How young Kenyans are making money through YouTube ads

Wednesday March 18 2020

Wanjiru Njiru, a Kenyan fashion and lifestyle YouTuber who has at least 20,000 subscribers.


Growing up, I always loved watching shows and movies on TV. You know, admiring and coveting other people’s lives, and creating wild goals on how I’d like my life to pan out.

Of course, this was met by my father’s criticism, which I know came from a place of love — just like many African dads.

“Those actors you’re constantly sitting down to watch have earned their money after each show. What do you have to show for yourself?”

Fast-forward to today. I barely watch anything on TV. I’m always streaming movies and shows on my laptop. And because of how my schedule is set up these days, that is left for the weekend only.

That means I can only afford to watch short videos after a long day, and thank God for YouTube, which a couple of years back was mostly used to watch music videos.

Today, there are a wide range of categories on the platform from video blogs, reviews to documentaries.

Heck, people these days turn to YouTube to get any Do It Yourself (DIY) information. It’s a class in itself, unbelievably. Personally, I am currently learning how to edit videos through YouTube.


According to Statistics Brain, a whopping 1.325 billion people use YouTube, watching 4.95 billion videos every day — 3.25 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube each month.

But dad’s infamous question has always stuck by me, funny enough. And I constantly ask myself how YouTubers, who in the digital age are rising in number daily, make their money.

PewDiePie, real name Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, is undoubtedly one of the most famous YouTubers, with over 98 million subscribers.

Back in 2016, Money Nation estimated his earnings from his career on YouTube. He had an average salary of $12 million (Sh1.2 billion) per year and had an estimated $124 million since he began his stint back in 2010. His net worth at the time was a very healthy $78 million.


To bring the topic back home, Kenyans on YouTube are rising in number and popularity with the likes of Njugush and Henry DeSagu receiving Silver Creator Awards for hitting the 100,000 subscriber mark.

Wanjiru Njiru is a Kenyan fashion and lifestyle YouTuber who is currently at 20,000 subscribers.

“I quit my job to become a digital content creator and a brand influencer, which is just a fancy name for a YouTuber,” she says laughing.


So how exactly do successful creators like Wanjiru make their money?

The Influencer Marketing Hub listed a number of ways this can happen, including merchandising, affiliate links, sponsorships, subscription fees and endorsements.

In the real sense, however, YouTube creators monetise fully through advertising, in which they are paid based on two metrics: the number of ad views and the number of ad clicks.

An ad, short for advertisement, is a notice or announcement in a public medium promoting a product, service or event or publicising a job vacancy.

Google owns YouTube, which means it is easy for creators to sign up to Google AdSense, a programme that serves text, images, video, or interactive media advertisements that are targeted to the site content and audience.

In this case, the programme attaches ads to videos, which are displayed differently to viewers, in the same way it is dependent on the viewer’s web-surfing history.


There are three types of ads on YouTube: Pre-Roll, In-Search and In-Display. Pre-Roll ads act as a preview before the video starts and viewers can skip it after 5 seconds.

In-Search ads show up in the search results and are surrounded by a light yellow box, while In-Display ads show up on the right side of YouTube in the suggested video area.

According to Vertical Sight, advertisers choose ads on a cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-view (CPV) model.

CPC is when an advertiser pays money based on clicks. If a viewer clicks on an ad with a keyword that has a CPC of $3 (Sh300), it will charge that advertiser $3 (Sh300).

These text ads pop up in the lower part of the screen during the video and can also show up as a square banner on the right side of your channel.


CPV is when an advertiser pays money based on views. A view for the advertiser means someone watches an ad for at least 30 seconds or half of the ad; whichever comes first.

This means that someone could click on an ad 50 times but it still wouldn’t charge the advertiser more because they’re not paying for the click, they’re paying for the view.

For Njiru, the algorithms in the payment rates keep changing, even though she averages 15,000 views per video.

“YouTube remits a payment after you get to a certain payment threshold which normally is $100 (Sh10,000),” she comments.

This means that if one does not earn enough money, Google does not pay. It all comes back to traffic — if you can build it up, you will get to the point where you have enough visitors to exceed Google’s threshold and start to receive payments from them.

Njiru adds: “Of course the pay can get better, but I think focusing on improving the quality of the work plus working on building your brand and audience goes a long way.”

Which is what most YouTube creators do when they begin: build up an audience, reach the Google $100 payment threshold, continue promoting their videos, and as subscriber numbers continue to rise, they gain for themselves healthy incomes, which they supplement with other income-generating methods.

“In Kenya, endorsements and collaborations are a big source of income compared to YouTube itself,” she concludes.


Lisa Joy Ndege makes lifestyle videos for her YouTube channel, which she launched in 2016. She, however, started uploading more consistently last year.

“I haven’t been in the YouTube space for so long, but every video has its own audience. Some of my videos have got up to over 600 views while others are at just 43 views,” she says.

For Lisa, the money she earns really comes from collaborations and endorsements.

This means that she gets paid by the restaurants and products she often reviews on her channel.

She says her subscriber and viewer mark have not yet reached a level where she can get paid by YouTube.