If your business is on YouTube, the algorithm can potentially make or break your content strategy. To gain views on your videos and increase your brand’s organic growth through your YouTube channel, it’s important that you understand YouTube’s algorithm.
YouTube is big. Really big. According to their press website, YouTube has over 2 billion monthly users – and that’s just the ones that are logged in. In other words, that’s almost 1/3 of the internet.
With such a huge potential audience at your disposal, you’re definitely going to want to take advantage of it. In theory, it seems simple. Film, edit, and upload a video – and watch the views pour in. But it’s not quite that easy. It takes a bit more effort than you might think.
So, when using YouTube as a marketing tool, it’s imperative to understand how to optimize your content for the algorithm. That way, you can use the algorithm to your advantage. There are tons of different factors that the algorithm uses to categorize your videos.
The algorithm is actually not as big of a mystery as you might think. YouTube is refreshingly transparent about the key indicators that the algorithm uses. But, if you don’t have lots of time to go through Youtube’s Get Discovered course on YouTube Creator Academy or watch their videos, we’ll go over the basics for you in this article.
Also, be sure to check out our article Tips On How To Promote Your Youtube Channel for top tips on promoting your videos.
Why Use YouTube?
Since its introduction in 2005, YouTube’s growth has been really impressive. In 2006, YouTube was purchased by Google, skyrocketing the platform into its role as one of the biggest websites on the internet.
YouTube is so popular that during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many people around the world were under orders to stay at home, they actually had to reduce video quality for a period of time in order to keep the website from crashing. It was that much of an overtax on bandwidth.
If your company is not on YouTube, you’re missing out on a huge (and relatively inexpensive) marketing opportunity.
As the most popular online video platform sharing out there, YouTube is accessible to a huge global audience in over 100 countries. It’s one of the best ways to gain an international following.
Between 2017 and 2018, viewers engaged with creators 70 percent more. According to YouTube, even causal viewers are engaging a lot more.
The platform offers a unique way to connect with your customers. By creating videos that your viewers love, you strengthen their connection to your brand. It is essential to add YouTube to your social media arsenal.
According to YouTube, 70 percent of the videos that viewers watch are recommended to them by the algorithm. So it’s very important to understand how you can work with the algorithm to ensure that you’re building a sustainable following on YouTube.
Their research also states that the average viewer’s watch history is largely influenced by the recommendations that the algorithm provides.
What is the Algorithm?
The YouTube algorithm was created to match viewers with the videos that they may be interested in (and to keep them watching). With over 500 hours of video uploaded each minute, no team of people would ever be able to do this manually. YouTube calls it a real-time feedback loop that tailors videos to each viewer’s different interests.
It’s well known that many social media platforms use algorithms to determine what content people see. There are tons of different algorithms employed by different platforms – like Facebook’s algorithm, for example – and YouTube’s is one of the most efficient.
Many creators think that the YouTube algorithm is too complicated to understand. While it is pretty complicated, if you do your research you can find simple ways to work with it to benefit your channel (and, in turn, your brand).
When you’re trying to work to maximize your success with the algorithm, don’t get hung up on what the algorithm likes. The point of the algorithm is that it aims to reflect what viewers like. By that logic, if you’re making videos that people really like, the algorithm will help even more people find it.
The algorithm has two primary goals: to suggest videos that suit viewers and to keep viewers watching more videos. To do this, it focuses on viewers’ behaviours as well as the success of videos.
The goal of the algorithm is not to curate the best videos, it’s to identify and match viewers to the videos that will (hopefully) interest them. Remember that the algorithm doesn’t only look at videos, it looks at all users, too. It’s a mixture of video performance and personalization.
Algorithm Focus Areas
You should take note of these key areas that have been identified as key signals that the algorithm considers in terms of viewers:
- What viewers are watching: Which videos viewers actually spend time watching.
- What viewers do not watch: This includes videos that viewers click and then leave – and those really damage your click-through rate.
- How long viewers are watching: The longer viewers watch, the higher your click-through rate (and the better!).
- What they like and dislike: This is based on the feedback from the like and dislike buttons.
- Feedback from the not interested option: How many viewers click this option has an impact on your videos.
- Viewers’ demographic and geographic information: When suggesting videos to viewers, the algorithm looks at viewers’ particular locations and demographics.
