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Episode 2: Understanding the YouTube Algorithm

What is the YouTube algorithm and how can I take advantage of it? You’ve asked yourself one or both of those questions, at some point, right?

The best thing you can do is optimize for watch time. After that, treat YouTube like the SEO freight train that it is, and optimize for SEO.


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Episode Transcription

Hi. I’m Matt Brown from HubSpot, and this is Skill Up. The show where you’ll learn how to take your sales, marketing, and service skills to the next level.

What is the YouTube algorithm and how can I take advantage of it? You’ve asked yourself one or both of those questions, at some point, right? Right?

Luckily, YouTube’s pretty open about the purpose of their algorithm. Here’s what they had to say. You know what, can we do this in an old-timey radio voice? The world’s my oyster? Ok, here’s what Google says:

[cue old radio voice]

The goals of YouTube search and discovery system are twofold. Number one, help viewers find the videos they want to watch. And number two, maximize long term viewer engagement and satisfaction.

[clear throat]

What it boils down to is that YouTube wants to serve up the most relevant, personalized videos to its users. And they do that by helping users find the videos they're most likely to watch and enjoy. If they can do that, YouTube can keep users on the platform for as long as possible and gets them to come back regularly.

YouTube’s ranking algorithm focuses on how the audience interacts with videos. How do they do that? Robots. Of course, it’s robots. YouTube’s artificial intelligence learns from over 80 billion bits of feedback from the audience, daily, to understand how to serve the right videos to the right viewers at the right time.

That means they track what users watch and how they engage with those videos. Let’s dig in.

[cue segment music]

YouTube pays attention to 5 Things: Which videos people do watch, and which ones they don't watch, how much time they spend watching each video, their likes, and dislikes, and when they mark a video as “Not interested in.”

Also since their algorithm rewards engagement, instead of vanity metrics like views and clicks (You know which social platforms you are), YouTube incentivizes creators to produce videos that their audience actually enjoys watching. That way, they discourage creators from trying to game the system.

You see, YouTube does not reward videos with the most views. Instead, videos with the most watch time are ranked higher on the algorithm.

[end segment music]

Ok, so watch time is pretty important here. Maybe now’s the right time to go ahead and define what exactly watch time means.

Watch time is the amount of time in aggregate that viewers are watching your videos. The watch time algorithm includes audience retention, estimated minutes watched, and the watch time per user session.

To play Alice for a moment and drop down this rabbit hole, we need to talk through the session part of that equation.

YouTube wants viewers to watch videos all the way through. Of course. But then, they want you to immediately watch the next video.

That’s because YouTube’s goal is to keep people watching as long as possible. And if that’s YouTube’s goal, well, then it’s your goal too.

If there’s one thing you take from this episode it’s this: Work on increasing watch time.

Here’s a pro tip: Since watch time is so crucial, it also means that one bad video can decrease the visibility of your entire channel. I mean, makes sense. Right? It reduces your overall watch time.

So, pay close attention to your analytics. Keep track of which videos are performing well. And the ones that aren’t? Take ‘em down. Remove ‘em. And replace them with better performing videos.

[cue synth]

Ok, so there are five key places where the algorithm will impact where your videos can appear.

These places are in search results, on the home page, in the suggested video stream, in the trending stream, and in subscriptions.

Let's start with search. The two biggest factors that affect your video search rankings are keywords and relevance. YouTube considers how well your titles, tags, thumbnails, descriptions, and content match each user's queries. So you really need to optimize these for SEO.

Remember, YouTube is the second biggest search engine. So having the best searchable assets, pretty important.

Next, we have the homepage and suggested videos.

Your homepage is not my homepage. It’s unique and personalized to you and you alone. What you see is based on your activity history and videos you’ve previously engaged with.

For example, if I watch five videos on living that van life, then next time I visit the site, a whole bunch more van life videos are sure to land on my homepage.

One other thing to know is that YouTube rewards channels when people watch multiple videos from the same channel, especially if they show up in the Suggested video section.

This means that not only do you want to create great videos consistently, but you'll want to use the tools that YouTube gives you, like end cards, to encourage people to watch more of your videos.

But that’s just your content. Some folks care about what’s trending. That’s where you’ll get served up whatever the most popular videos are at the moment.

And finally, there are Subscriptions. Here viewers can see all the new videos from the different channels they subscribe to.

While watch time matters most, YouTube also uses a metric called view velocity, a great name. Basically, it measures the number of subscribers who watch your video right after it's published.

That means you need to make sure that you're ready to promote your video via social media, your blog, or email list. That way you can boost that view velocity.

[cue synth]

So to recap. Watch time is your ultimate goal here. You do that, you’re a clownfish rolling in a sea anemone. It helps YouTube hit its goals, and that means it helps you hit yours.

It’s also important to treat YouTube like the search engine freight train it is. So make sure to optimize things like titles, tags, and keywords for the best SEO.

If you do these two things right, it should help the algorithm serve up your content in places like Suggested videos, Homepage search results, and maybe one day, even Trending videos.

Next episode, we’re Jonathan Van Ness-ing that channel of yours and helping it stand out and stand up for your brand.

See you there.

[cue end music]