Understanding the eight metrics YouTube’s algorithm uses to rank videos

Julia Fayre is a freelance blogger from Canada. She blogs on Dyna Themes. Follow her on Twitter at @juliafayre.

YouTube can be commended for making efforts to keep the marketing community updated about its latest developments in algorithms and analytics. This article looks at some of the metrics that YouTube’s algorithm uses to recommend videos to viewers on their Home and Watch Next screens.

Click-through rate (CTR)

On the home screen, YouTube shows the most relevant videos to viewers based on how many times other users clicked on the same videos and found them useful. The same CTR also helps your video rise in ranks when people search for keywords specific to your video. To enhance your CTR, you need to ensure that your thumbnail, title and short description are both catchy and informative. According to a recent talk by YouTube product managers, CTR is forefront in helping you measure your video’s first impression. As explained by YouTube Creator Insider Conor Kavanagh, “When a video’s topic, title or thumbnail attracts more viewers, that video is more likely to be recommended to similar viewers on Home and ‘Up next’ suggestions.” They also discussed rolling out A/B testing for thumbnails in the future which sounds promising for video creators to analyse which thumbnail performs better.

Average view duration (AVD)

YouTube judges the success of your videos by analysing how many of your viewers are watching your videos through to the end. However, if your viewers start watching your video and then leave before they have seen all of it, it gives YouTube the signal that your title and thumbnail were catchy enough to enable a good CTR, but the content failed to engage the viewer. You can analyse the watch time of each of your videos in the Analytics section thanks to the integrated channel performance chart in Creator Studio.

Video length

According to a YouTube Creator Blog post about video watch times, Youtube focuses “on those [videos] that increase the amount of time that the viewer will spend watching videos on YouTube”. A study shows that longer videos significantly outperform shorter videos. The average length of a first page YouTube video is 14 minutes, 50 seconds. The graph below shows the length of the video and its relation to video ranking from which we can infer that longer videos outrank shorter ones:

Number of views

The number of video views are somewhat related to rankings on the Home and Watch Next screens. They are no longer the main factor that drive rankings, but views are definitely considered for rankings as confirmed by a YouTube engineer.

Comments

YouTube analyses how engaging your video is by also taking into account the number of people who are taking out the time to drop you a comment below your video. Asking your viewers to give feedback in the comments section, responding to them and empowering your viewers by using their feedback for curating future content can help you rise in ranks. The graph below shows how number of comments affect video rankings on YouTube:

Subscriber count

If you have people coming to watch your videos again and again, it is worthwhile to prompt them to hit the subscribe button. However, if you are just starting on YouTube, don’t let your small subscriber count disappoint you. A channel’s subscriber size and rankings only moderately impact your video’s rankings which means that even small channels have a chance to rank their videos in YouTube if their content is trendy and engaging. Subscription driven videos which are new videos that result in new subscribers have higher rankings in YouTube search results. So keep your content real and engaging to motivate people to subscribe to your channel to watch more.

Keywords

Now that YouTube’s algorithms can judge the content of the video without using the metadata, keywords and tags in the description of the video have a very small contribution to the ranking of the videos. The tags and keywords still play a role in YouTube search results. For example, during quarantine in COVID-19, more and more people searched for DIY and hacks. 5-Minute Crafts and Cocomelon for kids are among the top-ranking channels of YouTube as of July 2020.

Resolution

HD videos dominate YouTube’s search results. 68.2% of videos on the first page of YouTube are in HD and we all know that the first page of search results is all that matters to a searcher. An HD video has two benefits: one, it is easy on the eyes and motivates a viewer to watch your video in full; second, an HD video sends out the message that you are serious about creating your visual stories and are ready to invest in quality.

Your video analytics can help you analyse your efforts in delivering high-quality content to your viewers but, there are still more factors involved that can affect your viewership. We will discuss three of them here:

  • Competition: Benchmarking what your competitors are posting on YouTube can also help you realise techniques that are missing from your current videos. Conducting a situational analysis on YouTube will help you write guidelines for your future videos
  • Topic interest: Some topics may have larger audiences than others which means that some topics will be searched for and viewed more than others. For example, DIY tutorials on arts and crafts may appeal to more video watchers than a step-by-step guide on how to paint your car. The number of views on your videos will reflect the demographic you are targeting (mass or niche). You must select SMART objectives for your marketing strategy and define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) accordingly. For a niche marketer, the number of views may not be a KPI, but appearing to the right viewers in the right context will be
  • Seasonality: The views on YouTube are not consistent throughout the year. September means the start of the new school term and as more students head off to school, the eyeballs on YouTube drop significantly. If your metrics are showing that you are doing well, but your video is still not garnering enough views, check the trends of your audiences. Are they interested in another topic or busy somewhere else at the moment? Your media calendar and schedule should be updated to engage them by relating to their lives

With two billion content creators posting videos and getting rewarded directly from YouTube for their efforts, you can be sure that YouTube is invested in making itself the best platform for both creators and viewers. These metrics can give you the numbers to help you “keep it real”.

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

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