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YouTube Algorithm: 7 Interesting Facts You Should Know
YouTube is the largest search engine in the world after Google. The video platform has over 1.9 billion active users every day. In view of this enormous reach, it quickly becomes clear: YouTube videos are an absolute must-have in every successful marketing mix. However, how well your video content is found by potential viewers is subject to the YouTube algorithm. If you want to get the best possible benefit from your video campaigns, you should play by the rules of the algorithm.
What is the YouTube algorithm?
Let's take a step back so that you can understand what the YouTube algorithm actually is. The algorithm is based on a mathematical process, the function of which is to ensure that users are only shown video suggestions that exactly match their search query. This is achieved with the help of several different indicators. The most important factor here is the so-called "watch time", which in turn comprises several metrics. With these, the algorithm evaluates how well your content corresponds to the search queries of the users.
The watch time, the multi-index of the YouTube algorithm, is made up of:
Playback time of a channel,
YouTube session start,
YouTube session duration,
YouTube session end and
It is often wrongly assumed that the algorithm evaluates videos itself. With the help of the Watch Time criteria just listed, however, you can see at first glance that the behavior of those who consume your videos is being analyzed. On this basis, the mathematical process ultimately judges the value of your content. If they correspond to what the audience wants to see and if they ensure that the viewers linger on the platform for a long time, the chances increase that your videos will be played in response to a certain search query or appear in the list of "Suggested Videos".
The elementary question now is how exactly do you attract attention, keep interest and also persuade viewers who have already been won to use the YouTube service for as long as possible? There are actually seven tricks you can use to accommodate the algorithm in order to optimize your videos or your YouTube channel.
1. So important is the length of time your viewers spend on YouTube
While the playback time of individual videos and the entire channel as well as the upload frequency are self-explanatory terms, the two terms "View Duration" and "YouTube Session" may need to be explained in more detail. The former includes the number of minutes your videos are viewed - and the more that is, the better. “YouTube Session” means the duration for which a user consumes YouTube videos. If you manage to lure viewers to the platform with your content and motivate them to spend as much time there as possible, the algorithm will reward this and display your videos more effectively. Sure, because the more YouTube is watched, the more the platform earns from it.
It is best for you if your content forms the beginning of a session. It is more of a disadvantage if a video of you shows the end of a YouTube session. So make sure you use exciting content to encourage users to keep looking. To do this, you can use playlists or endcards that provide your audience with further information on the topic. It doesn't necessarily have to be your own content that you redirect to. The main thing is that they fit thematically and keep the audience on the platform.
2. Watch data vs. metadata optimization
In order to correctly index and rate a video, YouTube - like Google - uses so-called metadata. This includes the title, description and tags (subject-relevant keywords) of a video. In order to improve the performance of such videos, it is common to add user-relevant keywords to this data. As described above, the Watch Time is now considered a multi-index for the evaluation of YouTube videos and channels. However, this does not mean that the metadata can be disregarded. User relevance is and will remain a decisive factor. Only when your video has been able to generate enough view time will these on-video texts gradually lose their importance. To do this, potential viewers must first find your videos using optimized metadata.
To increase the presence of your content in YouTube search, make sure that the metadata of your videos corresponds to the search behavior of your target audience. This not only includes a catchy title and a meaningful video description. The right keywords and matching tags are just as important.
How to optimize the metadata of your videos:
Video title - When optimizing the title, insert the keywords at the beginning, keep the title less than 50 characters long and try to generate the highest possible click-through rate (CTR).
Video description - The algorithm prefers a text length of 50 to 150 words. For the best possible topic relevance, the keyword should appear once or twice in the running text. Please no 0815 descriptions (boiler plates)! Make the content of your video as exciting and accurate as possible.
Tags - If you want to optimize the tags of your videos, use the target keyword first, then others in order of importance. Concentrate on one topic and use 1- to 5-word sentences with a length of 100 to 300 characters.
3. Never underestimate the title and thumbnail
Around 90 percent of the high-ranking videos have a variant of the keyword in the title. What does that tell us? Right, title tags are essential when it comes to pushing your own videos. The following graphic illustrates this fact impressively:
But don't make the mistake of overloading the titles of your videos with keywords. The keywords and tags you use should be sensibly incorporated into an interesting title that makes you want more - that is downright clickworthy. But not only that. The video headline should also reflect the content as closely as possible. An absolute no-go and frowned upon by YouTube viewers worldwide are false titles that are only intended to encourage people to click (also called "clickbait"), but have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the video.
