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Understanding YouTube’s Algorithm in 2019

Over 400 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. YouTube’s audience and content-creators are growing at breakneck speed. In such a scenario, it can be quite challenging to stand-out among the crowd. Luckily, YouTube’s algorithm is moving toward creating a level playing field for all content creators. Up until a year ago, a YouTube channel’s authority – the number of views, subscribers, and watch time – was a key ranking factor for the algorithm. Not anymore! YouTube appears to be moving away from this.

YouTube’s algorithm serves to render the most personalized content to its users. YouTube analyses viewer behavior on videos watched, click through rates, average time spent, engagement – likes, dislikes, comments – and explicit feedback submissions among hundreds of data points.

Now, where exactly on the platform does YouTube serve content to its viewers?

There are five different sections where a video can appear on YouTube: search, home, suggested videos, trending, and subscriptions. I have tried to provide a break-down of the YouTube ecosystem, and some tips to help your content find a way into one or more of these sections.

SEARCH

YouTube is the second largest search engine by market share. YouTube’s goal is to serve the most relevant search results according to the viewer’s query. Videos are ranked based on a variety of factors including how well the title, description, and video content match the viewer’s query.

YouTube Search Results Screen

YouTube Search Results Page

Search accounts for over 30% of traffic to CSU’s YouTube Channel.

Tips: All of the metadata for a video should accurately describe the video content. Be sure to optimize the Titles, Descriptions, Tags, and add Closed Captions.

Thumbnail and Title have emerged as the top two factors for discovery on YouTube.

Over 90% of the best performing videos on YouTube have a customized Thumbnail. The thumbnail should be catchy but not click-baity.

Use short and crisp titles. According to YouTube Creator Academy, titles with 50 to 60 characters perform the best in the search.

SUGGESTED VIDEOS

Suggested Videos is a personalized list of videos that a viewer may be interested in watching next, based on their prior YouTube activity. These videos appear on the side panel of the YouTube interface or as ‘Watch Next’ if Autoplay is turned on by a viewer.

Suggested Video Screen

YouTube ‘Suggested Videos’ Panel

Signals that contribute to these recommendations include:

  • Videos that viewers watch along with the current video, or videos that are topically related.
  • Videos from a viewer’s past watch history.

Tip: Tags play an important part in providing context to your videos and getting them into the Suggested feed. Make sure to include the most important keyword phrase as a YouTube tag.

HOME

YouTube Home is the first page that viewers see when they open the YouTube app or visit YouTube.com. Home is a great place for your videos to be found by non-subscribers.  YouTube displays videos from viewers’ subscriptions and videos watched by viewers with similar interest affinities and watch patterns.

YouTube's Home Screen

YouTube Home Screen

Tip: Keep some of your tags ‘broad match’ to cast a wide net for potential viewership. Use single-word relevant tags to maximize your reach.

SUBSCRIBERS

Subscribers are people who have opted in to see your content. The amount and frequency of the content can be adjusted in YouTube settings. Your channel’s subscribers can see your new videos in the subscriber tab:

Subscriber Tab on YouTube

Subscriber Tab on YouTube

Subscribers are any YouTube channel’s core audience, and they may provide the early signals (avg. watch time, likes, dislikes, comments, etc.) for a video to succeed or fail.

Tip: You could consider adding a relevant Call to Action (CTA) to subscribe to your channel. Using End Screens and Annotations can be useful to help grow your subscriber base, and increase the watch time on your channel.

TRENDING

The Trending feed is a list of videos that are new and popular on YouTube in a viewer’s country. YouTube considers view count (especially the rate of growth in views), the geography where the views are coming from, and many other signals to feature videos in Trending.

It is interesting to note that YouTube places emphasis on the growth rate of views, and not the cumulative views for a video to be in the trending list.  If a video from a relatively small channel is seeing a surge in views over a short period of time, it is as likely to feature in Trending section as any other video from a massive channel.

Trending Tab on YouTube

Trending Tab on YouTube

Tip: Keep producing great quality content, keep engaging with your audience, promote your video on other social channels, and keep your fingers crossed.

Lastly, I leave you with the goals of YouTube’s search and discovery system:

1. help viewers find the videos they want to watch,

2. maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction.

If you keep these two goals in the backdrop of your YouTube content creation and optimization strategy, you shall be rewarded in the long run.