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Understanding YouTube’s Algorithm in 2020

In my previous blog on YouTube’s algorithm, I left you with the two objectives 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

Since there has not been official documentation about the algorithm except for a research paper from 2016, I considered it as the baseline for our understanding of YouTube’s algorithm, and have been building on it with data from our channel and YouTube experts across the globe. In this blog post, I attempt to deconstruct the YouTube algorithm heading into 2020.

Focus on High Quality, Evergreen Content

Quality content is the cornerstone of any YouTube content plan. YouTube is a unique social media platform in that content published years ago might today rise to be among your top videos. Timeliness is not a constraint on YouTube. It is a place where users come to learn about a wide range of topics. And, the best part is that YouTube viewers belong to all age groups. According to data from Google – 75% of GenXers watch YouTube videos that relate to past events or people. Further, 70% of millennials watch YouTube to learn how to do something new.

Recently, we analyzed around 20 of our higher-ed competitors’ YouTube channels. We found that there is a negative correlation between the number of videos and the subscriber count for these YouTube channels. This means that higher the number of videos in a channel, lower the subscriber count. This could probably be an indication of why quality trumps quantity on YouTube.

Once you feel that you have perfected the quality-quantity balance for your channel, make sure to have the best hygiene practices in place for your videos – keyword-rich titles, tags, and descriptions. Caption files are an excellent source of meta information, and they also help accessibility. You should also spend some time creating compelling Thumbnails that boost your click-through rate, an important signal for the YouTube algorithm.

Keep Viewers on YouTube

One thing is absolutely clear – YouTube values engagement metrics like average watch time over views. If your videos can find a way to keep viewers on YouTube, you will be rewarded. There are a lot of things you can do to keep viewers on YouTube:

– Create high-quality content

– Sort content into playlists

– Use end-screens and video cards

– Create a video series on the same topic/theme

– Encourage engagement with calls to like, comment and subscribe

Take Advantage of YouTube’s Level Playing Field

Last year, I wrote about how YouTube is moving toward creating a level playing field for smaller YouTube channels. We are increasingly seeing small YouTube channels being suggested by YouTube on the home screen or as part of ‘Topics’ or ‘Mixes’. So, if you are a small YouTube channel, producing great content in a niche, your videos have an increasingly better chance of being visible alongside huge YouTube channels. YouTube’s algorithm is rendering more personalized content than ever before. Something like this happened to our student-run channel when a video went viral, thanks to YouTube suggesting the content in ‘Browse features’. As of writing this blog, the video had 1.2 million views – 90% of them from YouTube suggesting it to viewers.

Focus on understanding your core audience – what videos they like, what videos they watch till the end. Identify videos with high average view durations. This should guide your content production going forward.

Watch Time and Audience Retention

YouTube is different from other social media platforms because viewers watch longer videos. One of the most important metrics that the algorithm looks at is Watch Time. Longer videos translate to higher watch time, which tells the YouTube algorithm that a viewer might stay on the platform for a longer time. Couple this with high engagement – content which users watch till the end, like, comment or share – it’s a perfect recipe for greater visibility on YouTube.

On average, 60% of the viewers drop-off halfway through a video. Ideally, you’d want your audience to watch till the end, click on your end screens, like/comment on your video and subscribe to your channel. Highly successful YouTube content creators and marketers tend to do the following to increase their retention rates:

– Use content-matching Titles, Thumbnails, and Descriptions

– Keep the subject narrowly focused

– Use a hook at the beginning – something interesting that promises value to the viewer

I hope you will think of these strategies as you plan your YouTube content for 2020. Good luck!