A decade ago, you may have thought of YouTube as your source of cat video content or celebrity interviews. It was an easy way to accidentally kill a few hours in a content rabbit hole, but for many people, it wasn’t much more than a source of entertainment or distraction. Today, that’s not the case. The YouTube of 2021 is much more than just an outlet to turn to when you’re procrastinating—it’s an essential marketing channel, a source of educational and informative content, and a method many people use to connect with others around the world.
As a brand or content creator, YouTube’s evolution over time means that it’s more important than ever to put some thought behind your video marketing strategy and begin to utilize this channel (if you haven’t already). But, it can also be difficult to keep up with trends and to understand what people actually want to watch. That’s where we come in.
We dove into the latest data from both YouTube itself and Statista to find out what people are watching on YouTube in 2021. Which topics are trending? What style of video works best? Then, we went even more granular. What’s the most common opening line for a vlog? And how do these trends compare to our last installation of this article from back in 2019? As you’ll see in the paragraphs that follow, while much has stayed the same in the last two years, we’ve also seen some new concepts enter the scene.
Without further ado, here’s what audiences are watching most on YouTube in 2021.
Music videos and content for kids still top the charts of most-watched videos ever.
When we look at the most watched videos on YouTube in 2021, every single video in the top ten is either a music video or a children’s song. Why? When you think about it, both of these types of content have virtually infinite replay value. If you watch an educational video or even a vlog from your favorite content creator, chances are you’ll only watch it a single time—maybe twice if you’re especially invested.
Music videos, on the other hand, can be played over and over again. Many people don’t even watch the video itself; they just throw the video on in the background for the audio. Kids’ videos operate the same way. If you’ve ever met a toddler with a favorite song or dance, you know just how many times they’ll beg to hear it before it gets old.
There’s one other interesting finding from this data. Take a look at the chart below, which represents the same statistic (most-watched YouTube videos of all time) from back in 2018.
Notice anything? Many of the songs are the same, but the 2021 chart includes more children’s content than the 2018 chart. This indicates that content aimed at children is on the rise, which is a trend that may continue into 2022 and beyond.
What does this mean for you?
Music is a key element of any successful YouTube marketing strategy. Here’s what you should consider for your own content.
- When you create content, pay careful attention to the music you use in the background. If possible, make the music a key part of the experience so that it can fit into a music playlist without being too distracting.
- Keep your video ads short, keeping in mind that your ad may play as people are trying to listen to music. The less you interrupt their experience, the more likely they are to have a positive experience with your ad.
- If your products or services have anything to do with music, YouTube is a great place for your content to live. Consider creating playlists to attract new listeners.
Yoga content continues to boom.
Yoga videos were already popular before 2020 left many of us to figure out at-home workouts, but unsurprisingly, the pandemic did boost yoga-related content. Check out the graph below, which shows the way that the YouTube yoga community was growing steadily for the last few years until a steep uptick in 2020.
This isn’t surprising at all—yoga is a form of exercise and a method to reduce stress and increase mindfulness, both of which were helpful for navigating the challenges brought about by COVID-19. Already popular channels like Yoga with Adrienne continued to grow, while new yogi creators also joined the scene.
YouTube’s analysts explain: “This group is made up of yoga practitioners who share workouts, as well as a diverse range of healthy living practices, including guided meditations. While views of this community have grown every year for the past five years, there was a significant bump in 2020 — views increased over 165% from 2019 to 2020 — as pandemic-affected audiences transitioned to at-home workouts and looked to yoga creators to help them regulate their physical and emotional needs.”
Interestingly, there are also trends within the yoga content to take note of. First, many of the yoga videos on YouTube are aimed at beginners, hinting at video’s ability to bring someone up to speed on a new topic or hobby. Second, many creators in the yoga community frame their videos for a specific context using the title format, “Yoga for ____.” Popular examples are “Yoga for Sleep,” “Yoga for Beginners,” and “Yoga for Back Pain.”
What does this mean for you?
- First, consider the concept of “beginners.” Are there beginners in your own industry or niche that you can appeal to? Brands often focus on making content for their existing audience, which presumably already has some interest or understanding of their products or services. But, as we’ve seen with the yoga trend, there’s an opportunity to connect with a new audience that may need an introduction before they’re hooked on your content.
- Apply the “Yoga for ____” concept to your industry by including a specific context in your videos’ titles. Fill in the blank with who you’re trying to reach, the problem your product or service solves, or other defining characteristics that someone might be searching for on Google or YouTube.
- Think about how the pandemic has affected your industry and whether you can lean into any topics that might be top-of-mind. For fitness studios and yoga practitioners, at-home workouts are the obvious solution to meet viewers where they are in 2021. There may be an opportunity to find this type of alignment in your own industry, too.
Vlogs and “Day in the Life” videos appeal to our desire for connection.