- Viewers’ previously watched videos: If a viewer has watched videos that are similar to yours, you have a better chance of being recommended.
- The past searches of the viewer: Using a highly searched keyword in your videos is helpful here, because if many people have searched that word, your video may be recommended to many people.
- The frequency of uploads on a channel: The algorithm recommends content from active channels.
- How long a video has been online: New videos will be recommended to subscribers or viewers with similar interests.
- A video’s rate of growth (speed of popularity): Videos with a high rate of growth have a better chance of making it on the Trending page.
- Video engagement (likes, dislikes, comments, shares): Engagement shows interest in your videos and the algorithm will suggest it to more viewers.
- Impressions: This includes how many viewers see your video suggested to them (thumbnails, etc.) – aim to get as many impressions as possible for the best results.
3 Key Algorithm Areas to Watch
There are certain factors that you can try to control, and these are the ones to focus on while using YouTube for your brand. First, consider the click-through rate of your videos (in other words, the chances that a viewer will actually click on your video after seeing it). You can also work to increase your videos’ watch times by engaging with the audience. Finally, encourage viewers to watch more of your videos in order to gain a following.
Your YouTube Analytics will give you some key insights into how viewers are interacting with your channel. Consider these areas and pay attention to which videos do well on your channel.
If you have a particular video that does well, make more like that one. And, if you want to experiment and try something new, YouTube encourages that too. That way, you can find what works and keeps viewers coming back for more.
Where Can the Algorithm Recommend Your Videos?
There are two overall areas where the algorithm can surface your videos to viewers: Search and Discovery through recommendations that appear on various different pages throughout YouTube.
YouTube’s search and discovery system works in two ways. First, so that viewers can find videos that they’re interested in, and also, for cementing long-term viewer satisfaction and engagement.
Ultimately, you want to appeal to the algorithm so that YouTube will recommend your videos to users. Again, think of this as appealing to viewers, because viewers will always drive what the algorithm likes.
YouTube’s website features a few different pages where viewers can search, discover, and check up on subscriptions in order to choose what videos they want to watch.
Because there are a number of ways that your videos will be found by viewers, here are a few of our top tips for each section.
Search, much like Google’s search engine, will show you the most relevant results of your keyword. It’s important to remember that each viewer will turn up different search results, even if you enter the exact same query. In order for your videos to do well in search, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a great title, complete description, and relevant content.
In YouTube Analytics, use the Traffic Sources section to find out what words viewers are using in the search bar to find your channel and videos. It’s a good idea to consider the top keywords for your title, or at least your description because they’re already tried and tested words that have been proven to bring traffic to your channel. Do this in moderation, however. You don’t want to be using random words that aren’t relevant to the topic.
You want to keep your title at a good length. It’s recommended to use between 50 – 60 characters in your title, as YouTube has identified that videos with titles in that range of length do well.
Also, including your company or brand in the title is a great way to keep your videos consistent and helps with brand recognition.
Our advice for your description is very similar to the title. In addition to this, think about the length of your description. Ideally, you should have 1-2 paragraphs of relevant content. If you can’t come up with that much, we recommend relevancy over length.
If you’re just putting your social media or a few sentences in your descriptions, you’re really missing out on content that will help you a lot in the algorithm – don’t skip this step!
By the way – your first sentence is the most important. It’s the one that viewers see before they click on your video in search.
Make sure the content of your video is relevant to the keywords you’re using in the title and description. You can also do some research here. Search your keywords and watch some of the top videos. What can you do to build on these ideas and make something better? Try to add something to the topic or make it more accessible… don’t just regurgitate the content of the top videos. The goal is to stand out.
Also, keep an eye on what’s trending or other topics you see that are less popular, but still relevant. These are great areas to start to establish your brand with some great content.
Thumbnails are also super important, as they show the viewer a small snapshot of what your content is like. It is generally accepted that thumbnails with a talking head do better because people are naturally drawn to a talking head. Also, it is worth noting that viewers will always want to see exciting content from your videos, so if you are running out of clips or footage, it is always nice to know that you can find stock footage or videos online to add a little more runtime for your video.
In addition to searching for videos, there are a few different places that viewers can discover your videos. Here are some tips to make sure your videos are getting maximum exposure.
