Since the performance of videos and channels is closely tied to the YouTube algorithm, understanding how it works is extremely helpful.
While other platforms have always been very reserved about their algorithms, YouTube is quite open, also to cater to its users and help them to maximize their YouTube channel. Of course the algorithm is not known in all of his aspects, but its fundamental points are known and we can take them into consideration when creating content and optimizing our channel.
Let’s start by what Google itself says. In 2016 Google published a study explaining how its complex video recommendation system works. We have read this long study and implemented the key points in this article.
Btw, did you know that 70% of YouTube views come from recommended videos? Also for this reason, understanding the algorithm is fundamental for the growth of your channel!
How does the YouTube algorithm work?
The YouTube algorithm shows to the users the videos they “like” the most, the most relevant according to the video the user has just seen (his history). It’s therefore customized according to the videos that the user likes and the channels he follows the most.
By helping users to find videos they are more likely to like and watch, YouTube can keep viewers on the platform as long as possible and motivate them to return to the site regularly.
This is why YouTube takes seriously its algorithm and the goal is clear: try to offer each user the best experience.
The videos are shown in five different sections of the platform, which in order of importance are: Recommended videos, home, search, subscriptions and trends.
The order of importance is established based on the section’s potential to generate new visits. A video that is shown repeatedly in recommended videos reaches more new visitors than a trending video for a few days.
Recommended Videos & Home
Two different users will never have the same YouTube experience. To each user YouTube shows the personalized and most relevant content and to do so, the algorithm analyzes hundreds of videos that the user has previously watched and how the user interacted with them to find new content that may be of particular interest to him.
How he interacted it means, of course, if he liked. Parameters used by YouTube to know if a user liked a video are:
– how long he watched the video (retention)
– if he left a like and most importantly, he shared it or subscribed
– if he saved it in to a playlist
– if he came back to watch it (if he watched the video more than once)
– if he engaged with other videos of the channel author of the video (and, for this reason, uploading regularly is super important!)
YouTube doesn’t take into account just the user’s watch hstory and his preferences, but takes also into account a video’s social proof. This means how much a video has been appreciated by the average spectator, so the general liking…
This is why in addition to “personalized” videos, YouTube recommends videos related to the topic (category) of the video that the user is watching or usually watches, which are viral or have been liked by other users.
YouTube also noted how it is more efficient to show videos from different channels, so it tends to recommend videos from multiple channels even on the same content category.
So, my advice is to specialize your channel in a specific topic (this will increase the authority of each single new video) and every now and then take a look at popular channels that upload videos on the same topic and try to understand what makes them popular.
Search on YouTube
The two factors that most influence the position of your video on YouTube search results (but in general of any search engine) are keywords and their relevance. Keywords include tags, description and above all title.
When ranking videos on YouTube search results, consider how the video’s title and keywords match the search made by users. They also consider how many videos the user has watched from your channel in the past and the authority of the channel.
The advice is therefore to select clear and relevant keywords, also putting yourself in the shoes of the user who decides to do a search. For example, I made a video that explains how to cook a risotto. The user could search for “risotto recipe” and then inserting these keywords in the title and in the metadata can only do well!
YouTube has a “subscriptions” page where the user can see all recently uploaded videos from the channels they are subscribed to (as well as posts and stories).
But subscriptions are not only a way to get views from users already subscribed to the channel, but also a way that YouTube uses to rate newly published videos through a metric called “views velocity“, which measures the number of subscribers who watch your. video has just been released.
The higher the view velocity, the higher the positioning of the video.
A tip is therefore to publish videos at times when subscribers are particularly active and possibly always at the same time and/or day, so subscribers know when the video is published and respond in a more reactive way. Another way is to notify users before uploading, via a post, story, or previous video.
And, of course, a catchy thumbnail! 😉
The trending page collects new and popular videos from a specific country. In this section YouTube tries to balance news videos, popular topics and content from different niches.
For trending videos, the speed of growth and sharing is therefore particularly considered. That being said, unless a video is shown at the top of the trending tab (Top 6 positions mostly), it is not really a source of traffic to aim for.
Even tho, we agree that having a video on trending tab is satisfying and no wonder many clients asked us to help them get their videos to trending.
Factors that DO NOT determine the algorithm
Now, this is important. And not just to debunk but also to help you relax and not worry about certain things (or not obsess too much, as they are not relevant to the algorithm!).
Contrary to what many think, the following factors do not affect the algorithm
- Monetization : As specified by YouTube, whether a channel or video is monetized or not does not affect the algorithm.
In fact, YouTube says that “after a channel’s monetization gets disabled there is no difference in how the channel’s videos are promoted in search results and in the referral system” (referral system is the algorith).
- Likes and comments : The number of likes and comments (also known as the engagement rate) has very little influence on the YouTube algorithm, unlike other social platforms. On the other hand, shares of the video are taken into consideration.
- Receiving Copyright Warnings : Receiving a removal for copyright infringement or third party complaints (e.g. music featured in the video) does not harm the positioning of the channel or a video.
What YouTube says about the algorithm
In march 2021, YouTube decided to give a new advice to creators regarding their algorithm. They said something that we already suspsected, but now it has been officially confirmed by YouTube: YouTube does not “read” the content of the videos and the algorithm relies only on the video’s performance.
Quoting YouTube, “Believe it or not, our algorithm doesn’t have an opinion about the content you make. It actually focuses on what your viewers might enjoy based on things like videos they’ve watched, how long, shares, likes & dislikes, and feedback.”
If you want to get some more information regarding the algorithm by YouTube itself, we suggest you to watch the video below. It’s a few years old but with up-to date information and good advice. This video is part of a whole playlist where YouTube tries to explain how their algorithm works.
This article will be periodically updated in case of news or important updates to the algorithm so check back every now and then!
Last update: March 2021