As of 2022, more than 5 billion videos are uploaded on YouTube daily that its 2.6 billion users watch. And it’s the job of the YouTube algorithm to keep this cycle well-constituted. But how exactly do things work out in this complex system – how does the YouTube algorithm work?
This is hands down one of the most perplexing questions about YouTube that is still shrouded in mystery. For years, creators have tried to decode the algorithm’s functioning and understand how its ranking and recommendation system works.
Of course, it’s not out of curiosity that people seek the answer to this question – understanding the algorithm means mastering YouTube. If you successfully grasp the functionality of the algorithm, you’ll be able to rank your videos and increase their visibility and searchability.
In this blog post, we will provide complete information about the YouTube algorithm. Once you’re done with this article, you’ll know:
- What is the YouTube algorithm?
- How does the YouTube algorithm work?
- How do you make the YouTube algorithm work for you?
So, keep your wits about, and let’s dive in.
YouTube Algorithm Changes Over Time
Sure, the YouTube algorithm is one of the most sophisticated systems now, but that’s all because it was consistently modified over the years. The developers have repeatedly changed its priorities and functionality to whip it into a perfect shape.
By looking at the algorithm’s past, you’ll be able to understand it better. The juxtaposition of its past and present will unravel many things for you. So, here’s the journey of the YouTube algorithm’s transformation, which made it what it is today.
1. Clicks and Views (2005 – 2011)
In 2005 when YouTube went online, it was nothing but a home for scandalous videos of celebrities and influencers. Jawed Karim, the founder of YouTube, revealed that the scope of this platform was extremely narrow at first. It was only created so people could upload Justin Timberlake’s and Janet Jackson’s scandalous videos.
That’s why the initial YouTube algorithm recommended videos with the most potential to get more views and clicks. The people realized it over the years, and as a result, began the dark era of “clickbait” videos.
People started using over-the-top thumbnails and outrageous video titles to get people’s attention and increase their view count. It was when YouTube’s popularity began to plummet, all because of clickbait content which led to a bad user experience.
2. Watch Time (2012)
In 2012 YouTube finally, put an end to the clickbait fiesta and updated the algorithm to focus on watch time. Now the algorithm recommends videos after observing what kind of content a user was watching. Actually, it was not just the content watched; it was the time spent on a video that mattered.
For instance, if you had a viewer watching your video repeatedly, the algorithm assumed that the viewer preferred that type of content. Even now, the YouTube algorithm recommends videos according to the content a user has watched. And also requires the creators to get 4000 watch hours for monetization.
3. Personalization (2015 – 2016)
2015 was quite a revolutionary year for the YouTube algorithm. It was when the developers decided to conduct user surveys to optimize the recommendations on a personal level. They also updated the algorithm to focus on direct YouTube response signals like dislikes, shares, likes, etc.
After allowing the AI algorithm to learn from these new changes for a year, YouTube released a whitepaper in 2016. It was titled “Deep Neural Networks for YouTube Recommendations.” In this paper, the developers explained how the algorithm pays attention to the watch history of a viewer and personalizes the experience.
4. Policy Updates and Demonetization (2016 – present)
In 2016, after the launch of YouTube’s updated content policy, the developers adjusted the algorithm to be sensitive to the nature of the content.
The algorithm loathes any video that goes against YouTube’s community guidelines and throws it in the back of the queue. Your channel can also get demonetized if the algorithm observes multiple policy violations from your side.
So, avoid uploading any videos:
- Containing offensive language
- Promoting Violence or dangerous acts
- Advertising negative behaviors like abuse or racism.
How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?
The current version of YouTube is highly sophisticated and recommends videos based on several factors. The whitepaper “Deep Neural networks for YouTube recommendation” explains these signals that YouTube uses to rank videos for a recommendation.
Here is a summary of them all:
Watch History: It looks for the topics a viewer is interested in.
Watch Time: It recommends a creator’s videos if the viewer has spent time watching its videos before.
Search Terms: It observes the terms the viewer has been searching for and recommends videos based on the type of content he picks from the search results.
Previous Watched Content: It considers the types of videos the viewer has been watching lately.
YouTube Response Signals: The algorithm records personal response signals like dislikes, shares, likes, etc. It cross-references every video against these signals before recommending them to you.
Demographics: It primarily recommends videos that match your region and current location. However, it’s not necessary considering the inserts.