Suggested Videos shows viewers a tailored collection of videos that the algorithm thinks they would be interested in watching next. Usually, these videos are related by topic (potentially another video from the same channel, or a similar video from a different channel) or by the viewers’ watch history.
In the Traffic Sources section of your YouTube Analytics, you can see which of your videos have attracted traffic from the Suggested Videos section. To make sure your videos continue to be suggested to viewers, make use of playlists, cards, links, and end screens in your videos.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to make your video endings too long, or you risk losing viewers. You can also group videos together into a series and make challenge or list videos, which are popular video formats.
YouTube’s Home page is different for every viewer. The algorithm selects videos for each particular user based on two factors: the performance of the video itself and the search and watch history of the viewer.
Make sure you’re active on YouTube to be included on the Home page. The best way to do this is to keep viewers engaged. Whether they’re spending a lot of time watching some short videos or just watching one long video, the longer viewers are engaged, the better your videos will do.
Another tip for appearing on the Home page – don’t violate any of YouTube’s policies. Do your due diligence and make sure you use accurate and appropriate titles, tags, and thumbnails.
YouTube’s Trending section differs depending on your country. According to YouTube, they aim to combine popularity with novelty here. While views are important to gain popularity, there are many other factors that the algorithm considers before a video appears on the Trending page.
If you want your videos to appear on the Trending page, try to make videos that are super accessible. If you’re creating great shareable content that is appealing to a large number of people, you’ll gain new viewers.
The algorithm also looks at your own subscriber level and the metrics of your particular videos (including your channel’s growth). So while your video may not have the most views, if it gains enough growth, it may appear on the Trending page.
Creator on the Rise and Artist on the Rise are sections within the Trending page that feature creators and artists with strong channel growth.
Subscriptions and Notifications
Viewers will see videos from the channels they subscribe to on the Subscriptions page. Gaining subscribers will help to ensure you’ll have a more loyal following. Use YouTube Analytics to check your subscribers’ watch times, as this is a helpful way to see what works well for your following.
To help promote your videos, YouTube will send a notification to subscribers and frequent viewers. The bell icon next to the subscribe button allows viewers to decide how many notifications they get, or whether or not they get them at all.
In order to gain subscribers and frequent viewers, gently encourage your viewers to tap the bell – that is, the notification bell – along with the subscribe button if they like your videos.
Tips For Optimizing Your YouTube Videos for the Algorithm
Don’t Use Clickbait
While it’s true you’ll see a higher click-through rate with outlandish video thumbnails or misleading titles, viewers may not continue watching once they realize they’ve fallen prey to clickbait.
Instead, you want to be keeping your watch time high, in addition to keeping a high click-through rate. In the algorithm, neither stands as successfully on their own as they do together. So work to create videos that first get viewers hooked to click on them, and then keep them watching with engaging content.
Keep Your Content Consistent
You should know your brand’s niche, so stick to it. Don’t try to go too broad with your content, or the algorithm will get confused.
If your content is too broad, you may find that you have only a few certain videos that do well. What you want to have is a sustainable rate of growth on your channel, and this can’t happen until you ensure that all of your videos do well.
For example, viewers looking at your video about DIY furniture tutorials want to subscribe to your channel for more DIY furniture tutorials, they don’t want to subscribe to a channel that is a hodgepodge of random art, food, and watersports videos.
Once you find what works for your channel, keep doing that. Stick to your niche in order to see real success on your channel, not just fleeting success when your random videos go viral.
Use Great Thumbnails
Thumbnails are really important. Along with the title, they’re often the only thing viewers see before deciding on choosing your video and they basically make or break your click-through rate. Thumbnails are your first impression – here are some quick tips to make it count:
- Use a talking head: People are naturally drawn to people. A study from Netflix identified that faces with emotions perform best in attracting viewers. As humans, we automatically respond to faces, and we respond to emotional expressions. So if you’ve got an exciting video, use a really excited shot of the person in the video.
- Use text: But not too much. Choose a keyword from your video that will stand out, or something exciting that’s related to the video. Keep it simple, because your title will explain more, but do use space in your thumbnail for text.
- Include your logo: This is a surefire way to let viewers know this is your brand’s video. It also helps with giving your channel a more cohesive and aesthetically pleasing overall look.