Vlogging is far from a new concept, but it continues to dominate on YouTube. Vlogs are useful in helping audiences feel connected to content creators (and even to other members of that creator’s audience). These videos can also serve as inspiration for people looking to modify their lifestyle or emulate a certain type of day. For this purpose, “Day in the Life” style vlogs are especially popular.
Since vlogging has been popular on YouTube for so long, the data surrounding vloggers goes a little deeper than just trending topics. Specifically, YouTube’s data team dug into over a million vlogs to find out what the most popular opening phrase is, both for all of YouTube in general and when you narrow down into specific YouTube communities.
Overall, “Hey guys” is the most popular opening line for a vlog, with over 36% of the videos analyzed using that opener. Here’s the full list of the top five:
- Hey guys
- What’s up
- Good morning
- Hi guys
- All right
At this link, you can see a fascinating timeline of how these most popular openings have shifted over the last ten years, and while many of the most popular options move around on the list, “Hey guys” has actually topped the chart for the full decade. However, it’s possible it will lose its standing in the coming years as creators move away from gender-specific language in an effort to be more inclusive. As that transition occurs, we may see gender-neutral options like “Hey everybody” move up on the list.
Here’s one more breakdown of openers, which looks at how the popular greetings break down across specific YouTube communities. While “Hey guys” wins in a few categories, it’s interesting to see how some communities have created their own cultures with a distinct communication style, like tech opening with “Ladies and gentlemen.”
What does this mean for you?
- Personal, authentic content will always have a place on YouTube. If your brand can lean into vlog-style content or put a more personal touch on your brand videos, you may see an uptick in traffic.
- Whether you like it or not, your opening line does have an impact on how people engage with your content. If you’re unsure what to say, consider one of the lines from this list to get started and see what feels right over time.
- Inclusive language is becoming more and more important to audiences on YouTube (and elsewhere on the Internet and in real life). Whenever possible, use language that’s gender-neutral.
Believe it or not, cats and dogs are emerging audiences for YouTube.
This may sound like a fake trend, but we’re actually not kidding: Cats and dogs are both audiences that are driving increasing amounts of content on YouTube. Loving pet owners often like to give their cats or dogs something to watch while they’re out for the day, like turning on a playlist of bird recordings to entertain a lonely cat. Pets also attract content on holidays that are associated with fireworks, like New Year’s Eve. It’s not uncommon for the pet owner to throw on a calming video to leave playing for the night while they head out with friends, as you can see in the chart below.
What does this mean for you?
- It’s okay to think outside the box with your video content. If someone had told you 10 years ago to devote hours to video content for cats, you probably would have laughed at them. Today, though, pets are a real audience on YouTube and there are successful creators raking in the ad revenue as they draw in viewers.
- If you identify a need in the marketplace, consider how you can fill in the gap with your video content. In this case, there was a need to keep pets occupied during long bouts of alone time or stressful moments. Today’s creators are solving that need with pet-specific content. How can you do the same?
- Understand that audiences on YouTube are evolving. It’s okay if you have something you really want to create but you don’t quite know where it fits into the content community. While it’s often more effective to have an audience in mind before you start creating, if you feel compelled to create something, give it a shot and see if the audience evolves around it.
LEGO is the best-performing brand channel.
Finally, let’s take a closer look at brand pages rather than independent content creators. LEGO has the highest view count of any brand page by a landslide; its views are almost double those of Vat19, the second most-viewed brand channel.
LEGO shares several different types of content on its channel, all of which seem to work relatively well. There’s educational content like the video below, which is clearly aimed at parents and explains the logic behind encouraging children to play.
Then there are episodes of the LEGO Friends animated series, like this video, and product launches, like this video. LEGO seems to have tried it all, proving that there’s no exact formula for success if you understand your audience and what they might want to see.
What does this mean for you?
- Content that appeals across generations can be especially successful on YouTube. Many of LEGO’s videos are just as exciting to parents as they are to kids, and then there are specific videos that are clearly designed for parents while others are clearly designed for kids. Having that range of content helps to ensure that there’s something for everyone on the channel.
- You don’t have to just stick with one content type, style, or format. LEGO has tried tons of variations of its content, and many of them are successful. If you feel like you’re pigeonholed into a particular type of video, you may want to experiment with something new and see how it resonates with your audience.
- Brand video content can succeed on YouTube. If you’re putting off your video marketing strategy because you think there’s no place for brand content, think again. All it takes is one video to get started!
Trying to keep up with the trends in any space can be daunting—and in the video world, where platform algorithms and features seem to change on a daily basis, it can be especially difficult. Thankfully, YouTube is especially transparent in going through this data and sharing about what’s surging across the platform.
So, for your next production project, consider the takeaways from these YouTube trends and play around with applying them to your own brand or industry. You never know what you might discover!