youtube intro peter mckinnon

Stop Using YouTube Intros! (And Do This Instead)

by Alessandro Perta

Whether you’re just starting out on YouTube, or you already have a (successful) channel, you’ll always have the urge at some point to work on a YouTube intro. The goal: put it at the very beginning of every video you publish. But should you?

Should you have a YouTube intro? No, you shouldn’t. It delays the useful or entertaining part of your videos with no added value. Loyal viewers and subscribers skip YouTube intros as they’ve already seen it. As such it makes your audience retention metric decrease.

If all this doesn’t make sense, read on. I’ll walk you through exactly why having a YouTube intro hurts your audience retention metric, and what you should do instead.

What Is A YouTube Intro

First and foremost: don’t confuse a YouTube intro with a channel introduction video! These are 2 completely different things.

What is a YouTube intro? A YouTube intro is a clip of a few seconds, mostly with a music background and sometimes sound effects. Consisting of animated images or very short clips, it typically runs for 3 to 30 seconds at the beginning of every single video of a channel.

youtube intro peter mckinnon
A screenshot of Peter McKinnon’s YouTube intro

A channel introduction video is one video explaining what a channel is all about. Typically running for 2 minutes, it’s featured on a channel page and encourages people to subscribe to a channel.

sunny lenarduzzi introduction video
Sunny Lenarduzzi’s introduction video

While creating a channel introduction video might make sense after you published a few dozens of videos, placing YouTube intros in your videos is actually a bad idea (the vast majority of the time).

If you wonder if you should have a YouTube intro, assume you shouldn’t.

Why YouTube Intros Don’t Bring Value To Your Audience

Let’s get real.

I know exactly why you want to have a YouTube intro. There are actually a few reasons for that:

  • you’ve seen all the big channels do it, so you think you need one too
  • you have a gaming channel, and you need to show that you made a better job at finding and customizing a YouTube intro template than other gaming channels in your niche
  • you want to brand your videos, and you think the best way to do it is to have an intro
  • you don’t think you’re ready to post videos until you have a nice-looking intro

Let me give it straight to you: all these are terrible reasons.

  • big channels didn’t get big because they have an intro – they did because they post(ed) good content
  • using a template doesn’t make any channel cooler or more entertaining – good content does
  • intros don’t make for a great brand – a clear purpose, set of values and tone of voice do
  • great channels didn’t grow because they waited to have an intro – they just (consistently) posted good content

Getting more views (the ultimate goal for your channel) has nothing to do with having an intro.

You can’t create YouTube videos like you would create a TV show – these are 2 totally different mediums and should be treated as such.

Whereas on TV, viewers sit for long periods to watch a show, people can always click away on YouTube at any time. Having suggested videos in the sidebar or under the video (on mobile) makes it very easy.

And viewers most likely will click on those if you have an intro.

YouTube Intros Hurt Your Audience Retention Metric

Not only won’t YouTube intros help you grow a successful channel, but they will actually hurt one of your most important engagement metrics: audience retention.

What is Audience Retention? It’s the average percentage of a YouTube video that people actually watch. Let’s take a 5-minute video as an example: a 60% audience retention on that video means that people actually watched it for 3 minutes (60% of 5 minutes).

youtube audience retention metric
The audience retention metric in YouTube Analytics (for 11 videos)

If people skip a portion of your video, your audience retention drops. But because (on average) nobody ever watches a video for its entire duration, you want to keep the audience retention as high as possible.

As you can see on the screenshot above, videos never get 100% of audience retention. Actually, 50%+ is a great score! (This channel still has some work to do.)

Now, here is the punchline: YouTube intros always make the audience retention metric drop.

The reason is twofold:

  • viewers who already know your channel skip your intro because they’ve already seen it dozens of times
  • viewers who don’t your channel just want to get to the useful / entertaining bit of your video

So what do viewers do? They skip it.

All it takes is a press of the right arrow key on a computer, or double-tapping the right of the screen on mobile. Boom: intro gone, on to the good stuff.

Because of that, this skipped part of the video doesn’t count towards the time your viewers actually watched your video.

The effect an intro has on audience retention is dramatic. Don’t believe me? Have a look:

youtube audience retention example 1
An audience retention graph

Check out this audience retention graph of one of my old videos (not available anymore). The red vertical line is where my 9 seconds intro started. The first red arrow is when it ends.

In 9 seconds, the audience retention went from 88% to 70%. People only got back to watching the video 15 more seconds after the intro was done!

(They actually went straight to the first screenshot of the video, skipping me speaking in front of the camera too).

youtube audience retention example 2
The effect of an intro on the audience retention metric

This video is even worse: the audience retention went from 70% to 54% in just 9 seconds (the intro ends at the first red arrow).

It took 34 seconds after the intro was finished to barely increase again (second red arrow), and 90 full seconds (around 1:45) to almost get to the audience retention before the intro.