The same applies to the thumbnail (miniature preview image of a video). Why? Because the thumbnail and title are the first things viewers see when a video is suggested to them. Both together are like your YouTube business card. So give the users exactly what they are looking for if you want to win them over. And here the user relevance comes into play again. You may notice that relevance is an indispensable tool for your success not only in the area of SEO, but also in the YouTube algorithm! With false promises, say clickbait, or misleading descriptions you are not only losing the trust of your audience. The YouTube algorithm will also recognize the high bounce rate and accordingly rate your video negatively. In this context, one also speaks of so-called “short clicks” and “long clicks”. You will find out what that is in detail in the next section.
4. Not all clicks are created equal
If a user clicks on your video, you have eight seconds to convince them of your content. If the viewer switches before this time period, this means for YouTube that your content was not satisfactory for the user. It is essential to avoid this "short click". What you are aiming for are "long clicks". But what exactly is a "long click"? Quite simply: If a viewer consumes a video for at least eight minutes or more and / or continues to watch more videos during this session, it is referred to as a "long click". The YouTube algorithm rates this extremely positively.
Studies show that a large number of videos fail this hurdle and lose 50 percent of their viewers in the first 20 seconds (see graphic below):
Do you also want to give away such potential? Certainly not! So how do you improve audience retention? Or in other words, how do you turn “short clicks” into “long clicks”? You need a compelling video introduction and good storytelling to keep viewers interested and sustained throughout the video. Creativity and authenticity as well as added value are required here! Furthermore, you should strengthen the user loyalty with your own channel. Because your subscribers or your community are your most loyal fans who can easily be informed about new videos and playlists in order to generate more "long clicks".
In short: inspire the audience and motivate the community to actively participate in the channel. Interact with your viewers and enable them to comment, like and share your content.
5. The video length influences the ranking
You now know how long users should at least watch your videos so that your content is rated positively by the YouTube algorithm. But is that even better? Yes! Because on average, videos that are between two and 20 minutes long achieve the best ranking results. For shorter ones, the opposite applies, as the following graphic shows:
The view time is therefore one of the most important ranking factors for the YouTube algorithm. So don't be surprised that longer videos - when the right storytelling techniques are used to build and maintain interest throughout the video - generally rank higher than very short ones.
6. Freshness Boost for new videos
Studies have shown that brand new videos experience a significant ranking boost in the first three weeks after publication due to their topicality. In order to be the center of attention with your channel on a regular basis, I recommend that you increase your upload frequency and take advantage of this "Freshness Boost". If you've uploaded a video every three weeks up until now, you'd better post a brand new video every week. And if you already upload a video every week, you should do so every other day.
I will show this again with a specific example:
With 5.0 billion views on YouTube in 2018, Samsung was named the World's Leading Brand in Tubular Labs' VideoAces Awards. How did you do that? Well, they uploaded a total of 5,318 videos in 2018 - that's an average of 102 videos per week! Yes, Samsung has uploaded localized videos in 50 different countries. But if we just look at the 204 videos the brand uploaded in the US in 2018, Samsung was still uploading an average of four new videos per week to YouTube.
7. Embeds views are also rewarded by the algorithm
The views of videos embedded on external websites correspond to the same value as views on YouTube directly. Would you have thought that The only catch is that YouTube sessions started by external websites usually do not last long. However, in order to accommodate the algorithm and to strengthen your own performance on the platform, you should make sure that your video is the first, but not the last, that a viewer consumes in their current YouTube session. Playlists or info cards, which provide the viewer with further information on the topic of your video, can help. Everything you need to embed video on your website is provided by YouTube in the form of an embed code. You can find this under your YouTube videos under the tab "Share" and then "Embed".
The most important aspects of the YouTube algorithm for you at a glance
Short and sweet for those in a hurry:
Descriptions, titles and thumbnails should not only reflect the content of the video, they should also be interesting. Don't make any false promises (keyword: clickbait).
The optimal upload frequency of videos is two to three pieces per week.
Ideally, your videos should be five to eight minutes long.
Regularly structure your YouTube channel meaningfully by creating playlists.
Use the latest features from YouTube and apply them sensibly to your channel.
Link with info cards to other videos on the topic to extend your audience's YouTube sessions.
Ulv Michel has been CEO of Online Marketing Solutions AG since 2012. Prior to that, he was head of the key accounts department. With his know-how and his experience from various leading positions in the technology segment, he strengthens OMSAG and is a pioneer for the future.
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