Understanding how the YouTube algorithm works can be a particularly daunting beast. Seemingly ever-changing, it can be hard to know what content will work. It’s especially soul-crushing when a video on which you’ve worked really hard goes live and completely tanks. We’ve all been there.
Understanding how the YouTube algorithm works is the key to success on the platform. The algorithm influences everything from your YouTube homepage, the trending page, your subscriptions, and your notifications. It’s important you get to know how it works for long-term success. Once you know the ways to play the game, you’ll start to notice a real difference in your analytics. Below, we’ve broken down the key aspects of how the YouTube algorithm works in 2021.
How the YouTube algorithm works
According to YouTube themselves, the algorithm is “a real-time feedback loop that tailors videos to each viewer’s different interests.” In other words, it’s deciding which videos will get suggested to each and every user. But how does it do this?
Firstly, the YouTube algorithm ranks videos by assigning them a score based on performance analytics data. This might sound a little intimidating so let’s break it down.
- Do people click on this video? In other words, impressions vs. views
- How much time do people spend watching this video? This is known as watch time and retention and YouTube has itself cited that this is one of the key factors.
- How many likes, dislikes, comments or shares does this video get? YouTube pays close attention to the engagement on the video
- How quickly does this video’s popularity snowball, or does it snowball at all? This is called view velocity, or rate of growth.
- How new is this video? New videos may get extra attention in order to give them a chance to snowball.
- How often does this channel upload new videos?
- How much time do people spend on the platform after watching this video? This is known as "session time."
Matching videos to viewers
Once the algorithm has ranked a video, it looks to match the video to a potential viewer via personalisation. It does this by analysing the following data points:
- Which channels and topics has the user watched in the past?
- What has the user engaged with in the past?
- How much time does the user spend watching?
- How many times has this video already been surfaced for this person?
- What don’t they watch?
The YouTube algorithm isn’t necessarily looking to identify "good" videos. What it’s looking to do is match viewers with videos that they want to watch. Ultimately, the goal of all of this is that the viewer spends as much time as possible on YouTube. The longer the time spent on the platform, the more adverts are served to them.
Top tips for top ranking
Now that you know how the YouTube algorithm works, here are a few top tips on how to improve your video rankings.
- Use keywords. Throughout your title, video description and tags, use a keyword or key phrase that best identifies with the video content. This will help the algorithm when looking to feed your video to the right people.
- Pay attention to thumbnails. Thumbnails really do matter. Alongside the title and keywords, the thumbnail is the first thing viewers see in their search results. Within one or two seconds, they have made their decision on whether they are going to click and watch your video.
- Keep your audience engaged. Make sure your videos are engaging and exciting throughout. You want to ensure that people stay and watch as much of the video as possible. If they switch off 20 seconds into a 12 minute video, that’s not going to rank well with the algorithm.
- Engage with your community. Speak directly to your audience in your videos by asking questions and encouraging contribution in the comments below. Then, take the time to nurture your audience by replying to comments. Remind them to like and subscribe, too.
- Identify what works. If a video is a "hit," take the time to find out why. Study the analytics and look at the reasons for its success. Don’t be afraid to copy the format and repeat it for future videos. When you find something that works, stick with it.
- Publish consistently. Upload videos as often as you can. Of course, the quality needs to be good enough so don’t just upload anything. But be aware that frequently uploading can really help your channel grow as the algorithm becomes accustomed to you and your audience. However, even more important than frequency, is being consistent. Publishing on a consistent schedule of once a week is better than posting seven in seven days, then not posting again for another month.
- Share your video everywhere. Without being an annoying spam-bot, try to share your new uploads wherever possible. Utilise your other social media platforms and even your email footer as places where you can get extra eyeballs on your YouTube uploads. This can really help with the ‘snowball effect’
- Upload at the right time of day. Identify when your audience is most likely to be awake and watching YouTube. Upload at the right time to ensure that more people see the notification and prompt from YouTube’s algorithm.
We hope this helps you on your YouTube journey. The algorithm doesn’t have to be as complicated and scary as it’s sometimes made out to be. With the right knowledge and understanding, you can make the algorithm work for you. We look forward to watching your YouTube videos soon!