Since marketers are at the mercy of algorithms on virtually every publishing channel, knowing how each of these unique algorithms work to attract and retain an audience is critical.
Fortunately, YouTube, which has over 2 billion users, is remarkably transparent, although some channels are more reluctant to tell the secrets of their algorithms. A course was launched for developers about being discovered and walking them through the details of increasing their visibility on the platform.
Of course, we attended the course to help you understand exactly how to improve your rankings on the video platform. Read on to learn what we discovered and how you can grow your audience on YouTube.
How does the YouTube algorithm work?
The YouTube algorithm offers its users the most relevant, personalized videos in five different areas of their platform: Search, Home, Suggested Videos, Trends, Subscriptions and Notifications.
By helping users find the videos they are most likely to see and enjoy, YouTube can keep viewers on the platform for as long as possible and get them to visit their website regularly.
To find out which videos and channels users are most likely to see, YouTube follows their audience. This means that they track their users’ engagement for every video they watch. In particular, they pay attention to which videos each user sees and which not, how much time they spend watching each video, which videos they like and dislike, and which videos do not interest them based on the user’s feedback.
Because their algorithm rewards engagement rather than vanity metrics like views and clicks, YouTube incentivizes developers to produce videos that their audience actually enjoys and discourage them from playing the system.
However, the YouTube algorithm also uses different signals and metrics to rate and recommend videos in each section of their platform. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the algorithm serves content across the six main user categories of YouTube: Search, Home, Suggested Videos, Trends, Subscriptions, and Notifications.
The two most important factors that will affect your videos’ search ranking are keyword relevance and engagement metrics. When ranking videos in search, YouTube takes into account how well your titles, descriptions, and content match each user’s queries. They also take into account how many videos users from your channel saw and the last time they saw other videos on the same topic as your video.
While user history is important, YouTube also researches “which videos generated the most engagement for a query”. The search area also offers sponsored ads related to the query.
When users access the home page, they first see videos from their subscriptions, and then suggest videos based on their previous viewing history and the performance of the videos. While you may be tempted to secure a coveted spot on the page for yourself, YouTube recommends that creators simply create good content that people will want to see and click.
No two users will have the same experience on YouTube – they want to give each of their viewers the most relevant, personal recommendations. To do this, they analyze user activity history and find hundreds of videos that could be relevant to them.
Then they rank these videos according to 1) how well each video engaged and satisfied similar users, 2) how often each viewer watches videos from each channel or other videos on the same topic, and 3) how often YouTube has shown each video to users .
YouTube also found that users tend to see more content when they receive recommendations from different channels. Therefore, they would like to diversify their proposed video feed.
The trending page is a feed of new and popular videos in a specific country of a user. You can find it by clicking “Explore” in the sidebar and then clicking “Trend”.
YouTube wants to balance popularity with novelty when rating videos in this area. Hence, they take into account the number of views and the rate of growth of views for each video they ranked. They also divided trending videos into four categories: Now, Music, Games, and Movies.
YouTube has a subscription page where users can view any recently uploaded videos from the channels they have subscribed to. That side isn’t the only perk channels get when they get a lot of subscribers, however.
To determine the rankings on their platform, YouTube uses a metric called “Viewing Speed” which measures the number of subscribers who will watch your video immediately after it is published. And the faster the display speed of your video, the higher the rank of your videos. YouTube also takes into account the number of active subscribers you have when they rate your videos.
YouTube also delivers tailored videos to users via notifications. Users can either not receive notifications from a channel, receive some notifications, or receive all notifications.
The only way to optimize what appears in user notifications is to ask your subscribers to tap the bell button next to the subscription button.
But how can you encourage someone to do so if you don’t already have enough viewers and subscribers? By optimizing your videos for the YouTube algorithm, you can grow your audience. Remember: it comes down to creating good content that people want to see.
How to optimize your videos for the YouTube algorithm
YouTube rates videos based on two characteristics: keyword relevance and engagement Metrics (which are used to measure the performance of a video).
Let’s take a closer look at both of them.
1. Keyword relevance
To rank on YouTube, you first need to optimize your videos and channel for popular searches. To do this, place relevant keywords in the titles, tags, descriptions, SRT files (transcriptions), video files and thumbnail files of your videos.
You should also look at the most popular queries that are directing viewers to your videos. You can find these in the YouTube search report. If these queries are slightly different from the subject of your video, consider updating your video to fill those gaps in content and add the keywords to your metadata. If there is a huge difference, consider creating new videos on these popular queries.