Click-Through Rate: It recommends videos with a high click-through rate or videos more likely to be checked out.
In one line, the algorithm now only cares for the videos that are perfect for the viewers and penalizes the content that misleads them.
How the Algorithm is Determined by YouTube?
While keeping the revelations from the whitepaper we mentioned earlier and the study of past iterations, we can confidently state that YouTube uses the following signals to decide which videos to recommend.
Personalization: The algorithm observes viewers’ response signals, interests, watch history, etc., and picks a video that matches their personalized criteria.
Performance: If a video performs well (getting engagement, tons of views, high click-through rate, likes, shares, etc.), it is more likely to get recommended.
External Factors: The algorithm keeps in mind the overall demand for specific content. For instance, if something is trending and vaguely matches a viewer’s niche, it will be recommended to him.
How Does YouTube determine the Homepage Algorithm?
As soon as you open YouTube, you see a plethora of videos perfectly aligned for you to access. Now, the algorithm ensures that all the videos that appear on a viewer’s Homepage match their taste and aptitude. The algorithm uses two primary ranking signals, performance, and personalization, to narrow down the videos for the Homepage.
Performance: First, YouTube decides whether to recommend a video or not based on its performance. As soon as you upload a video, it’s shown to a bunch of viewers to see how they respond.
If your video gets a positive CTR, enough views, likes, and most viewers watch it till the end, the algorithm further recommends it.
Personalization: Performance matters, but YouTube focuses on personalizing the experience more. It reads the viewers’ watch history, interests, subscriptions, and search terms to recommend relevant videos accordingly.
If you want your videos to make it to the Homepage of viewers, pay special attention to their initial performance. Try to get organic traffic from multiple sources, share videos with friends and get more engagement. It will help your videos stand out and get picked for recommendation by the algorithm.
How Does YouTube determine Search Algorithm?
YouTube is currently the world’s second-largest search engine with an impeccable search algorithm. It means you need the knowledge of basic YouTube SEO to get your videos to rank better in search results. See, whenever a viewer searches for a keyword, the algorithm shows it relevant videos but according to its own standards.
Here’s how the YouTube search algorithm decides which videos to put on top:
Keywords: If someone’s search term matches the keywords in your video’s metadata (video title, description, tags, etc.), chances are they will see it in the search results.
Performance: The videos shown against the search term are ranked according to their performance. Videos with high engagement, CTR, and more views are ranked higher in the search results.
Watch Time: If a viewer has watched your videos before, ergo has spent watch time, odds of your video coming on top are higher.
Relevancy: Only those videos show up in the results that are directly related to the search term. As the viewer scrolls down, vaguely related videos are also presented to ensure accuracy.
The best way to ensure that your videos always appear at the top of search results is to focus on keywords. Always embed relevant keywords (that match the nature of your content) in the videos.
How Does YouTube Determine the Suggested Video Algorithm?
Recommending videos is serious business and perhaps one of the most important jobs for the YouTube algorithm. That’s why it takes extra caution regarding the suggested videos section and considers the following factors.
Viewers’ History: The algorithm directly observes the viewers’ watch history and YouTube analytics to determine what kind of content interests them.
Related Videos: Only those videos make it to the suggested section that matches the viewer’s pallet.
Videos Watched Together: The algorithm mainly suggests videos that are watched together in a sequence. For instance, if you watch playlists that contain a series of videos from the same creator, the algorithm will note it.
We learned from the last ranking signal that it’s a good idea to use playlists and end screens. It’s best to use a call to action to convince viewers to keep watching your playlist. Or click on the video links embedded in the cards to watch the next one.
How Does YouTube Determine Trending Videos Algorithm?
YouTube’s trending page comprises the most viral videos in the users’ country or region. Compiling videos for this page is pretty simple for the algorithm. Why is that? That’s because, unlike other aspects trending page only requires the algorithm to judge videos by their metrics.
Here are the factors that decide whether a video will make it to the trending page or not:
View Count: Video with a massive view count has stronger odds of going viral and reaching the trending page.
Rate of Growth in Views: The algorithm observes the pace at which the views are increasing on a video. If the pace is fast and steady, it means the audience likes the content, and it’s worth putting on the trending page.
Where the Views are Coming From: Whether your video will get ranked depends on where the views are coming from. If a video receives views from another country, its chances of going on a trending page diminish.
