YouTube ads

How to Get YouTube Subscribers with Ads

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

YouTube has been pretty good to me. Since 2012 I’ve racked up 18K subscribers, 9.2M views, and 263K watch hours despite not having any “real” music videos.

Granted, more than half of those views were for a song I was hired to cover for a Just Dance game. Embarrassingly, I filled in for on the rap section and Ubisoft approved it anyway. I’ve since set the video to unlisted but if you’re a glutton for punishment, knock yourself out.

I don’t write about YouTube promotion much because Google Ads is a convoluted mess. Instead I’ve recommended YouTube Growth Engine (my review here) and YouTube Growth Machine. Nope, they’re not the same thing!

Today I’ve got two new options to discuss, starting with the one built into YouTube Studio. At least my YouTube Studio! I’m not sure if everyone has it.

YouTube Studio Promotions

I don’t know if the product has an official name, but a “Promotions” tab magically appeared in my YouTube Studio one day, so let’s go with YouTube Studio Promotions.

Both of the campaigns I’ll be discussing today involve the last video in the screenshot, containing my entire latest album.

The top video shown is only five days old as I type this, but the three below that are fairly representative of the views, comments, and likes I get between organic reach and Discovery ads at $3 per day.

I typically don’t include YouTube in my smart links, because I want my Meta ads to optimize for Spotify. Still, I hit the $100 payout threshold every 4-6 months, which somewhat offsets the cost of my ads.

Getting back to that Promotions tab, there’s a +NEW PROMOTION button that brings up the following:

YouTube Studio Promotions new video promotion

I know I can get views for a penny with an In-Stream Views campaign. I also know that those views are worthless beyond their social proof, so I went with engagement.

YouTube Studio Promotions which video

I opted for the standard headline and description, which is the name of the video and the name of the channel respectively.

YouTube Studio Promotions countries

Next, choose your countries. I went with United States only, but maybe I should’ve stuck with the prefilled suggestions above.

YouTube Studio Promotions budget

Finally, set a budget. YouTube thoughtfully informs you that promotions with higher budgets perform better.

So, how’d we do?

It took two weeks for YouTube to spend my $20. The analytics are really shallow compared to Google Ads:

YouTube Studio Promotions results

That’s literally all you get!

In summary, I paid $0.038 per view, $0.74 per subscriber.

That’s not terrible compared to my Discovery ads, but it’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison without stats like Earned Views and Earned Likes, or seeing how much of the video people watched.

If you’re simply unwilling to crack open Google Ads (I don’t blame you!) then YouTube Studio Promotions might be worth a shot.

But if you are willing, keep reading!

Google Ads Conversions Campaign

First off, if you’re not subscribed to Andrew Southworth’s YouTube channel, I suggest you do so immediately!

I created this campaign by following his step-by-step video. I’ll touch on the key points here, but the video provides loads of additional context.

First off, your YouTube channel needs to be linked to your Google Ads account under Admin ➤ Linked Accounts.

Once that’s done, click on Create ➤ Campaign ➤ Website traffic and add a Goal of Engagements if it’s not there already. If it says it’s inactive, don’t worry about it. That’s just because you haven’t run a campaign with that goal before.

Google Ads objective and conversion goals

Next, select Video as the campaign type:

Google Ads campaign type

Name the campaign, select the countries you want to target and, optionally, languages. I went with US, UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden.

Keep the bid strategy as Maximize Conversions and set a budget. I opted for $5 per day. Network options are greyed out, so you can skip those, then optionally name your ad group.

Scroll down and click on “Add an audience,” then +New Audience.

Google Ads new audience

Click on +New Segment and type in search terms relevant to your music, like so:

There are a bunch of targeting options I won’t get into because this post is long enough already. Most are self-explanatory.

Next up, create the actual ad:

Google Ads create your video ads

Already this page looks different than it did in Andrew’s video, which is yet another reason I don’t write about Google Ads. It’s constantly changing!

Today you can add up to five videos, calls-to-action, headlines, long headlines, and descriptions. Tomorrow, who knows?

The key ingredient here, what Andrew calls the “hack,” is to use your YouTube channel URL with ?sub_confirmation=1 tacked on the end.

For me, that looks like this (feel free to try it):

Not only does it direct clickers to your channel, but it triggers a pop-up like so:

YouTube subscribe pop-up

Once the campaign is approved (typically overnight for me), you’ll start getting impressions and hopefully conversions.

Here are my results after a month, broken down into two screenshots:

Google Ads conversion campaign results 1

I’m paying $0.019 per view, exactly half the price of my YouTube Studio Promotions campaign.

I’m also getting a 10% bonus in the form of Earned Views, which are when viewers watch other videos on your channel.

Google Ads conversion campaign results 2

The “Video played to” percentages look really low until you consider that it’s a 42-minute video. Roughly a quarter of viewers made it through the first song.

