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YouTube Algorithms, Engagement, and You

By Cody Ressler
January 24, 2018

Making a video
Photo by Garry Knight, CC BY 2.0, modified

As we move into 2018, it is important to understand how algorithms have automated much of what we see when browsing websites such as YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

While YouTube is certainly facing its fair share of controversies and criticism1, it is unlikely that YouTube will be toppled as the predominant video entertainment source for the current generation of young adults and children within the next five years. With that in mind, it is important that we can understand just how YouTube decides both what videos it thinks you should be seeing and how it places ads on those videos.

So many videos!

YouTube is currently experiencing a glut of uploads and content—​with over 400 hours of video uploaded each minute2—​and it can be difficult to have a video pick up traction within this never-ending barrage of uploads. While most of the videos you may see on YouTube have view counts ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions, the average view count for videos in the tech sector is just around 6,500—​and even this is much higher than the median view counts.

Many videos uploaded to the service do not utilize techniques to maximize the odds of their video being suggested to viewers, so more and more videos don’t break into the double digits of views.

Titles, descriptions, tags

One of the simplest things that is within your control is to optimize wording in your titles, descriptions, and tags to ensure your video comes up in search engine results or suggested videos.

For example, for a Liquid Galaxy presentation video you may title it “Amazing New Presentation on Liquid Galaxy Video Installation” as opposed to simply “Liquid Galaxy Video”, as this title will pull in any searches for the words New, Amazing, Installation, or Video, words much more likely to come up in a search than Liquid or Galaxy.

However, this does not mean you should resort to tagging your video with hundreds of keywords in an attempt to optimize search results. People will respond negatively if they feel tricked into watching your video, and YouTube has developed safeguards against videos with hundreds of unique tags.

Watch times

Another way to ensure your video remains relevant is to maintain strong watch times. A video with millions of views due to a clickbait thumbnail or title may get many views, but its viewer rating and watch time will more than likely be lower than a video which is genuinely interesting or well put-together, and YouTube’s algorithms will not tag it as something relevant to most people’s interests. This is known as view velocity3. Videos with high watch times will be recommended to more people by the algorithm, and subsequently videos with high view rates also garner attention and more recommendations by the algorithm.

Playlists

One last common but helpful technique is to keep your videos in a playlist. Playlists ensure that your videos play sequentially and increase the odds of multiple videos across one channel being watched. Think of how easy it is for you to watch multiple episodes of your favorite show on Netflix or Hulu as they play one after the other with no input from you. This same technique can be used by you or your company to increase views across your company’s channel.

With these simple tips you and your company can increase watch time, retention rates, and views on the products and advertisements you or your marketing team are working to produce. Soon, you may even find yourself on the fabled “trending” page!


[1] Some examples of recent YouTube news:

[2] YouTube Creators: Search and discovery on YouTube

[3] Reverse Engineering the YouTube Algorithm

video marketing


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