Another argument in favour of using a face in your thumbnail – a study by Research Gate found that users engage much more when photos include a human face. In fact, users are 38 percent more likely to like the photo and 32 percent more likely to comment on the photo if it includes a human face. This works for most social media content, so it’s important to keep in mind.
Write Quality Descriptions
Your video’s description is really important. The algorithm uses the description to search for keywords, and using the right ones will help YouTube surface more of your videos. Your SEO skills will come in super handy here.
While you do want to use the right keywords, don’t go overboard. Use clear language and keep it simple. It’s generally recommended to use 1-2 short paragraphs that briefly explain the content of your video. You’ll also want to be using those keywords naturally within the text.
Keep a Schedule
Or at least publish videos often. The algorithm looks at not only the number of videos you’ve posted but the frequency of your publishing, too.
Sticking to an upload schedule can be super helpful for the consistency of your channel, and it can help you plan your content better. Check out your YouTube Analytics page to see what day and time has been showing you the most success and try to continue posting then. For example, if your analytics tell you that your videos do especially well at 12pm on Fridays, make that your weekly upload slot.
The Algorithm Rewards Those Who Engage
Take an hour or so every week and engage with your audience. Reply to as many comments on your videos as possible, or even just like them (commenting is best, though). Being engaged with your viewers will help you see more success on your channel, and give you a much better chance of the algorithm noticing you. Viewers appreciate a response, and it helps to build a real connection between them and your brand.
Additionally, engaging with your viewers is a great chance to get some valuable feedback to help your channel. Don’t be afraid to ask!
If you’re seeing too many comments on your videos and you can’t possibly reply to them all, consider publishing a video thanking everyone for their support.
Don’t forget to encourage viewers to engage with your content by telling them to like your videos. If you don’t want to include it in the actual video or it doesn’t fit naturally into your video, include it in the description. Remember, the like and dislike feedback helps to inform the algorithm. Likes can make a difference.
Increase Watch Time
One of the best ways to increase watch time on your channel is to encourage viewers to check out your next video. There are a few ways you can do this. Of course, you can ask your viewers to check out your channel at the end of the video, but you should also make use of YouTube’s features.
Use cards and end cards to promote your other videos within your videos. You can also arrange your videos into playlists so that your next video will be suggested to the viewer.
Your call-to-action, whatever it may be, should feel natural and inviting. Don’t push too hard or it will drive viewers away. And, when you find what works, keep it consistent.
How To Apply These Algorithm Tips to Your Brand
These tips are all very applicable to your business. There are tons of brands that are working with a great understanding of the algorithm in order to see success when marketing on YouTube.
We understand you may be wondering where you should start. Why not take some pointers below and apply them to your business?
Here are 2 great examples:
LEGO is one of the most popular brands on YouTube, and it’s not hard to see why. We love how they make great use of the channels section to promote their other channels. Using different channels allows your brand to be more focused on specific areas. For example, LEGO’s Gaming channel is made exclusively to promote and create content about gaming.
Creating a series of videos is an awesome way to group similar content together and make it easier and more accessible for your viewers. LEGO has done a great job creating a few different series on their channel to organize their videos.
LEGO also does great video descriptions. Reading this description, viewers will have no doubt that they’re watching a LEGO Holiday Star Wars video. Again, keep your descriptions simple and make use of your keywords here. Know what you want your video to rank for and don’t overthink it too much.
Similar to Lego, IKEA has done a good job promoting country-specific channels. This is a great way to connect on a more local level if your brand is a multinational brand like IKEA.
Coincidentally, IKEA and LEGO have also just collaborated together! Collaborations with like-minded brands are a great way to increase your views on YouTube and introduce new customers to your brand.
Another thing that IKEA does particularly well is their playlists. If a playlist of assembly instructions or how-to videos would be a good fit with your business, it is a wonderful way to make things easy for viewers to find.
Think about your own brand – look at the videos on your channel right now and try to arrange them into playlists and categories.
Now that you understand how to optimize your content for your YouTube audience – and the algorithm – start publishing some great videos!
The best way to think about the algorithm is to think of it as your audience. And even though the algorithm will keep changing and evolving, YouTube’s goal will remain the same. As long as you’re keeping viewers engaged and watching, your brand and YouTube share the same goal.
It all boils down to really knowing your audience and anticipating what they’ll be interested in. This, of course, is exactly what the algorithm does.