2. Engagement metrics
The next thing to consider when ranking on YouTube is optimizing your videos and channel for engagement. The key metric to consider here is Watch timeor the total time users spend watching your videos.
In order for people to watch in the first place, you need to get users’ attention to yourself. One of the best ways to get users’ attention instantly is to create vibrant thumbnails for each of your videos.
Thumbnails – the tiny, clickable snapshots viewers see when they search for videos on YouTube – are just as important as the title of a video. They preview your video and entice viewers to click through. This can help you differentiate yourself on a platform clogged with standard thumbnails that are all screaming for attention.
To create an eye-catching thumbnail, consider adding a talking head, as humans are naturally drawn to human faces. Also, consider contrasting the colors of the foreground and background of your thumbnail so it really pops.
Once you get users’ attention, you can get them involved by creating a bingeable series or show. You can also create playlists on a specific topic, starting with the videos that have the highest audience engagement rate. This increases the likelihood that users will watch most of the videos in your playlists, thus increasing the playback time of your channel and videos.
Another way to refine your overall video strategy is to measure the performance of your videos against other engagement metrics, such as: B. Average playback percentage, average viewing time, audience engagement, and average session duration. If you can figure out which topics and videos are getting the most engagement and focus solely on creating those types of content, you can look it up on YouTube’s search results page and suggested video feed.
Now that we’ve looked at how the YouTube algorithm works and how to optimize your videos, let’s take a look at how the algorithm has changed over the years.
Modification of the YouTube algorithm
Like the Google algorithm, the YouTube algorithm has changed over the years – but less frequently and without a separate name for each update. Knowing how the algorithm has changed is key to understanding the platform and optimizing the ranking of your videos.
2005 – 2012: Views
Before there was ever a “formal” YouTube algorithm, YouTube rated videos based on the number of views. After a video has been viewed a hundred thousand times, it is recommended to everyone, regardless of their interest in the subject or genre of the video.
This was an easy system to cheat. Keeping the page refreshed was one method used to increase the number of views. Others used clickbait titles to get more clicks.
2012 – 2015: time
While watch time is still highly relevant to the YouTube algorithm, it is not the central element. But it was from 2012 to 2015.
YouTube wants users to stay on the platform. Therefore, videos with long playback times were preferred to others and placed on the home page. It was signaled to YouTube that the video is worth watching and providing users with a positive experience.
The creators tried to tweak this change by creating extra long videos – or really short videos that users would watch from start to finish. In response, YouTube focused on overall viewer satisfaction, including measuring likes, dislikes, polls, and time well spent on each video.
2016: “Deep Learning” for recommendations
With millions of videos on the platform, it was a challenge for YouTube to recommend the most relevant and best-watched videos to individual users. Using a method called “deep learning”, YouTube began to carefully examine the user’s history to generate candidates and rate those videos based on the user’s activity.
The “video corpus” goes through two funnels: a “candidate generation” and a “ranking list” funnel. First, YouTube examines the user’s history to create a pool of candidates that are then sent through the “ranking” funnel.
Once the videos reach the ranking funnel, they are assigned a score and presented to the user from highest to lowest score. This is still an important part of the algorithm and probably the way we still get recommendations.
2017 – 2020: Removal of “borderline content”
On the How YouTube Works website, YouTube is promoting the platform’s four Rs:
“We Remove Content that violates our guidelines, To reduce the dissemination of harmful misinformation and boundary material, Wind up authoritative sources of news and information, and reward trustworthy creator. “
While the four Rs have been in existence since 2015, they have only been used to prioritize junk comments and start a dedicated platform for the news industry. The four Rs became a more prominent part of the algorithm in 2017 when the platform redirected users looking for extremist propaganda and in 2019 when the platform began systematically removing content that “marginally” violated its community guidelines.
YouTube made over 30 changes to reduce advertising for videos that spread false and harmful misinformation. With the help of external evaluators, Google’s public guidelines can be used to assess whether a video qualifies as “boundary content”.
Present: deeper learning and tighter control of misinformation
YouTube hasn’t announced any new changes to its algorithm yet, but we can assume that it will continue to use deep learning to personalize the user experience and continue to adhere to the four Rs to control the spread of misinformation.
Follow the YouTube algorithm to be successful on the platform
As the YouTube algorithm evolves, it is important to keep track of the changes so you know what is and is not being advertised on the platform. If you are a business or an individual developer trying to get an audience on YouTube, optimizing your videos for the algorithm should help your channel gain a loyal list of subscribers.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2018 and has been updated for completeness.