, which is music to many parents' ears.
The algorithm is darn good -- remember, Google is YouTube's parent company -- but, as it warns in its parents' guide, "no algorithm is perfect."
19. You can now clear your YouTube History.
You might eventually want to delete items from your YouTube search or watch history. YouTube lets you completely clear your history, pause your history so it stops recording what you search for and watch from that point forward, or go through your history and delete certain videos.
To delete your history on your desktop or mobile device: Navigate to the "Watch History" menu. Here's where it lives on your desktop browser homepage and in your mobile app, respectively:
From there, you can "clear all watch history" (permanently delete the record of everything you've watched), "pause watch history" (stop recording the videos you watch going forward), or individually remove videos from your history by tapping the X or ellipses next to videos. Here's what it looks like on desktop and on mobile, below:
YouTube published a Help article if you need more instruction for deleting items from your YouTube watch history, too.
20. You can learn about YouTube's copyrights terms from a cast of ridiculous puppets.
Made it this far? Here's a little reward: YouTube's "Copyrights Basics" FAQ page, which is, fittingly a YouTube video -- and features a pretty colorful cast of characters. It's actually super informative, and it looks like YouTube's video team had a lot of fun making it.
My favorite line is probably, "You know there are links on this webpage, right? You don't have to watch this." Although the chorus of gorilla puppets was pretty great, too.
We hope we've opened your eyes to some of the more awesome YouTube hacks, tips, and features out there that you may not have known about. Now log on to YouTube and do some exploring yourself. The platform certainly isn't going anywhere.
Originally published Oct 26, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated July 26 2021