Brands will spend $63 billion on search engine marketing in the United States this year, a total that nearly matches the entire combined budget devoted to the various forms of display advertising available on sites across the web.

While this may sound like a lot, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why marketers are so gung-ho on the Googles and Yahoos of the world. By sending contextually relevant links to users who have intentionally sought out specific information, these search engines allow brands and agencies to sidestep the problems they’ve historically had when trying to get people’s attention online.

YouTube - Bar Fight Simulator

But while marketers have universally accepted the effectiveness of search, they frequently fail to consider one of the biggest search portals on the entire Internet: YouTube. Though many think of the video platform as a social network due to its lively comments sections and the interactive fan communities built by star creators like PewDiePie and Bethany Mota, the truth is, it’s more than just that. YouTube processes several billion search queries monthly, making it arguably the world’s second-largest search engine. For brands and agencies, this incredible amount of search traffic makes YouTube’s pre-roll ads a powerful platform for combining the highly engaged search audience with video’s attention-grabbing mix of sight, sound and motion.

The Video-First Generation is Changing the Game

The viability of YouTube as a search engine is only going to get stronger in the years to come, thanks in large part to the Millennial generation and its huge appetite for video content. As you’ve no doubt noticed, the growth of social media has transformed the web from a place where people read written stories to one where they are more likely to engage with and watch video—regardless of whether they’re on their computers, smartphones or tablets.

“Watching video online has gone from a niche activity to mainstream. With new devices, video everywhere has become a reality.” senior editor Giselle Abramovich wrote in a 2013 Digiday article

YouTube - How To Fix Xbox 360 Red Ring of DeathAs a Millennial myself, I’m no different. Rather than looking up text directions, I’ve used YouTube searches to teach myself how to make sushi, how to fix my Xbox, and how to perform a dance move that was popular when I was in college (this last effort was ultimately, uh, unsuccessful). According to an article published by YouTube’s parent company, Google, earlier this year, these “how to” searches are up 70% year-over-year, and an impressive 67% of Millennials say they can find a YouTube video to teach them anything they want to learn.

This is great news for YouTube’s advertisers and important information for digital marketers of all stripes.

YouTube Presents the Perfect Engagement Opportunity

Though online video has exploded in recent years, many video ad formats remain deeply flawed.

Today, we see video ads frequently running on written stories that people are not particularly engaged with, in places where they don’t expect to see advertising. As a result, these poorly located messages cause people to click out of the site they’re browsing entirely, ensuring that the ads never get seen. This is even a problem on television, where a string of commercials usually causes me to reach for the remote or get up to find a snack.

By contrast, people who search for videos on YouTube are determined to see the content they have actively sought, so they’re likely to be focused on the screen when an ad comes on. What’s more, these tuned-in visitors have also learned to expect a single pre-roll ad, meaning they’re ready and willing to watch a sponsor’s message prior to their video.

Because YouTube viewers are both highly engaged and accepting of marketing messages, the platform is one of the web’s most attractive advertising environments and a place marketers can reliably lift brand recall, consumer perception and purchase consideration. Who doesn’t want that?

High-Quality, Contextually Relevant YouTube Ads are the Way to Go

For brands, the question should no longer be whether they should advertise on YouTube, but rather how they should go about doing so most effectively—and safely.

While marketers can succeed in other media by targeting individual users, it’s best to distribute your YouTube budget based on the content of the videos you’re advertising in front of. Since the platform’s viewers are so focused, they tend to remember which brands have advertised before which content, and you certainly wouldn’t want to associate your company with unsavory subject matter. Brand-safe YouTube advertising can be difficult to achieve, so make sure your advertising partner has ways to ensure that your ad won’t show-up on something objectionable.

As an experiment, I loaded up an instructional video entitled, “HOW TO ROLL PERFECT BLUNTS!” and was treated to a pre-roll ad from eBay. While it’s perhaps true that people are more inclined to make an impulse purchase when they’re under the influence, this particular “how to” video is probably not the sort of content eBay’s digital marketing team wants to be associated with.

YouTube - eBay
Pre-roll ad from eBay

Finally, you’ll have to make sure the pre-roll ads you’re running are ones people are, you know, actually going to watch and enjoy. As digital marketing consultant Brian Carter succinctly put it in an article for Convince & Convert, “The biggest obstacle to using pre-roll, just like any other type of content marketing, is you have to have a good video.”

Once you’ve got that, you should have everything you need to show you are locked-in YouTube viewers an advertising message they won’t soon forget.