YouTube needs no introduction.
With a user base of over 2 billion, the platform hosts over a billion hours of videos watched and enjoyed by people from every corner of the world every day.
The immense popularity of YouTube is well-known, but did you know that 70% of users watch content recommended by the YouTube algorithm?
In the case of American YouTube users, this figure goes up to 81%.
Why should you care?
The fate of your video’s performance and success is in the hands of the YouTube algorithm. Understanding how the search and recommendation program functions can help you produce and optimize videos to reach the maximum number of viewers.
In the few minutes we have together today, we will discuss how the YouTube algorithm works in 2023 and how you can use this knowledge to your advantage.
YouTube Algorithm: A Brief Intro and the Journey So Far
Almost everyone is now familiar with the term ‘algorithm.’
Search engines and social media platforms all use it in some form or another.
In general, a search engine algorithm collects details of digital assets such as videos, websites, and posts, analyzes the data, understands user preferences and needs, and presents the most suitable results to users.
When it comes to YouTube, the platform has been using a search algorithm since its launch in 2005.
The phenomenal growth of YouTube as the top media-sharing platform is a testament to the success of its algorithm.
Over the past 18 years, the YouTube algorithm has undergone several major and minor changes.
Most, if not all, of these changes were aimed at providing a better user experience.
YouTube wants to provide the best user experience to keep users engaged and coming back to the platform.
Before we delve into understanding the YouTube algorithm in its present form, let’s take a minute or two to study its evolution over the years.
As Winston Churchill once said, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you’re likely to see.”
Understanding the algorithm’s past will help us grasp its workings in the present and plan for the future.
From just a few video uploads per day in 2005 to 500 hours of content per minute, YouTube has come a long way.
So how has the algorithm changed?
YouTube Algorithm from 2005 to 2011: Clicks and Views Rule the Roost
The YouTube algorithm in 2005 was not as sophisticated or advanced as the program currently in use.
In the early days, the platform relied on clicks and views to gauge the relevance and popularity of videos.
For example, Ronaldinho’s Nike video ad in 2006 was the first to garner one million views.
In 2008, Judson Laipply’s Evolution of Dance was the first video to reach 100 million views on the platform.
However, when YouTubers and marketers learned that the platform’s search program mainly used views and clicks, some of them started manipulating the results using misleading clickbait titles and thumbnails.
This resulted in a decline in user experience, forcing YouTube to effect a major overhaul of its algorithm.
YouTube Algorithm from 2012 to 2016: Watch Time – The New Leader of the Pack
YouTube noticed an increase in bounce rate, where users left after watching only a few seconds of a video.
To counteract the misuse of clicks and views, the media-sharing platform gave higher priority to watch time.
The rationale behind this decision was simple: users will spend more time on content that meets their interests and preferences.
Therefore, such videos should rank higher in the search results.
YouTube Algorithm from 2016: Deep Learning Algorithm – a Watershed Moment
The year 2016 marked a watershed moment when YouTube announced its intention to use deep learning, a subset of machine learning, to enhance the user experience by determining video recommendations.
The document titled “Deep Neural Networks for YouTube Recommendations” served as both a vision document and a framework for future algorithmic tweaks.
However, it was a complex and ambiguous document that revealed very little about the factors and metrics that determined video rankings and recommendations.
Nevertheless, the mystery behind the new algorithm recipe could not be kept for long.
YouTube Algorithm from 2016 to 2022: Video Recommendations Based on Personalization, Satisfaction, and Intent
Over time, experts began to understand how the new YouTube algorithm worked.
Search results and video recommendations were based on the user’s watch history, search history, and video compilation history.
Additionally, surveys were conducted to study user interests and intent, allowing for personalized video recommendations based on individual user preferences.
These efforts aimed to enhance the user experience by providing users with videos tailored to their interests.
Understanding How YouTube Algorithm Works in 2023
Tech and social media giants are teaching their algorithms to think smart and mimic the human thought process.
Experts and these tech giants believe that the success of these smart thinking algorithms depends on plenty of good quality data.
YouTube is no exception, as data is the fuel that powers its algorithm. That’s why the video ranking and recommendation program relies on thousands of signals (metrics).
The Three Discovery Systems
The algorithm feeds on video, YouTuber, and user data to provide results for the three discovery systems:
- Rank videos for user search.
- Select videos for the YouTube homepage.
- Suggest videos on the right side of the video page.
The algorithm uses different factors in different combinations to come up with the results. That’s why two users entering the same search term may get different videos in a different order.
But why and how does this happen?
At one end, the algorithm analyzes all the uploaded videos to learn as much as possible about the content.
On the other end, it builds a user profile for all its users.
The algorithm considers the users’ implicit feedback (shares, watch time, video bounce back, ignore video, etc.) and explicit feedback (subscriptions, likes, dislikes, clicks, search history, etc.) to build up a picture of what users like and what they might want to watch.
How does YouTube use user profiles and video data?
