YouTube monetization is a tricky thing. Last January, YouTube made it a lot harder to meet the minimum requirements and get monetization at all. Ostensibly, this combats the accounts that scraped up and spammed terrible videos or stolen content and earned money for it. It may do that, of course, but it also hurts thousands of small creators that haven’t quite reached the minimum standards.
How long does it take to get monetization? Let’s look at the process the whole way through.
From Nothing to Something
If you’re on the question to earn monetization privileges on YouTube, you need to start by creating your channel. It’s easy from a mechanical standpoint. Just create a new account or start one from an existing Google account. Create a Brand Account when you make your channel, but be aware that you may need to verify via a phone call or text message.
Once you have an account, you need to optimize it for viewing and branding. Visit your channel homepage and click Customize Channel up in the corner. Click the little gear and click advanced settings to get to the real nuts and bolts. I recommend keeping things like your liked videos and subscriptions hidden, in case you use this YouTube account for personal browsing that may or may not align with your brand image.
In the advanced settings menu, the first thing you should do is add a profile picture. Usually this will be a logo or a photo of your own smiling face. Set your country, and plug in a few brand keywords that demonstrate your purpose and content alignment.
There’s also a button to link an AdWords account – even though Google has renamed it Google Ads, they haven’t updated the wording everywhere – which you probably want to do. You won’t be able to monetize videos until you’ve met the minimum standards on YouTube, but it’s good to have an account links ahead of time. The linked account also allows you to pay for ads or promote your videos, should you desire to do so.
You can plug in an associated website if you want one to be linked to your YouTube account. This should be your main website, generally. Likewise, at the bottom is a box for adding a Google Analytics tracking ID, which you should add if you have one.
It’s worth noting that this information may be out of date by the time you read it. YouTube is updating their creator studio and changing a lot of things around. In fact, I’ll go ahead and cover the new creator studio briefly, because it’s coming in 2019 and will be a big change in how people use YouTube. You can view it now by clicking the “try it now” button in the banner on top of the existing dashboard.
Either way, you can customize the rest of your channel from the channel home page. I recommend adding banner art across the top, since it’s basically a billboard of your branding. Add links there as well; other social media links and a link to your main site are good options. Specify the experience different users have when they visit, either new or returning. You’ll specify that more once you have videos and playlists for people to view.
If you want, record a channel trailer. Just set up a short 1-minute video describing who you are and the purpose of your channel. This will be a call to action to new visitors and unsubscribed users to subscribe to your content.
Click over to the About tab to specify a description for your channel. This is a good place for a description of your brand, links to specific user profiles on other sites, credits for artists, and other information useful to your visitors. Add a business inquiry email as well.
The New Creator Studio
When you opt into the new creator studio, the first thing you notice is that, like many web services, it finally has a responsive design and takes advantage of your full screen size. Across the top is a YouTube search bar that searches your channel, with a button for uploads, a help button, and your profile image. The profile image brings up a menu for your channel, YouTube home, switching accounts, and other basic options. We can ignore it for now.
The meat of the window below this top bar is a display of your recent videos and some basic analytics, YouTube news, ideas for improving your channel, and basic channel analytics. Good to know, but not important for setting up a channel.
To customize your channel, you would think you click the Settings button, but this isn’t true. Right now, Settings just allows you to pick between the old and new dashboards. Instead, you want Other Features -> Customize Channel. This brings you right back to your main channel page. So, for now, not really a big difference in usage.
The new creator studio will be valuable to you once you have videos and analytics to look into, but for now it’s just a big blank pane. Moving on!
Disregarding everything else, the entire process for setting up a new channel shouldn’t take more than a few hours, depending on how many resources you have on hand. It could take longer, if you need to contract an artist to make your imagery or a writer for your profile information, but I estimate it’s a short turnaround either way.
Meeting the Standards
YouTube’s new monetization policy, started up in January of 2018, removed monetization from a lot of old channels and made it a lot harder to reach. Previously, the size of your channel didn’t matter, so long as you reached a minimum of 10,000 views on your profile after an audit.
