Is there a formula for success in making a TikTok video? Short answer… yes.
Every TikTok account is going to have a different audience, which means the guidelines for success are going to vary. However, creating a successful TikTok video is not as nuanced as people believe, and neither is the algorithm. There are clear trends and patterns to successful videos on the platform, and we have spent A LOT of time analyzing them and running our own experiments in order to distill TikTok success down to a science.
To understand how to make a successful video, you first need to understand your judge.
Let’s meet the TikTok algorithm…
Breaking down the algorithm
TikTok’s For You page is the cornerstone of what makes the platform so successful. There is no other platform that makes it so easy to discover new creators. The algorithm that builds each user’s For You page takes into account user preferences in order to suggest videos. No one is going to have the same For You page because no one is going to have the same preferences or behaviors.
The videos that are suggested on the For You page are based on many factors. It starts with preferences that you establish as a new user, and then the algorithm gradually learns more about you as it gathers data on what you interact with the most and what you clearly do not like.
According to TikTok themselves, the ranking system is based on factors such as:
- User interaction
- This includes video likes, saves, and comments, accounts you follow, content you create, and interactions with other users who like similar content to you.
- Video information
- This is where SEO comes in. This includes video captions, overlay text, sounds, and hashtags.
- Device and account settings
- This includes things like language preference, location, and device type; however, this factor does not weigh as heavily as the other factors.
Various factors get various weights in the ranking system based on the interests of the viewer. Certain factors like video completion have a higher weight vs. factors like the common location because they are a better representation of the viewers’ interest. The algorithm then sorts these rankings, identifies the videos that it has calculated will be the most interesting to the user, and then feeds it to the For You page.
That is exactly how the algorithm works —not as glamorous or mysterious as it seems, right?
But how does your follower count contribute to the algorithm?
Because creators with larger followings have built a larger community base to serve the content to, it is natural that their content would likely get more views than someone with a smaller audience. However, this is not a direct contributing factor to whether a video is fed to the For You page. An account with 100 followers can have its video fed right after an account with 1 million followers. TikTok is not a platform where the big dogs run the show, which is part of its appeal to creators and users alike. Generally, anyone has a chance to go viral no matter their audience size.
What does it mean to go viral on TikTok?
The word “viral” is largely subjective since there is not a set number of views that constitutes a video as “viral”. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, the levels of virality are as follows…
- 250,000 views: Mildly viral
- 1 million views: Medium viral
- Over 5 million views: Viral sensation
These aren’t hard and fast numbers though. What you consider viral for a small account may be different for a larger account. Word of the wise: measure your success against your past performance, not against other people’s.
How to make a successful TikTok video
How do you make a successful TikTok video? The checklist below will help guide you through creating a great TikTok video, every time.
Choose an interesting or trending topic
If your topic is not interesting, the video will not do well. Though the topic is not what’s going to make your video fly, it is what can make it fail. At a foundational level, there has to be a group of people on TikTok that will see your video and be interested in what you’re talking about.
Note: This is also why understanding your niche community is very important.
As you post more videos you can experiment with various topics (and delivery styles!)
and figure out what topics resonate the most. As you see certain topics performing better than others, dig into those and produce more content surrounding that. Your audience will tell you what to make in order to go viral.
Identity potential trends or sounds to use
This is a bit of a chicken or the egg situation. As you are creating videos you may see a trend that you want to participate in and then come up with the idea of how to apply your niche/brand message to it. On the other hand, you may decide your topic and then identify a trend that allows you to communicate that topic in a fun way. Regardless, the important piece of doing trends is making sure they are relevant to your niche, will be understood by your audience, and are performed correctly. Missing the point of a trend is worse than not doing one at all.
If you are explaining information, keep it concise
The goal of every video is to keep the viewer’s attention. When presenting information, cut out the fluff and identify the key points that need to be said. This way you don’t lose them halfway through.
Perfect your delivery
Delivery is EVERYTHING for video success. No optimizations matter if the content itself is not engaging. You gotta think, it would be a shame for people to miss out on valuable content because the delivery wasn’t on point and they moved on. Here are a few notes on how to perfect your delivery in TikTok videos:
- Keep it short and concise by avoiding fluff and cutting clips to be short and quick transitions
- Lead with authenticity. The best way to grab attention is to show your true personality.
