Understanding the YouTube Algorithm

Video Creative Producer
Published 6/28/22
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What factors determine whether a video performs well or not?

YouTube’s end goal is always centered around keeping viewers on its platform for as long as possible. It does this by leveraging an algorithm that tries to predict the content its viewers want to watch and serving it up to them to consume.

The two places where it has the most impact in doing so are within search results and recommended videos. The content that the algorithm chooses to serve the viewer is predicated on past behavior -- two people searching the same search terms in YouTube may ultimately receive completely different search results.

The YouTube algorithm ranks videos by assigning them a score based on performance analytics. Second, it matches videos to people based on their watch history and what similar viewers have watched. The goal is not to identify “bad” vs. “good” videos but to match viewers with content that they want to watch. When it ranks a video, the algorithm is looking at the following performance indicators:

  • Impressions vs. Views
  • Watch Time (cumulative time spent watching the video)
  • Viewer engagements (likes, comments, etc.)
  • Rate of Growth (how quickly a video’s popularity snowballs)
  • How new a video is (new content may get extra attention, hence why it’s important to upload new content regularly).
  • Session time (how long people spend on the platform after viewing the video)

However, the algorithm is always evolving to encourage certain user behaviors and favor videos that optimize this behavior. At present, the following user experience signals help determine what videos get more prominent positioning in search rankings and therefore are more likely to have an increased viewership:

  • Audience retention: The percentage of your video that people tend to watch. This demonstrates that your video is of interest and likely relevant to what people were originally searching for.
  • Audience engagement: Comments, shares, thumbs-up/thumbs-down, favorites, etc. Positive user engagements show that your video is liked by those who watch it.
  • Subscribers: This can be a huge factor, if your channel has a large following and continues to trend positively in subscribers, this indicates to the algorithm that your content is of interest to your audience.
  • Video Length: The right video length really depends on the kind of content you’re uploading. Marketing videos or B2B should be 2 minutes or less. Storytelling-driven content can perform well at longer lengths. YouTube will favorably rank longer videos that have good audience retention, but that doesn’t mean you should stretch your content to be longer. Consider the format and adjust accordingly.

While it isn’t suggested that you should create content that solely placates the algorithm, understanding how it works and what metrics are favored over others can help you make smart decisions in developing content, practicing good YouTube SEO and continuing the overall maintenance and evolution of your channel. Happy creating!