YouTube is the second largest search engine and the king of video content.

The platform has over 1.9 billion logged-in monthly users. Every minute, 400 hours of video get uploaded. It’s Google’s most prized possession and a go-to place for consumers hungry for visual content.

There’s just one problem. In an ocean of channels screaming for attention, standing out is a daunting challenge.

To make matters even trickier, the YouTube algorithm is a highly complex system, a result of cutting-edge software engineering. It’s constantly changing and gets better at outcomes YouTube pursues. Parts of it remain an elusive mystery to this date.

In the light of these realities, trying to game the video publishing leviathan may seem like a treacherous proposition. But, we’ve seen it many times— if you know what you’re doing, it can be pulled off.

A Comprehensive Guide to the Current YouTube Algorithm

A Comprehensive Guide to the Current YouTube Algorithm

To stand a chance, we have to examine the fine workings of the algorithmic engine under the hood. This is a way to avoid being at mercy of forces you cannot tame or understand. It’s a chance to ramp up your ability to attract and retain the audience.

So, here are some tried-and-true tricks to get more eyeballs to your content.

A Brief History Lesson

YouTube keeps many technicalities under a veil of secrecy.

But, there’s a lot that we do know. Things have shifted quite a bit since those simple times before 2012.

Back then, there was just one metric YouTube would take into account—number of views. The idea was to promote good content, but the platform came shy of this goal.

The main issue was prioritizing the view count gave rise to a clickbait problem. Many publishers were awarded for misleading titles. It didn’t matter that so many people would quickly drop out of their videos either.

Then, in 2012, YouTube decided to usher in a new era.

The revamped algorithm started factoring in two indicators: view duration and session time. The first is self-explanatory and represents a time somebody spends watching a video. The second one denotes time spent on the platform (session time).

Those who managed to retain viewers longer gained an edge. In the process, YouTube would set out to deal with inflammatory and borderline content.

The next milestone was 2016, which marked the inception of machine learning. This technology, alongside deep neural networks, was developed as serve as the backbone of the algorithm.

Today, after a few more updates, there is a greater focus on quality, but monetization too. More time spent viewing means more ads can be deployed. As you may know, advertising is the main revenue-generating avenue.

Pillars of a Strong Presence

The tricky thing is YouTube conducts ongoing fine-tuning of the algorithm.

What used to do the trick yesterday may not cut it today. But, the good news is we can rely on statements and documents coming from the corporation itself.

In a nutshell, the algorithm governs where and whether a certain video will pop up. There are six places where this can occur:

  • Search engine result pages (SERPs)
  • Recommendation feed
  • YouTube homepage
  • Trending streams
  • Notifications
  • Channel subscriptions

These different viewer touchpoints have varying effects on your YouTube strategy. Some are game-changing and others only marginally improve your visibility and reach.

For instance, it’s estimated that people watch what the algorithm recommends them 70% of the time. This is a big deal because it means viewers don’t directly search for channels/videos that much. They trust YouTube to display something fresh and interesting every day.

AI is the great “puppet master” that shapes and guides user behavior behind the curtain. It tracks user satisfaction to produce a personalized stream of recommendations.

Appeasing the Higher Powers

YouTube proclaims there are two main goals for its recommendation system.

The first one is to connect viewers with the content they might be interested in. The second is to maximize viewer engagement and satisfaction. The two are closely intertwined.

Apart from these recommendations, there are two other components powering the algorithm.

The first neural network is tasked with figuring out if videos are worthy of entering the “next up” selection. It goes over user history and also analyzes what similar viewers watch.

The second network ranks hundreds of videos according to score. Sadly, we are in the dark when it comes to the exact metrics it uses. It’s suspected though, that the age of the video and frequency of channel uploads play a crucial role.

How good a video actually is doesn’t matter all that much. What counts is how well it responds to user needs and wants. On a broader level, this has lead to one prominent trend.

Namely, viewers have been gradually pushed toward longer and more popular videos. This is because they have successfully engaged and delighted a large number of people.

Swimming with the Main Current

Let’s not forget the trending stream as well.

It features new and popular videos in a country of the user’s origin.

This is an attempt to balance popularity with novelty and geographical location. Here, view count and velocity matter more than in other sections of the platform.

The latter metric also heavily impacts your position in the Subscription feed, together with the number of subscriptions.

Moving on, YouTube search results aren’t to be overlooked.

They are a busy traffic lane you can tap into. To make it happen, mind the two primary factors of influence: videos’ metadata and user engagement.

Metadata pertains to SEO staples like video description, title, captions, tags, and keywords. They determine how well your video matches and responds to search queries in the eyes of YouTube.

Engagement is measured through the number of likes and comments the video has already spurred. Watch time is also a telltale sign of how engaged users are.

As you can see, search results aren’t a reflection of mere viewership numbers. Engagement is the best roof. It acts as a calibration mechanism for the algorithm across the platform.

