The YouTube Algorithm Explained: Top 5 Things You NEED to Know

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Renee Teeley
March 4, 2022
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This post will cover the top 5 things you need to know about the YouTube algorithm. It is especially valuable if you are a newer YouTube creator.

Check out the tips below or watch my full video for all the information you need:

#1 YouTube Wants You to Keep Your Viewers on YouTube for as Long as Possible

The YouTube algorithm is designed to keep people on the platform watching videos for as long as possible, so YouTube can run ads and make money. 

The goal is truly that simple. However, getting there is quite complicated.

YouTube analyzes over 80 billion different signals from viewers each day. It examines how videos like yours perform with various audiences. This informs its machine learning algorithms to help determine the right video for the right viewer at the right time. 

If your videos help keep viewers happy and on the platform longer, your content will be more aligned with the goals of the YouTube algorithm. 

If you are constantly trying to get viewers to visit your website, you encourage them to leave the platform. This is working against the goals of the algorithm. That’s very important to keep in mind. 

#2 YouTube Starts to Analyze Your Video the Moment You Upload

It is essential to understand that YouTube knows more about your content. It’s more than just what you list in the metadata, like tags, titles, and descriptions.

During the upload process, YouTube collects information about the video frame by frame. This way it can identify scene changes, objects, places, people, and even facial expressions. 

YouTube does factor in metadata, but for the most part, things like thumbnails, titles, and descriptions should be created with the viewer in mind to encourage them to click on your video. 

After your video has been published, YouTube immediately analyzes viewer behavior. Such as: are people clicking on your videos, are they watching all the way through, after they watch one video do they watch another one of your videos? These are all signals that tell YouTube how satisfied viewers are with your content.

#3 Watch Time is the Main Ranking Factor on YouTube

Not all metrics are equal, and the ranking has changed over time. 

For many years, YouTube ranked your videos based on views and clicks alone. However, these metrics were wide open for being played – by creators, marketers, and scammers. Misleading titles and thumbnails were being created to earn views when they had very little, or even nothing, to do with the content of the video.

This unintentionally incentivized clickbaity content and led to a lot of junk on the platform. Viewers weren’t happy, and YouTube received many complaints about the type of content being recommended. So it evolved the system to prioritize watch time over views and clicks to build back trust. 

Watch time is the time people spend watching your videos. You can see the watch time of a specific video and your entire channel in the Analytics section of YouTube Studio, with watch time represented in hours. 

Watch time is still one of the most critical factors for ranking videos today. Therefore, YouTube has also included viewer satisfaction and responsibility data to assess the quality of the watch time. This is an effort to maximize viewers’ enjoyment on the platform, so they keep coming back and at the same time, minimize the spread of misinformation or harmful content. 

They essentially do this through surveys and feedback from viewers on the actual video. It’s not a perfect system, and they continue to look for new ways to measure the quality of watch time. 

#4 There’s More Than One YouTube Algorithm

Another thing to keep in mind is that there isn’t just one YouTube algorithm. It’s a collection of different decision models personalized to the viewer and the perceived intent of the viewer at the time. They have different decision models for: 

  • Search
  • Suggested
  • Home
  • Trending Tab
  • Subscription Tab
  • Notifications

Take Search, for example. When someone searches for a video, they give YouTube information about what they want. YouTube is then trying to find videos that will have the highest chance of matching what the viewer is looking for and will keep them interested. 

YouTube is not just looking for videos with fully optimized titles and descriptions. It is also factoring in viewer signals like the watch time of a particular video for a specific query.

So if YouTube recommends your videos for a specific search term and people respond well to it, YouTube will continue to recommend the videos for that particular query. 

And with Suggested, YouTube is trying to determine what video someone is most likely to watch after the video they are currently watching. This will include videos that are typically watched together, videos with related topics, and videos based on the viewer’s watch history to deliver a personalized recommendation. 

This works similarly to other video platforms like Netflix; if you watch ‘Wonder Woman’ you may want to watch the sequel or watch another superhero film. 

#5 You Can Succeed on YouTube Even if You’re a Small Creator

The final thing to remember is that YouTube doesn’t hate small creators. This is something that seems to come up often on YouTube. Many creators with small channels feel like the algorithm is out to get them, and that’s just not the case. 

The more data YouTube has about your channel and how people respond to your content, the easier it will be for YouTube to predict how your videos will perform on the platform.  

YouTube has a lot more data about larger channels and videos with millions of views. Still, if you create videos that people enjoy all the way through and keep them on the platform, your channel will grow, and YouTube will start to recommend your content. 

YouTube is optimizing for viewers, and you should be doing the same with your videos. 

The YouTube Algorithm and Your Content

We recommend making sure you are creating videos for a specific niche and not just randomly switching between different topics. Also, make sure it’s obvious what your video is about in the thumbnail, title, and description, and analyze your audience retention. 

If people are dropping off quickly in your video, it’s going to be very hard to build up your watch time, which is one of the most critical factors in ranking on YouTube. 

Stay tuned for more tips!

Renee Teeley

Renee Teeley is the SVP of Content & Community at TubeBuddy where she works with some of the most influential and inspiring creators in the world. She is focused on building a thriving community at TubeBuddy and empowering the next wave of creator success stories!