Now, though, the requirements basically force an active, decent channel. You need a minimum of 1,000 subscribers and a minimum of 4,000 watch-hours in a rolling 12 month basis. 4,000 hours per year isn’t too bad; all you need is one good video or a handful of decent videos to reach it. For reference, 4,000 hours is 240,000 minutes, and divided per year is 20,000 per month, or only about 660 per day. That’s really not a lot for an active channel.
The 1,000 subscribers is harder to achieve, frankly. Lots of people watch videos without subscribing to the channels that host them. You have to strive to post optimized content with plenty of calls to action for likes and subscribes, as stereotypical as that sounds.
How long does it take to meet the standards required? That’s a hard question to answer. I know people with active channels that have been working for years and don’t have monetization because YouTube removed it in their revamp. I also know of people who start a channel and, within a month, meet the minimum requirements. A lot depends on your existing audience and how well you can leverage it.
I’m going to be brief in discussing how you can make your videos better to earn more views and more subscribers, since it’s a topic we’ve covered elsewhere. You can read more in-depth guides if this is the part you’re stuck on.
Step 1 is to make good videos. High quality video and audio is a necessity; you won’t get anywhere without them. You should also publish those videos on a consistent basis. Remember how you need 660 watch-minutes per day? If you only have one video, it needs to be incredibly popular to earn that. If you have 10 videos, each of them only needs an hour of watch-time per day. If you have 660 videos, each one only needs one minute of watch time per day to meet the standards. Obviously I’m not advocating for posting a dozen videos per day, but remember that the more videos you have, the less each one needs to perform individually to still meet the minimums.
Step 2 is to optimize each video individually. You need a good, compelling title and video thumbnail, as those are the two elements everyone can see in the post-video recommended box, the sidebars, and YouTube’s front page. You also want a description that front-loads interesting information before the truncation, and adds in more description and links below the fold. Don’t spam keywords; videos have individual keyword boxes under “tags” for you to tag them. Make sure to add at least half a dozen individual, relevant tags to each video.
You can also benefit your videos by uploading closed captions as an accessibility feature. This helps Google index the content of the videos, and makes them easier to use in some situations. It can’t hurt, at least.
Once you meet the 4,000 watch hours and the 1,000 subscribers minimum levels, your channel is “automatically reviewed” for monetization. You do have to have the three previous steps completed, the partner program terms, monetization preferences, etc.
According to Google’s blurb, as soon as you meet those requirements, they review your profile. What actually happens is that your profile is put in a queue to be reviewed. This is a lengthy queue and will take some time to progress through.
There are two reviews in sequence. The first is an automatic scan to check to see if your subscribers or your views are fraudulent in any way. If you were buying subscribers or views to meet the minimum standards, chances are that Google will filter out what doesn’t count, and will deny you monetization if you no longer meet the standards afterwards.
If you pass this initial filter, your profile is then scanned to see if it violates any of the Partner Program terms or community guidelines. You can read both of those documents here: partner program terms, community guidelines.
There’s nothing in these documents that should come as a surprise. Don’t post copyrighted content, don’t post hateful or violent content, don’t post porn, you know the deal. It’s the same sort of terms as are on basically every social media site.
Google claims that this decision will be handed down to you “usually within a month or so.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but this is a major delay to me. I hate reaching a threshold for review and having it take more than a day or two to complete, but here’s Google, saying they’ll take multiple months to review your profile! They’re not wrong, either. They have a huge queue of profiles to scan, many that just barely meet the minimums, and they have to give themselves plenty of leeway to be very fickle in how they enforce their guidelines. After all, YouTube has a huge issue with copyright enforcement, as anyone who pays attention should know.
All in all, the total process for getting a monetized YouTube channel will take probably 3-6 months at the bare minimum. This assumes you have an established brand and video creation skills, and that you’re good at pushing your videos such that they trend, you’re good at converting subscribers, and that you can keep up consistently good work. If you struggle to meet the watch time or subscriber goals, it can take a lot longer. Even then, half of the time it takes is spent waiting for Google.