- Sometimes it takes a second to find your voice in front of the camera. You may be super engaging when speaking with friends, but as soon as the camera turns on it may get choppy or awkward. Push through it and keep practicing! If you need to, listen to your favorite song or have a little dance party to get your energy up. We aren’t kidding, we have done this before! You can also try talking without the camera recording first to get into that habit. Just pretend you are on the phone with a friend!
Watch your energy. Energy translates through a video, so you need to learn how to own your presence and communicate with positive energy. This is done through our nonverbals – voice inflection, facial movements, posture, volume, etc. Think about the difference between someone talking about something they’re passionate about vs something they find quite boring. Practice in the mirror or film a few takes to make sure you get this right.
Use accurate and skilled editing
You do not need to be a professional video editor in order to make a great TikTok video; however, there are a few general editing rules to follow in order to have the best results. Shorten the beginning and the ends of your clips to get rid of lag time that could result in the audience leaving. If there is music or a voiceover that the video should align with, make sure it does or the effect will be lost.
Use a strong hook
Users are scrolling TikTok and will move past a video with a swipe of their thumb. If you do not hook them within the first 3 seconds, they will not stay. Hooks are arguably one of the most important aspects of a viral video. Hooks should be something controversial or scroll-stopping like:
- You will never believe how I…
- There is no way I just discovered how to…
- You have been doing X wrong all this time…
- I thought about *gatekeeping this…
*TikTok Vocabulary Lesson:
Gatekeep (verb): To withhold information from others so the information doesn’t become monopolized or mainstream. General consensus is that gatekeeping is not a cash-money thing to do
Optimize for SEO
Just like with Google, there is an SEO strategy for TikTok. Search Engine Optimization consists of optimizing 3 key pieces of your content.
When you go to search for a topic on TikTok you will see what videos rank in the top 3. Study what keywords they used. Your goal is to be one of those videos for the keywords you are optimizing for.
Optimize watch time
As you post more videos, you will be able to measure how long your viewers are watching in the TikTok Analytics tab (Click the options icon (the three dots) on each video to pull up the analytics!) The data on watch time will give you an idea of how long you are keeping your audience engaged. This will inform several possible pivots…
- If you need to shorten your videos or if your audience is staying for a while
- If you need to use stronger hooks or provide more engagement to stay longer
Watch time is a key metric to a video’s success, so the longer you can keep people there the better! Also, don’t forget to take a look at the watch time graph in the analytics section to get a deeper look at when your viewers are dropping off!
When looking at your watch time graph, scroll over the graph to see the percentage of people that remained on video from the start. If you are noticing a drop in views at 4 seconds in, you need a better hook. If you’re seeing a plateau on the graph, that indicates that you are maintaining their attention. Watch back and see what you were doing to keep them there. Identifying where people stayed or where they left gives you a direct insight into what to do again and what not to repeat.
Study your For You page and identify what videos you are being served and why. When you watch a video or interact with it, figure out what they did well that you can replicate. A large part of creating a successful video is practice. So the more you create, the better you’ll get.
Types of videos on TikTok
TikTok has many different types of videos that creators make. Though not every video can be put in a category, here is a list of some popular video types that can be used as a starting point.
- Reviews/Unboxing Videos
- Trending Sounds
If you are just getting started, you can identify what types of videos are relevant to your niche and start creating those! The first month or so is straight experimentation on the platform, so cast a wide net by creating some videos in each category and measuring their success. Explore different topics and ideas, all the while measuring what videos do well and why. Once you see a video perform better than the others, use that data to make your next videos. This creates a constant feedback loop of creating, identifying successes, iterating your strategy, and creating again.
Don’t be afraid to rinse and repeat. If you study some of the most successful creators on TikTok, every single one of them has 1-3 content types that they saw perform well and they capitalized on it. The goal is to find what your key success pieces are and then use them to your advantage in your community’s growth.