How YouTube Recommends Videos (and Why it’s Not Recommending Yours)

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Carla Marshall
May 24, 2022

The words “YouTube Algorithm” can strike fear in the heart of a creator trying to grow their channel. There are numerous creators who’ll tell you a horror story about how they fell victim to a change in it. Our YouTube Algorithm Explained: Top 5 Things You Need to Know post broke down some myths surrounding how YouTube works. In this post, we’ll highlight one particular algorithm: Recommendations.

YouTubers often have a list of questions regarding Recommendations, such as how long does it take a video to get picked up by YouTube’s systems and how do subscriptions influence recommendations?

In the most recent insights available, YouTube itself pulled back the curtain just a little to show how it recommends videos to viewers.  Cristos Goodrow, VP of Engineering at YouTube, is specifically in charge of recommendations and what shows up in your home feed. He clarified some points close to creators’ hearts. We’ll highlight some of his answers below. To watch the full interview, click here.

Do Good Watch Time Minutes or Great Audience Retention Help YouTube Recommend a Video?

In other words, is 50% of a five-minute video better or worse than three minutes of a 10-minute video? The answer isn’t simple but lies in how satisfied the viewer is – so both metrics are important.

YouTube has determined that viewers tend to be more satisfied if they’ve watched more of a video. But it really depends on the particular kind of video and what a  particular user is typically more satisfied with.

How Long Does it Take a Video to be Picked Up by the Recommendation Algorithm?

YouTube has worked very hard to make its systems faster so that the new videos can get into the recommendation system as quickly as possible. The most important thing is identifying which viewers would be interested in this content. 

Suppose a viewer consistently watches videos from a particular channel and frequently watches them as soon as they’re uploaded. In that case, that viewer is a great candidate for being recommended one of its new videos.

However, It is hard for new videos from smaller or newer channels because YouTube just doesn’t have as much information about them. It’s a challenge to figure out how to match this new video to some particular set of viewers.

Why Do Viewers Get Recommendations from Huge Channels They are Not Subscribed to?

YouTube tries very hard to recommend videos from small channels too. The challenge with small channels is that they have less information about who the audience is for that channel. That makes it harder to find the viewers interested in those videos.

YouTube’s goal is to be as valuable as possible to users, especially frequent users. While subscribing to a channel indicates interest in the type of content it creates, surprisingly, not all subscribers watch every video that the channel publishes.

YouTube wants to offer you a choice of content outside of the channels you subscribe to based on your past viewing habits.

Do the Number of Subscribers a Channel Has Influence Recommendations?

Is the view-to-sub percentage required to be recommended in the first place? According to YouTube: no.

However, if a person is subscribed to a channel, then YouTube knows they’re at least familiar with that content. It’s an indication to the recommendation system that this might be a person interested in a video and what they have watched recently or what topics they are interested in.

However, if a channel hasn’t posted for a while or starts publishing very different content, YouTube wouldn’t necessarily keep recommending its content to viewers anymore.

If a creator uploads a new video to a channel that’s been on pause for a while, the recommendation system would start with the former subscribers and see if some were interested in the video. The algorithm might push it out to a wider audience if they were.

However, if the creator produces a very different kind of content than the old channel had on it, and those first viewers or old subscribers aren’t interested in it anymore,  the system will have to find a different audience for that new video.

What is One Thing YouTube Creators Need to Know About How the Recommendation Algorithm Works?

Recommendations are all about trying to help a viewer find the videos that will be most satisfying to them. The only way to do this on YouTube is via personalization. YouTube is really just a collection of millions of niches, and even the largest channel on YouTube has a tiny audience relative to the overall size of YouTube. Only a fraction of a percent of viewers on YouTube watch even the largest channels, and so really, it’s about finding your particular audience.

If you want to know more about the YouTube Algorithm, check out our guide below:

Why isn’t YouTube Recommending Your Videos?

If you read through the above explanation, it should be clear that YouTube wants to recommend your content, particularly if it keeps viewers on the platform for as long as possible. However, creators need to meet YouTube halfway if they want their content in front of as big an audience as possible. If YouTube isn’t recommending your content, it’s because:

Your Content is All Over the Place

If you are chopping and chopping the type of content you publish, it could confuse your audience. If it’s confusing for your audience, you can bet YouTube won’t know what to do with it.

By all means, experiment to see what works for you, but once you decide on a topic, try and stick with it. You can always create a new channel for your other ideas.

You Don’t Have a Consistent Publishing Schedule

YouTube may not always recommend your videos if you have a very inconsistent publishing schedule, especially if there’s a significant gap between uploads. You don’t need to publish every day, but pick a realistic plan you can stick to.

Your Videos Suck

The harsh truth is that your viewing or engagement metrics may be so low that YouTube won’t even consider recommending them outside of your subscriber base (and often not even then). MrBeast said it best when he says your videos suck, but he knows if you improve, you stand every chance of future success:

We hope this post has given you more insight into how YouTube works. The platform wants you to succeed, so pick up that camera and create your next awesome video!

Carla Marshall Author

Carla Marshall

Carla Marshall is the Content Marketing Manager at TubeBuddy. She has 10+ years of experience in video marketing, social media management, content marketing, DRM, & SEO