The Value of an Organic YouTube View

Key Article Takeaways: 

  • Organic YouTube views are generally valued between $0.05-$.50 per view 
  • Top influencers can drive from $0.08-$0.12 in revenue per view in sales 
  • Long-form, video content that you can repurpose has extreme value in terms of SEO, purchase intent, and brand recognition 
  • Different sized influencers in different verticals can have varying results, so it’s important to A/B test to see what works best for a specific product or service  

If you are a video enthusiast like I am, it is hard to think of a more fundamental question than what the value of an organic view on YouTube would be. In paid media, there are very clear CPM benchmarks and expectations for static banners, pre-roll ads, search ads and every other format. Nothing like that exists on the organic side. There are a few reasons perhaps why it’s not really in the lingo: 

  • Pricing is not quoted that way 
  • We aren’t totally comfortable thinking of sponsorships as “media” …. although that is exactly what it is 
  • The range of outcomes is so vast that being out there with benchmarks would inevitably lead to some painful conversations 

But let’s have a go at this and try to at least set some parameters! 

First note is that we are generally going to liberally intermix “value” and “cost” here. Value realized by a brand is too ephemeral to really define, so while we might touch on that value, we’re really going to talk more about where the market is clearing (the “cost”) and how to think about those numbers. 

To start a framework, I’ll start with the bolder-than-it-seems assertion that the value of an organic YouTube view is generally somewhere between $.05 and $.50 

How is a 10x band a bold assertion? Well, because the best framework we have to judge views is media CPMs (cost per thousand impressions), which are generally between $2.00 and $25.00 (noted that this is an even wider relative band, but we’re also talking about a much wider band of ad formats).  

Here, my low boundary ($0.05 per view) is actually a $50.00 CPM and at $.50, it’s a $500 CPM. So I’m claiming that organic opt-in views on YouTube are worth at least 2x some of the most premium media out there. For an extreme and interesting comparison, Super Bowl ads were found to have a $58 CPM. 

So how do we justify these numbers on YouTube beyond “it’s worth what brands are willing to pay for it”? Well to put some very “bottom line” numbers behind the calculations, I went in and looked at what some influencers are able to drive in terms of directly attributed revenue for brands with reasonably high eCommerce penetration in both consumer electronics and consumer packaged goods.  

Now first the qualification: most social posts, even on YouTube, even with attribution-based links in the video description, drive $0 in directly attributed sales. That’s the baseline, that’s the reality.  But for some brands, some influencers (the top 5%), measured across multiple campaigns and products, can drive $.08 to $.12 in revenue per view in directly attributed sales. 

Now, when I see that number, to me it justifies and validates my range above all of the way up to the $.50 level. But I can hear the skeptics out there saying, “wait a second…the best case is $.12 per view in revenue and that happens only 5% of the time and 50% of the time or more the answer is $0?? Doesn’t that clearly mean the value is at best $.01 or $.02?” I understand this math and logic. But I’d still argue it isn’t the correct interpretation. 

 My Logic & The Added Bonuses Beyond Direct Sales 

My logic is that the whole point of marketing is to impact how people think about a product or brand. Generally, that impact occurs in tiny micro-movements through the purchase funnel from “awareness” to “consideration” to “favorability” to “intent” to “purchase.” The miracle of long form, opt-in video is not only that it can move a consumer along *any* of these stages but it can also move them through multiple stages at once. It’s rocket fuel that doesn’t require previous awareness, retargeting or other combo tactics to succeed. 

And so if I can “observe” $.10 in revenue per view in a category that maybe has 30% eCommerce penetration (and much of that will be with retailers other than the single one I promoted), I am really confident that the influencer influenced way more than $.50 in direct sales.  

I’m just losing 80% of the impact to the fog of war. And that same logic applies to all of those zeros.  

Am I upset that even after watching an amazing video about shampoo that no one bought online but preferred to still go to the grocery store as they’ve always done? No. The attribution links are a customer service, not a requirement. Which is why even the clicks are so valuable and interesting: the shopper wanted to learn more. How much is this product? Does it have lots of reviews? All of that engagement is hugely valuable. 

Now before we close this out, let’s return to some observations on the cost side to guide both brands and influencers. Historically, we observed that beauty influencers traded at a premium to virtually all other verticals and especially after agency fees are bundled in could be at the $.50 CPV or higher level. As noted, that’s nosebleed zone in my view from a value perspective and I think not necessarily sustainable.  

By contrast, historically tech influencers were frequently at $.10 or less fully loaded (really interesting relative to that potential $.10 RPV). However, we’ve seen that market tighten in two directions: tech influencers have been raising their rates and views have been flat, and arguably the YouTube algorithm has been reducing the traffic it sends to sponsored content so CPVs have jumped up making the direct sales case tougher. Lifestyle or “vlog” influencers have been and remain the cheapest, often at $.05 or below for lots of logical reasons and we aren’t seeing the same kind of inflation. 

 What Does This Mean For Brands?  

Should they always choose the cheapest influencer from an expected views perspective in their vertical or should they, for example, reject a tech influencer that they love who looks to be at $.20? Of course not! But they might question what’s driving the disparity. And if you are a tech influencer whose rate is suddenly penciling out at $.30 before the agency’s fees are even bundled on top, maybe it’s time to reconsider your rate card. Or, if you can’t afford to work for less, think about how you can add extra value by including some production assets or companion posts on your secondary social channels.