What Is YouTube: A Beginner's Guide

Find out why this video platform is so popular and fun to use

What to Know

  • YouTube is a free video-sharing website and the second largest search engine behind Google Search.
  • All you need is a Google account to create a YouTube account so that you can watch videos or create your own content.

What is YouTube?

YouTube is a video platform that's driven by two types of users:

  • Video creators: People who have channels and upload videos to those channels.
  • Video viewers: People who watch videos, interact with videos, and subscribe to channels.

You can be both a creator and a viewer. If you have your own channel and upload videos to it, chances are you also use YouTube to watch other people's videos.

Who Uses YouTube?

Anyone with access to a computer or mobile device and an internet connection can watch YouTube content and share their own. YouTube is for everyone, whether you're an individual looking for a creative outlet or the CEO of an organization with a large budget for a video ad campaign.

Although its user base ranges from young to old, YouTube is particularly popular among younger people who prefer the variety of content, interactive components, and instant gratification of YouTube video content over traditional television. Many use it for entertainment purposes, for learning how to do something (tutorials), for keeping up with their favorite artists' latest music videos, and more.

YouTube is available in nearly every country and over fifty languages. Since it's owned by Google, all you need is a Google account to create a YouTube account and start using it.

Get Started With Watching Videos On YouTube

There are all sorts of ways you can watch YouTube videos. These ways include:

  • Navigating to YouTube.com and watching a suggested video or searching for one.
  • Downloading the YouTube mobile app for iOS or Android and watching a suggested video or searching for one.
  • Watching a YouTube video that was embedded into a post on a social network (like Facebook or Twitter).
  • Watching a YouTube video that was embedded into a web page or blog post.
  • Watching a YouTube video by clicking a link to a video that is shared by email, text message, social media, or another method.

To get personalized video suggestions, create playlists, comment on other videos, and subscribe to channels, you must create a YouTube account or associate an existing global Google account with the new YouTube account.

Learn how to set up your YouTube account for the first time.

Why You Should Create a YouTube Account

There are several benefits to creating and using a YouTube account, even if you never plan on using it for creating your own channel to upload videos. With a YouTube account, you can:

  • Get personalized recommendations for videos to watch on the home page, based on your viewing history.
  • Subscribe to your favorite channels so that you can easily find their latest videos.
  • Receive notifications from channels when they upload new videos.
  • Support your favorite creators by interacting with their videos (liking them and leaving comments).
  • Keep track of your video viewing history.
  • Save videos to watch later.
  • Create your own public or private video playlists.
  • Customize your user settings for notifications, playback, privacy, connected apps, and more.

Find Videos to Watch on YouTube

There are multiple ways you can find what you want to watch on YouTube. On the YouTube platform, you can:

Interact With YouTube Videos

If you find a video that you like, you'll notice several options below the video player. You can:

  • Give the video a thumbs up or a thumbs down depending on whether you like it or not.
  • Leave a comment.
  • Reply to another user's comment.
  • Like another user's comment.

Share YouTube Videos

If you find a video you enjoy and want to share it with others, you have multiple options for sharing it. Email sharing is available, along with sharing options for the major social networking services.

Click the Share button for a video, and you're presented with several options for sharing it with friends and family.

The Share button on YouTube

If you want to copy and paste the video page link to share it somewhere, you can do this using the shortened link provided beneath the social share buttons after clicking Share. You can also share a YouTube video that starts playing at a specific time.

Save Videos You Want to Watch Later

Since there's such a wealth of content on YouTube, the platform makes it easy to save videos you want to watch another time to your Watch Later list or a playlist you created.

To add a video to your Watch Later list, click the Save button and then choose the list to which you want to add the video. You can also choose to create a new playlist.

The Save button on YouTube

Subscribe to YouTube Channels

Another way to keep up with the people whose videos you enjoy is to subscribe to that user's account. That way, every time they upload something, you are notified. It's as simple as clicking the Subscribe button on the video information page.

The Subscribe button on YouTube

This is a great way to keep videos saved so you can come back to them whenever you like. 

To find the latest videos from channels you subscribe to, you'll find a link to each individual channel in the Subscriptions area of the left vertical menu or by looking for the section on the YouTube homepage labeled From your subscriptions.

Upload Your Videos to YouTube

Feel like sharing your home videos with the world? You're in good company.

There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world that upload videos every day to YouTube. YouTube has made every effort to make sure that the uploading process is as intuitive as possible.

All you need to do is select Create, find the video on your computer, fill out the necessary fields (topic, keywords, description), and upload the video.

The Create button on YouTube

Depending on the video's size and your internet connection speed, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.

For a detailed walkthrough showing how to upload videos to YouTube both on the web and the mobile app, check out our tutorial on how to upload YouTube videos. You might also want to find out how to create a YouTube channel and these popular YouTube channel ideas if you're not set on a theme just yet.

Other YouTube Services

YouTube has expanded its basic video platform to include several other forms of video entertainment and interactivity. These include:

  • YouTube Premium: Formerly YouTube Red, YouTube Premium is a subscription service that brings an ad-free viewing experience to all of YouTube, including all videos, YouTube Music, and YouTube Gaming.
  • YouTube Movies & Shows: Watch the latest shows and movies legally on YouTube for a small rent or buy fee.
  • YouTube Music Premium: Listen to music on YouTube without ads, offline, and when your screen is turned off.
  • YouTube Gaming: Enjoy both live and on-demand video gaming content.
  • YouTube Live: Broadcast yourself live on YouTube.