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 you can start watching videos or creating 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 them)
  • 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 probably use YouTube to watch other people's videos too.

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 really for everyone — whether you're an individual simply 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 wide 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 so much more.

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

Getting Started With Watching Videos On YouTube

There are all sorts of ways you can watch YouTube videos. They 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 on a link to the video that shared via email, text message, social media, etc.

In order to get personalized video suggestions, create playlists, comment on other videos and subscribe to channels, users 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 lots of 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 video to watch on the home page, based on your viewing history.
  • Subscribe to your favorite channels so you can easily find their latest videos.
  • Receive notifications from channels whenever 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.

Finding Videos to Watch on YouTube

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

Interacting 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 liked it or not;
  • Leave a comment;
  • Reply to another user's comment; or
  • Like another user's comment.

Sharing YouTube Videos

If you find a video you particularly enjoy and want to share with others, you have multiple options for sharing it. Email sharing, along with sharing options for every major social networking service.

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

Screenshot of YouTube showing how to share a video on social medias and through other methods.

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.

Saving 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, just click the Add to button and then choose the list you want to add the video to. You can also choose to create a new playlist.

Screenshots showing how to add videos to lists for later viewing in YouTube.

Subscribing to YouTube Channels

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

A screenshot of YouTube.com.

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

To find the latest videos from channels you subscribe to, you can 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.

Uploading 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 all around the world that upload videos every single 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 find the video on your computer, fill out the necessary fields (topic, keywords, description) and click upload.

Screenshot highlighting the Upload button on YouTube so users can upload their personal videos.

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

For a detailed walkthrough showing you how to upload videos to YouTube both via 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 different 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 even when your screen is turned off.

YouTube Gaming: Enjoy both live and on-demand video gaming content.

YouTube Live: Broadcast yourself live on YouTube.