Again, people skipped the intro and the talking head fluff to go straight to the first screenshot (the juicy bit).

If that doesn’t show just how bad intros can be for audience retention, I don’t know what does.

Long story short: nobody cares about your intro. This may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. Let me say that again:

Nobody cares about your YouTube intro.

Maybe YouTube intros make you feel good about yourself, but that’s about where the “value” stops.

Now for the really bad part: YouTube’s algorithm is based partly on how your video actually performs. And low audience retention signals YouTube that your video might not be all that enjoyable for viewers after all.

As such, YouTube is less likely to feature your video in the browse features, YouTube search or Suggested videos.

And you definitely don’t want that, since those 3 traffic sources account for the vast majority of all your channel views.

Aim for a higher audience retention metric. To do so, just don’t place any intro in your videos.

And by the way: while you work on creating an intro, you’re not actually creating useful or entertaining content for viewers to consume. You’re basically wasting your time – especially if your channel is only a few months old or didn’t reach at least 50 videos.

What You Should Do Instead

Not all channels and videos are created equal. So let’s break them down in 2 main categories: informational videos and entertaining videos.

Intro For Informational Videos

Here, we’re talking about:

  • how to videos
  • tutorials
  • reviews
  • news

For this kind of video, use a hook.

A hook is a short blurb enticing people to watch the rest of your video. Most of the time, you do this by talking straight to the camera.

YouTube clearly stated that the first 15 seconds of your video will impact how it will perform overall. 15 seconds, that’s all you have.

Now, what type of hook?

  • how-to videos and tutorials: clearly state the value of the video from the getgo. No hello, no “my name is”, no fluff, no nothing. Just “In this video, you’ll learn [fill the blank]”.
  • reviews: a small nugget from the entire review. For example: “The GoPro Hero 7 has the best software stabilization yet to be seen on an action camera. Stick around to see what it looks like!”.
  • news: news reporters know that the best hook is the conclusion or most important part of the article, not the context or the actual story. State the headline.

In 15 seconds, you should deliver one of those 3 hooks. Pick the most appropriate, and then move on to the useful part!

Intros For Entertaining Videos

Here, we’re talking about:

  • humor videos
  • motivational videos
  • vlogs
  • short movies / video essays

Typically, these videos don’t need any hook at all. Just begin your story / sketch / motivational rant right away.

Adding an intro here, or even a hook, will be completely counter-productive.

Not only will it make your audience retention tank, but it will most likely make the all-important emotion go away too. That’s a lose-lose situation to me.

Don’t waste your time, and skip the hook altogether.

But I Really Want / Need An Intro!

Resist the urge. You DON’T need one!

If your boss forces you to make and place one on your company’s videos, please send them a link to this article. If that still doesn’t help: here are some tips.

1. Make It 3 Seconds Long

3 seconds. That’s all I’m giving you.

Yes, you read that right: your intro should last 3 seconds. That’s it.

Think of it as a tag, not an actual clip. It should be and feel very short.

The rationale behind this is that:

  • the time people reach for their keyboard / screen to skip it, your intro is already done… so they will stick to your content
  • your loyal viewers / subscribers know that it’s short, so they most likely won’t bother skipping such a small part of your video

That’s especially true if the useful bit is right after the intro.

Skipping it might make viewers skip a bit of useful information too! So they might actually go back (and never try to skip again on your other videos).

2. Make It Visually Appealing

If all you can think of for your intro is a zoom in on your logo for 3 seconds straight, don’t bother.

Your intro should be crazy short, not crazy boring!

Make it lively with different images or clips, cuts, music, sound FX… Make people actually want to watch it again! Or at least, make it bearable over the long run.

Again, if you can’t do that, just forget about using an intro altogether.

3. Make It Count

An intro should not be a time out.

Use it as a reminder of what your channel is all about, and what the value for the viewer is.

Typically, you might want to place it after your 15 seconds hook.

Just a note: if your company or channel needs more than 3 seconds to convey what it’s all about, then you have another problem: branding.

You might have to rethink your brand altogether and get your purpose, beliefs and value proposition right before uploading your first video. Branding is the most important aspect of what you do (and it has nothing to do with a logo or a slogan).

An Example

The Video Creators channel does it right.

youtube intro video creators
Video Creators’s 3 seconds YouTube intro. It’s perfect.
  • it lasts 3 seconds
  • it’s visually appealing (thanks to the glitches)
  • it states the value proposition of the channel clearly

Here is the value proposition that Video Creators is able to convey in 3 seconds:

Master YouTube. Spread your message.

Video Creators

You check out their intro live in this video (from 0:37 to 0:40).

Aim to replicate the same kind of intro… if you absolutely need one.

But you don’t. Your time is best spent creating actual value for your viewers, not a gimmicky intro.

So cut the fluff, and get to the juicy part right away!

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