Do you want to increase the views of your videos on your YouTube channel? If the answer is YES you should be very aware of the news of the YouTube algorithm and how it evaluates and ranks the content. This algorithm changes over time and you must take its behavior into account in order to position your content.
If you are a creator working to get more YouTube views, or a brand developing its YouTube marketing strategy, the platform’s recommendation algorithm counts for a lot. So how do you optimize your channel and your videos to work with it, not against it?
YouTube’s algorithm decides what people watch on YouTube 70% of the time. And according to the Pew Research Center, 81% of American YouTube users say they regularly watch videos recommended by the algorithm.
YouTube is generally not known for being very transparent with creators or advertisers about how positioning is done. That’s why we’ll look at YouTube’s history of priorities here when it comes to helping viewers discover new videos. We are going to expose how the algorithm works, as well as all the latest changes to the YouTube algorithm for 2020.
The first YouTube video was uploaded in 2005. Fifteen years later, people upload 500 hours of video to the platform per minute.
How do 2 billion users find what they want to see? The short answer is that it has changed over the years. But here is the long answer too:
Also known as clicks, for the first seven years, YouTube rewarded videos that got clicks, rather than those that kept users engaged.
Obviously, this system had a tendency to show people a lot of clickbait – misleading titles and thumbnails were proliferating. Users would click, but then they felt cheated, probably a little annoyed, and then left the videos in the middle. Eventually YouTube realized that its user experience was going down the drain and changed course.
Also known as watch duration, in 2012 the platform announced an update to the discovery system designed to identify the videos that people really want to watch. By prioritizing attention-grabbing videos at all times (as well as increasing the amount of time a user spends on the platform overall), YouTube could reassure advertisers that it was delivering a high-quality, valuable experience for people.
Meanwhile, YouTube also encouraged creators to stop worrying about algorithm optimization (that is, shorten videos for a higher retention rate or lengthen them to rack up more watch time).
Instead, as it still does today, YouTube encouraged people to simply “make videos that people want to see.”
In 2016, YouTube published a whitepaper that caused a sensation. In it, product engineers described the role of deep neural networks and machine learning in the platform’s recommendation system.
Of course, despite all the awesome jargon, this whitepaper doesn’t say it all. You can read it, but even if you understand it (or ask your smart friend to explain it to you), it is not the equivalent of Coca-Cola’s secret recipe. (It’s more like Coca-Cola advertising that the reason its drink is so tasty is because it undergoes a carbonation process and also contains sugar.)
At this point, we still don’t know many details about what’s under the hood of YouTube’s algorithm. But we do know that it tracks perceived viewer satisfaction to create an addictive and personalized recommendation stream.
Over the past few years, YouTube has faced many questions about the type of videos that its algorithm displays and promotes (or not).
According to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, YouTube is taking its responsibilities seriously and trying to balance a wide and fair range of opinions by ensuring absolutely dangerous information is not spread. For example, YouTube says that algorithm changes in early 2019 have led to 70% less watch time for “cut off” content. (Limit content is defined as content that does not completely violate the platform’s community guidelines, but is harmful or misleading.)
It is a complicated subject because it touches all the subjects: from white supremacy to the coronavirus. For example, in March 2020, the creators of YouTube said that the platform was demonetizing videos that even alluded to the existence of the coronavirus. YouTube’s position, meanwhile, is that it wants to support a diversity of views (that is, how governments should respond to the coronavirus) but not dangerous ones (that is, videos that say the virus is a hoax or that drinking disinfectant to hands will heal it). Wojcicki announced that “when people come to YouTube looking for coronavirus topics, on average 94% of the videos they see in the top 10 results come from high-authority channels.”
Regardless of your position, developments are ongoing, so this is an important discussion that both creators and advertisers need to keep informed about.
If you are a creator, remember that the fact that the algorithm rewards the content you create with high visibility and ad revenue does not mean that YouTube will not turn around and demonetize your channel or video if your content crosses the line of what can be converted in uncomfortable for some advertiser.
In the meantime, advertisers should know that their sneaker ads are not funding anti-vaccine or conspiracy theorists. YouTube’s algorithm in its current form is designed to demonetize boundary content, primarily to protect brands. At the same time, YouTube says it may never be able to guarantee 100% brand safety.
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According to YouTube, the algorithm is basically a “real-time feedback loop that adapts the videos to the different interests of each viewer.” Decide which videos will be suggested to individual users.
The goals of the algorithm are twofold: to find the right video for each viewer, and to keep viewers watching. Thus, the algorithm observes user behavior as closely as it observes video performance.
The two most important places the algorithm affects are search results and recommendation streams.
Unsurprisingly, the videos you get when you search for “carnivorous houseplants” will be different from the videos I get when I search at another point in time for “carnivorous houseplants.” Search results are based on factors such as:
The recommendation flow is a two-way process for the algorithm.
First, rate your videos by assigning a score based on performance analytics data.
Second, it matches videos to people based on their watch history and what similar people have seen.
The idea is not to identify “good” videos, but to match viewers to the videos they want to see. The ultimate goal is for them to spend as much time as possible on the platform. (Therefore, see as many ads as possible).
For the record, there are three other places the algorithm has a big impact:
While we don’t work at Google, here is an up-to-date list of all the different factors YouTube has mentioned in its various public discussions of the algorithm over the years.
When you rate a video, the algorithm analyzes the performance:
When you match a video to a potential viewer, the algorithm looks at personalization:
Here is our list of true and linked methods to play the algorithm right.
1.Optimize the text of your video description
Contrary to popular belief, that block of text below your video isn’t just a place to link to your social media (although you definitely should, too). It also helps the algorithm to show your video when users search for your topic. So be sure to upload the first sentence with a clear, keyword-focused description of your video.
2.If something works, repeat it
Developing influence on YouTube, as these five unexpectedly interesting YouTube channels have learned, requires paying attention to what your audience wants. That means paying attention to your analysis, but also to your instincts. The YouTube algorithm wants to offer people more than they have liked in the past. Skillfully experiment, get feedback from your audience, give everyone time to adjust.
3.Do you post frequently
The number of videos and the loading frequency is an important factor for the algorithm, and especially for the YouTube home screen. (It’s that personalized list of new and interesting videos that’s like Instagram’s Explore page.)
If you can increase the quantity without losing quality, go for it. The more videos you post, the more chance you have of hitting the right nerve. Maybe you can turn that smash hit into a series.
4.Make your videos public when your audience is watching
Topicality is an important ranking factor for all the social media algorithms we can name (the Instagram algorithm, the Twitter algorithm, the Facebook algorithm), and YouTube is no exception.
YouTube’s notifications feature pings your subscribers when you upload a video, and it’s definitely more effective if that happens when they’re looking for something new to watch.
But overall, we recommend taking a look at your YouTube analytics to pick the optimal time of day or week to post your most recent teacher. In many cases, this also means scheduling your YouTube videos in advance.
5.Keep your viewers interested throughout the video.
Another key performance metric for the algorithm is the duration of the view. You may see tips that advocate making your videos shorter or longer, but really, make them as interesting and fun to watch as possible.
Our informed assumption is that not just clickability, but retention (aka view duration) helps a video’s views and positioning.
6.Interact with your community
We will never stop saying this. Respond to your comments. Talk to your people. Just remember that the algorithm “knows” if you are having meaningful conversations or just lip service to increase your vanity metrics.
7.Convert viewers into subscribers
According to YouTube, your channel subscribers provide a number of important initial signals that help determine the success of your video. In other words, these fanatics are the testing ground; if they love it, the algorithm is more likely to show the video to new eyes.