YouTube Algorithm Ranking Videos for User Search
The YouTube algorithm has billions of videos to choose from, so its first job is to filter down its selection to just a few hundred videos for a user’s search.
The algorithm uses the keyword entered in the search field to narrow down its choices, and then uses factors such as watch history, watch time, and other implicit and explicit factors to select just a handful of videos.
Finally, the list of videos needs to be further filtered and ranked for the search term.
At this stage, YouTube picks and presents videos with higher engagement metrics and potential, such as views, shares, likes, comments, etc.
However, YouTube also ensures that new videos from less popular channels aren’t unfairly overshadowed by more popular YouTubers.
The platform introduces some measure of randomness and may include content with less engagement but more relevance to the search term.
In summary, YouTube uses a combination of user-profiles and video data to create a personalized experience for its users.
The algorithm filters down the vast library of videos to a select few based on keywords and user behavior and then ranks those videos based on engagement metrics and relevance.
By balancing both popularity and relevance, YouTube ensures that users receive the best possible search results.
YouTube Homepage Video Recommendations
When you open the YouTube app or website, rows of videos on the homepage greet you.
But how does the algorithm decide which videos to present?
Here are the signals it uses:
Personalization: The algorithm presents content related to your watch history, as well as videos relevant to your interests.
Videos from channels you have subscribed to, engaged with, and enjoyed also appear on the homepage.
Performance: YouTube measures the engagement metrics of relevant videos in addition to your interests. If a video performs well with high engagement metrics, it may appear on the homepages of YouTube users who share your interests.
Demographics and Trends: Videos relevant to your location, language, and other demographics may also appear on the homepage.
For instance, an Irish YouTube user may see videos related to St. Patrick’s Day on their homepage during the month of March.
Overall, the YouTube algorithm tries to personalize the videos on the homepage to suit your interests, while also showcasing popular and trending videos.
How YouTube Curates Videos for the Suggested Section
As you watch a video on YouTube, you may have noticed a column of videos on the right side of the page.
This is the suggested section, which recommends videos that are most likely to interest you and keep you engaged on the platform.
To create a personalized list of videos for the suggested section, the YouTube algorithm considers several factors such as your topic of interest, related channels, and your watch history.
In a nutshell, by analyzing your activity on the platform, the algorithm curates a list of videos that you may find interesting and relevant.
How to Use YouTube Algorithm to Your Advantage
To maximize your video’s reach on YouTube, it’s essential to understand how the platform’s search and recommendation system works.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the algorithm, let’s explore ways to boost your reach.
Optimize Your Videos
Optimizing your videos is key to landing on YouTube’s radar. The algorithm must understand your content to recommend it to your target audience. Here are some tips to optimize your videos:
Proper Keyword Usage: Conduct keyword research to find relevant and popular search terms for your video.
Matching your keywords with the user’s search term increases your chances of ranking higher.
Effective Titles and Descriptions: Create titles and descriptions that are both eye-catching for your audience and easy for the algorithm to understand.
Relevant tags help to explain your content to the algorithm.
Closed Captions: Closed captions can be read by the algorithm, which can’t interpret visuals or audio content.
Incorporating closed captions can increase the chance of being indexed by the search engine, and improve engagement.
Other optimization techniques include using custom thumbnails and effective call-to-action.
Boost User Experience
To meet the needs of both the YouTube algorithm and the audience, focus on enhancing the user experience.
By improving the user experience, you can positively impact implicit factors like watch time and shares, as well as explicit factors like subscriptions, views, likes, and dislikes.
Video Format: It’s essential to understand that prospective buyers of a product are not on YouTube to learn about its history.
Therefore, it’s important to use video formats that appeal to the audience.
How-to, reviews, and unboxing videos are the most popular formats on YouTube.
Video Quality: Boosting the video and audio quality is another technique to amplify the user experience.
With affordable high-resolution cameras and the help of a video agency, you can easily produce high-quality video content.
While video editing and overall production quality can’t be ranking factors, they influence user engagement, which will then affect the way your videos rank or get recommented by YouTube’s algorithm.
If given the option, YouTube users prefer high-quality videos over poorly produced and edited content.
So go the extra mile and polish your videos as much as you can.
Purpose of the Video: At the core of every successful video is a message that resonates with the audience.
Give your audience a good reason to watch the entire video.
When you get the messaging right, multiple pieces of user experience and SEO will fall into place.
Video Length: While YouTube Shorts may provide instant gratification, conventional videos are the crowd pullers on the platform.
Videos that are too short may not provide valuable information, and unnecessarily long videos can bore and drive away the audience.
Find the sweet spot and produce videos that hold the attention of viewers until the end.
Practice Video Consistency with Your Channel
Consistently providing valuable content to your audience is the key to building a successful YouTube channel.
By posting videos regularly, you can improve engagement and grow your subscriber base.
This, in turn, will catch the attention of the YouTube algorithm, which considers these metrics when recommending videos to users.
