Keep reading to explore how YouTube algorithm works and know more tips on using it to engage more views for your videos.
How YouTube determines the algorithm
While we don’t work at Google, here’s a running list of all the different factors that YouTube has mentioned in its various public discussions of the algorithm over the years.
When YouTube ranks a video, the YouTube algorithm works by looking at performance:
- Whether people click on a video (a.k.a. impressions vs. views: thumbnail, and title are important, here)
- How much time people spend watching a video (watch time, or retention)
- The number of likes, dislikes, comments or shares a video gets (a.k.a. engagement)
- How quickly a video’s popularity snowballs (this is called view velocity, rate of growth)
- How new a video is (new videos may get extra attention in order to give them a chance to snowball)
- How often a channel uploads new videos
- After watching a video, how much time people stay on the platform (session time)
Once it matches a video to a potential viewer, the algorithm looks at personalization:
- Which kind of channels and topics have they watched in the past?
- What have they engaged with in the past?
- How much time do they spend watching?
- How many times has this video already been surfaced for this person?
- What don’t they watch?
7 tips to engage more on YouTube
Here’s our list of tied and true methods for playing nice with the algorithm.
1. Optimize your video description text
Contrary to popular belief, that block of text underneath your video isn’t just a place to link to your socials (although you should definitely do that, too.) It also helps the YouTube algorithm works by surfacing your video when users are searching for your topic. So ensure that you front-load the first sentence with a clear, keyword-focused description of your video.
Take a look at the above examples, make you sure you:
- Use natural language, not keyword salad
- Pay more attention on one or two keywords and repeat them in both your description and title
2. If something works, rinse and repeat
Building leverage on YouTube, as these five unexpectedly interesting YouTube channels have learned, requires focusing to what your audience wants. That means paying attention to your analytics, but also your gut.
The YouTube algorithm tends to give people more of what they’ve liked in the past. Experiment skillfully, take feedback from your audience, give everyone time to adjust.
(Source: Dad, How Do I?)
For instance, this local dad started a channel during the pandemic lockdown, and his premise—answering questions people might usually ask their dad, if, like him, they don’t have one—has racked up 2.4 million subscribers in two months. It’s a unique, earnest and emotional value offering, and it’s extra-impressive because this channel succeeded in a content vertical (that is, DIY how-to videos) that seemed pretty much saturated.
Also note that he reads picture books once a month, which leads us to conclude that the algorithm rewards those who make their viewers weep.)
3. Publish often
Quantity of videos, and frequency of upload, is an important factor for the algorithm, and YouTube’s home screen especially. (It’s that personalized list of new and interesting videos that’s kind of like Instagram’s Explore page).
If you can increase quantity without losing quality, do it now. The more videos you publish, the better chance you’ll have of hitting the right nerve. Maybe you can turn that one big hit into a series. Or you could introduce a brand new, low-effort weekly feature that fits into your brand’s established niche. For example, a Tuesday reaction video or a Wednesday study with me session or a Thursday Twitch stream.
4. Publish your videos when your audience is watching
Recency is an important ranking factor for every social media algorithm like the Instagram algorithm or Facebook algorithm), and YouTube is no exception.
YouTube’s notifications feature pings your subscribers when you upload a video, and it’s definitely most effective if that happens when they’re looking for something new to watch.
But on the whole, we recommend taking a look at your YouTube analytics to pick the optimal time of day or week to drop your newest masterpiece. In many cases, this also means scheduling your YouTube videos ahead of time.
5. Keep viewers engaged throughout the whole video
One more key performance metric for the algorithm is view duration. You might see advice that advocates for making your videos shorter or longer, but really, just make them as interesting and fun to watch as you possibly can.
For instance, this six-minute video of a bratty raven chatting at her best friend is solid across the board. Our educated guess is that not just clickability but retention (a.k.a. view duration) helped this video’s views skyrocket.
Once you’ve charmed people to watch through to the end, you can then go ahead and use end cards and/or playlists to suggest that they watch your next video. Because no one needs a recommendation algorithm if they trust your recommendations, right?
6. Engage with your community
We’ll never stop saying this. Reply to your comments. Talk to your people. Just remember that the algorithm “knows” if you’re having meaningful conversations or just paying lip service to bump up your vanity metrics.
If you’re in the position of having too many people to respond to, you can always do an appreciation video. Like this video, where this illiterate fox gets to hear all the compliments people type to him.
If no one sends you tens of thousands of compliments every week about the cute noises you make, that’s ok too.
7. Turn viewers into subscribers
According to YouTube, your channel’s subscribers provide a bunch of important initial signals that help dictate the success of your video. In other words, these fans are the testing ground—if they love it, the algorithm is more likely to show the video to new eyeballs.
For more tips on how to get free YouTube subscribers, check out our list.