I’m not sure why conversions (510) is different than earned subscribers (534) but whatever, close enough. I paid $0.31 per conversion/subscriber, versus $0.74 with Promotions.

Granted, Promotions was all to the US. Here are my country-specific results:

Google Ads conversion campaign results by country

It turns out US subscribers are cheaper than average at $0.27, which is a pleasant surprise!

In summary, I paid $0.019 per view, $0.31 per subscriber.

Google Ads Discovery Campaigns

Finally, let’s compare this Conversions campaign (titled “Subscribers”) to the two Discovery campaigns I’ve been running forever.

I’m afraid I won’t be walking you through the campaign setup process. I just remember it being ugly and confusing, with several course corrections after days of my ads not getting any impressions.

Here are my results over the same time period, again broken down into two screenshots:

YouTube Discovery Ads 1

Retarget is at $2 per day and Keywords is at $1 per day, so I’m currently spending $8 per day total on YouTube ads, mainly to gather data for this post.

I’m getting the cheapest views with the Conversions campaign, but that includes In-stream views. Those are the ones forced on you that you can skip after a few seconds, whereas In-feed views are intentionally chosen by the viewer.

YouTube Discovery Ads 2

The Conversions campaign is clearly outperforming my Discovery campaigns in all four “earned” categories.

The “video played to” percentages are higher for the Discovery campaigns, but those include multiple videos, the rest of which are far shorter than 42 minutes! Still, for the video in question, the Retarget campaign is generating twice the watch time per view.

Complicating matters further, my Retarget campaign targets about 30 countries with bid adjustments for each:

Google Ads targeted locations

As you can see, I’m paying $0.045 per view for the US but only $0.010 for Brazil. I wish Meta had per-country bid adjustments! And also, what’s up with the nearly 7% view rate in Italy?

While there are too many variables to control for, my gut feeling is that my Retarget and Subscribers (Conversions) campaigns are performing comparably.

Since I don’t need any more data for this post, I’m going to turn off the Keywords campaign and lower the budget on Subscribers to $2, for a total spend of $4 per day.


YouTube Ads Conclusions

If you made it this far, congratulations. You may have the necessary patience and persistence to launch a Google Ads campaign.

There are no truly bad options, other than perhaps an In-stream campaign, which will get you cheap views but little else.

If you want to dip your toe into YouTube advertising and you have a Promotions tab in YouTube Studio, you could be up and running in 10 minutes, though you may end up paying twice as much for the sake of convenience.

If you’ve used Google Ads in the past and have your YouTube channel linked, you could probably set up a Conversions campaign in a half hour by following along with this post and/or Andrew’s video.

If you fancy yourself a true connoisseur in the advertising arts, you could dive into one of the many YouTube tutorials on Discovery campaigns. It’ll likely require a few hours of your time, but that’s a small price to pay for an asset that could serve you for years, as my campaigns have.

Whenever I release a new song, I just copy/paste one of my old ads and swap in the new video’s URL.

And I’m certainly no expert on Google Ads! I’m sure many of you could teach me a thing or two.

Have you tried YouTube advertising? Share your results and strategies in the comments!


  1. Thank you for sharing! The question is, is it worth it? In my experience, subscribers/followers (on any site) is not that relevant anymore, they don’t necessarily see the content. In fact, when we boost our followers with ads, the followers are typically LESS engaged compared to people who follow us organically. This is because many people just click on things they don’t even know they did, and they “follow” or “subscribe” to stuff they don’t even know – versus someone sees your content and he likes the content and he subscribes.

    1. That’s a great question Tamas! They may end up subscribing because they don’t know any other way to dismiss the pop-up. Perhaps it’s better to just focus on my Discovery ads, which already generate views, likes, comments, and voluntary subscribers!

  2. Very interesting comparison, I have to admit that I initially tried to get more subscribers for my YouTube channel using Google Ads – but it didn’t really work. For almost a year now I have been using the “Promotion Tab” in Youtube Studio that you mentioned at the beginning and my channel has grown from 11000 subscribers to, as of today, 68000. My budget is an average of 250 euros per month spread over 4-6 videos (I change it every few months) But now that I see your comparison, I should give Google Ads a chance again and follow your step-by-step instructions. For cost reasons alone – thanks for the blog post.

    1. Whoa, you’ve had that tab for almost a year? I thought I was one of the privileged few :). That’s an impressive subscriber count! But a hefty budget to match. I’d love to hear if the Conversions approach saves you money!

    2. Maurizio, mind linking to your channel? I’d love to listen to your music.

      Also curious what countries you’re targeting? My quick math says you’re getting about 0.05 EUR per subscriber cost.

  3. Hey Brian! New to this blog but loving everything that you’re posting. I tried to join your email list but it had an issue and told me to contact the site administrator. Let me know when it is fixed so I can subscribe 🙂

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