In general, it takes precedence over any vanity metric, such as clicks. After all, it’s a demonstration of relevance, which goes a long way in the saturated video landscape.

Along similar lines, the pendulum gradually swung toward watch time as a gold standard for estimating video quality.

Capture and Analyze Various Data Points

YouTube is keeping its fingers on the pulse of the audience at all times and you should do the same thing.

In other words, take advantage of analytics to establish how you’re holding up.

Subscriber behavior is a pool of knowledge that must inform your approach and specific tactics. You are able to uncover interesting trends such as when peak watching time is.

YouTube’s own analytics dashboard has plenty of functions to explore. You can inspect how many impressions you have and how many views and watch time stems from it. Moreover, it’s possible to keep track of traffic sources for impressions and click-through rates.

Another useful tool comes in the form of a Search Report. Run it to discover the terms people use to find you and your content. Integrate these words and phrases into your SEO. Be truthful about it because otherwise, you compromise your retention capability.

What is more, see if you can detect some discrepancy between popular queries and your content topics. This problem can be solved by updating your content and making it correspond to audience inclinations.

If the gap is too large to plug, you can come up with completely new content pieces.

Lastly, it may be wise to scope out what your competition is doing. Borrow some cool ideas and see what trending topics gather the most attention.

Making a Strong Case for Your Content

If it isn’t clear by now, content quality is of paramount importance.

It entices viewers to stick till the end and we already demonstrated this is vital for YouTube. Thus, it goes without saying your content should be compelling and valuable.

With better posts, you will improve the average view duration and click-through rates.

But, if you still fall shy of the objective, identify your content’s weak, drop-off points. Bridge these gaps by inserting redirection cards. In addition, see if you can boost the value offered at the end of the video.

Apart from cards, endscreens and watermarks pose handy tools as well. Through clickable links, they can direct the audience further and increase your content’s performance.

This tactic is particularly effective when you have a binge-worthy video series. They are strings of videos that seamlessly tie into one another.

Alternatively, group similar videos into playlists and capitalize on the auto-play feature. Kick-off these playlists with videos that have the best numbers across the board.

Also, don’t hesitate to ask people to subscribe. This isn’t about increasing some vanity metrics. Higher numbers are associated with extended reach.

Essential Checklist

There’s a lot of ground to cover but fret not.

Here is a quick recap of things you may want to pay close attention to:

  • Keywords in metadata
  • Length of the video
  • Views
  • Click-through rates
  • Impressions
  • Watch time (retention)
  • Session time
  • Posting timing

These factors aren’t created equal: some carry more weight than others.

Using accurate and relevant keywords in metadata is an absolute must. While at it, you need to keep in mind the audience will read it too. Don’t go overboard with keyword stuffing and other petty tricks.

Descriptions should arrest attention right away, which means they have to be well-written and comprehensive. YouTube also likes to see longer descriptions even though users rarely click the “Show More” button.

Finishing Touches

There are a few other indicators algorithm processes that we haven’t mention up to this point.

What people don’t watch is important because it signals how impressions compare against plays. Only a fraction of impressions translate into clicks, which determine click-through rates and thus views. The “not interested” feedback further hurts videos that receive it.

YouTube also considers how quickly the video’s popularity explodes. Here, it evaluates the rate of growth and views velocity. New videos are given more chance to snowball.

Furthermore, notice image is the first thing most viewers see. It’s estimated a vast majority of top-performing videos use custom thumbnails instead of auto-generated ones.

You want to do the same in order to keep up. Make them vibrant and eye-catchy too. This technique can make or break your performance.

Finally, feel free to cross-promote and share outside the platform. Foster a synergy between your website, blog, and social media accounts. It’s all a fair game for people looking to amplify their success and supercharge growth.

Just watch your step. YouTube is trying to weed out cunning and manipulative users deploying bait-and-switch tactics. More often than not, clickbait titles and thumbnails tend to do more harm than good.

So, recognize where the limits of gaming the system are. Deliver on your promises to users and pierce through the immense publishing noise out there.

YouTube Algorithm at Your Side

If you mean business, you cannot just let video quality speak for itself.

YouTube aspires to deliver the right content to the people at the time they want it. There are so many things you can do to convince the power that be you deserve the screen time.

Before anything else, get familiar with how YouTube algorithm ranks and displays content. Know exactly what it takes to dominate different sections of the prime real estate. Your best bet is to play it by the book and pull up some tricks up your sleeve too.

Focus on optimizing your channel and content for user engagement and satisfaction. Step up your overall video strategy.

Leverage the recommendation engine to your advantage and maximize indicators you have an influence on. Be quick on your feet and keep up the pace with constant updates and changes.

Yes, we are aware there are a lot of bases you need to cover, but the benefits waiting are too amazing to be missed out. Do everything you can to glue viewers to the screen and take your visibility to the whole new level.

Contact us right away in case you need help with any aspect of your strategy. It’s time to kick your digital game into overdrive.

Best Regards,
Famoid Blog – 2020