Posting videos consistently can also help you create better content, resulting in a higher ranking and more recommendations.
Regular feedback from viewers will help you understand their needs and preferences, allowing you to improve and refine your content.
To leverage the power of video consistency;
- Focus on a niche and establish credibility in that area.
- Create a schedule for posting videos and stick to it, updating your audience on your progress along the way.
- You can simplify things by breaking complex ideas into simpler topics and creating video series, which are an excellent way to engage your audience and build a community around your channel.
- To ensure consistency, maintain your brand personality, colors, voice, and tone.
- You can also create videos in batches to stay on schedule and avoid falling behind.
By remaining consistent, you will learn more about the platform and algorithm and discover what works and what doesn’t for your audience.
Produce Emotionally Positive Content
Since 2016, YouTube’s algorithm has undergone minor tweaks to enhance search results and video recommendations.
One of the most significant changes was introduced in 2019 when the platform faced criticism for promoting negative content.
To tackle this issue, YouTube made necessary changes to its algorithm and claimed to have reduced borderline content by 70%.
This move was in line with the platform’s commitment to promoting ethical and positive content while also being good for business.
Contrary to popular belief, YouTube discovered that negative content was not popular and didn’t resonate with users.
In fact, reducing borderline content led to increased watch time on the platform, and advertisers also avoided negative content.
To monitor negative content, YouTube employs several mechanisms, and users can report inappropriate videos and channels.
The platform takes action against violators of its community guidelines.
Although the platform no longer shows the number of dislikes, it still remains a vital signal that the algorithm considers to rank and recommend videos.
As a creator, it’s crucial to be aware of the content policy and avoid using controversial or negative content to attract attention.
Instead, focus on promoting emotionally positive and valuable content that resonates with your audience.
Avoid using clickbait titles and aim to create compelling and engaging content consistently to improve engagement and build a loyal subscriber base.
Collaborate with Other Content Creators
There are several promotional techniques that can help you boost engagement and gain favor with the YouTube algorithm.
One of these techniques is to collaborate with other content creators on the platform.
Collaborating with YouTube influencers can expand your reach, attract more subscribers and viewers, and keep your engagement with the audience exciting and interesting.
Additionally, you can learn a lot from other content creators and share your knowledge with them.
Collaboration also opens up new opportunities and avenues of engagement.
To make the collaborative video a success, you need to meet and share ideas.
Avoid misunderstandings by clearly and openly communicating the theme, message, and goal of the video.
Even before officially sealing your collaboration and producing the video, brainstorm ideas to create quality and useful content.
Keeping the channels of communication open even after the collaboration has ended is also essential.
Moreover, making the collaborative video a live event with a live question-and-answer session with viewers is a good way to engage your audience.
Additionally, posting videos of other YouTubers on your channel can reduce your workload yet keep the content stream flowing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it okay to watch my own videos on YouTube, and how does the platform handle fake views?
Yes, YouTubers are allowed to watch their own videos, and every time they do, it counts as a separate view.
However, any attempt to artificially inflate the view count, such as buying views or using YouTube automation bots, can result in the removal of the video and action taken against the channel or account.
The same rule applies to artificially boosting other metrics, such as likes and comments.
Additionally, YouTube’s Fake Engagement Policy prohibits incentivizing viewers to engage with videos in any way that is against the platform’s guidelines.
Even if a third party is hired to promote a channel, if the policies are violated, the channel is held responsible.
How does YouTube rank newly uploaded videos?
YouTube’s algorithm takes into account a multitude of signals, such as channel history and past performance.
One critical factor is the Velocity metric, which determines how many of your subscribers viewed your video as soon as it was published.
Who owns the videos on YouTube and can the platform delete my videos?
YouTube is a video-sharing platform that hosts your content. As the creator, you’re the owner of the videos on your channel.
The platform can only delete your content only if it violates any of the community guidelines or YouTube policy.
Does YouTube factor in the comment section when ranking and making recommendations?
While comments are certainly important, they may not be as crucial as some experts believe.
In fact, a video can still perform well and gain traction even if the comment section is switched off, as long as it provides value to the audience.
Do live videos count towards YouTube Partner Program (monetization) eligibility?
No, live videos do not count toward YouTube Partner Program eligibility.
To monetize your videos, your channel must have at least 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of watch time.
Private videos and live videos are not taken into account when calculating eligibility.
As we come to the end, we hope you had just as much fun as we did.
It’s impossible to say with certainty that all the mysteries of the YouTube algorithm have been unraveled.
Moreover, we hear about minor changes to the algorithm at regular intervals.
But there’s no need to worry.
Our efforts to understand the algorithm’s evolution and current workings will assist you in creating videos that appeal to both your audience and the algorithm.
Additionally, our tips will aid you in expanding your reach and ensuring your channel’s success.
Cristian Stanciu is a freelance video editor, owner, and post-production coordinator of Veedyou Media – a company offering video editing services to videographers, marketing agencies, video production studios, or brands all over the globe.