That is because the algorithm prefers if the video gets views from the local audience first and then expands naturally. In order to reach the trending page, you must boost the popularity of your videos. The best way to do that is by social media promotion.
Share your videos on multiple platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., to get more eyes on them. This way, your video will gain a consistent rate of view growth, increasing its odds of reaching the trending feed.
How Does YouTube Determine the Subscription Algorithm?
The subscription section doesn’t strictly require the technical juice of the YouTube algorithm. A viewer sees all the YouTube channels he has subscribed to in the subscriptions list. Now, the channels are organized alphabetically, so there’s nothing much to do for the algorithm.
However, if a channel is live streaming, that’s when the ranking kicks in. If multiple channels broadcast live in a viewer’s subscription list, then the hierarchy will be decided on view velocity. View velocity is the speed at which a channel’s live stream gets viewers.
If your live stream is getting a lot of viewers quickly, chances are, it will show on the top of the subscriptions list. So, that’s how the subscription algorithm is managed. The simplest way to conquer this algorithm is to increase subscriber count , and the reason is simple.
More subscribers = more potential viewers = higher view velocity. Besides, more subscribers are crucial to growing a YouTube channel and beating the competition in a niche.
How Does YouTube Determine the Notification Algorithm?
YouTube notifications work the same way as notifications for any other social media platform. They are push alerts viewers receive when a channel they have subscribed to uploads a video or someone replies to their comment. So, if you upload your content and send the notification at the time when viewers are active, it can do the trick.
This way, the viewers can immediately see your notification and interact with it, thus serving the purpose. But remember that a creator can only send a notification to the viewers three times a day. So, pick your time wisely to get the audience’s attention and catch the early traffic to improve your video’s ranking.
How Does the YouTube Shorts Algorithm Work?
Shorts are no different from regular YouTube videos, except they last only a minute or so. There’s this one way in which shorts differ from regular videos, and that’s the “Shorts Shelf.” If your video reaches the shorts shelf, it will get more views, engagement, interactions, etc.
And the best part is that “shorts shelf” is incredibly potent when it comes to increasing the rank of a channel. Ensuring that your shorts get more engagement on the shelf can attract more potential subscribers to your channel.
Ways to Improve Your Reach on YouTube
Finally, now that you know about the functionality of the YouTube algorithm, it’s time to see how you can gain its favor. Here are the tactics to make the YouTube algorithm work for you and increase your channel’s impact.
All of these tactics help improve your content’s quality, which as a result, helps you attract more viewers, subscribers, traffic, etc. So, go through these tactics with your eyes peeled and apply them consistently to uplift your videos and channel.
1. Do Keyword Research
As we mentioned earlier, keywords act as markers for the algorithm and help it identify the nature of a video. Embedding the appropriate keywords in your metadata makes it easier for the algorithm to locate your content and present it to the relevant audience.
For instance, if you add the tags relevant to “Fitness & Health,” the algorithm will recommend your video to fitness enthusiasts. Now, the question is how to find the right keywords and where to place them. Well, you can use simple tools like Google AdWords, SEM rush, etc., or use YouTube’s search bar for this job.
Just type the possible keyword that comes to your mind related to your video. You will see a lot of suggestions in the dropdown. Note them down and pick the most relevant ones to embed in the metadata.
Once you have found the keywords, embed them in the video title, video file name, video description, and video script. Doing so will optimize your video and give it more chances of getting discovered.
2. Optimize Video Titles and Description
Video titles and descriptions are the two main elements of metadata that you must optimize for better reach. When it comes to titles, keep them short, attractive, and free from any misleading wordplay. Video descriptions, on the other hand, should be lengthy and descriptive.
Also, ensure to embed appropriate keywords with high search volume in both these elements. It will increase your video’s searchability and visibility, making it more likely to go on the trending page.
3. Use Custom and Impressive Thumbnails
There’s no doubt about the fact that we all love colorful, attractive, and eye-catching thumbnails. Research has shown that videos with custom thumbnails get about 35 to 40% more clicks and views than others. To increase your engagement rate and people to watch your videos, make impressive thumbnails.
Make sure that they match the nature of your content and that their aesthetic appeal makes viewers click on your video. Remember that the trends for thumbnails keep changing. The current trend is to add text to it, so the viewers don’t have to read the video title. Keep this in mind while making thumbnails for your next video.
4. Make Viewers Keep Watching Your Content
Never let the fun stop for the viewers, and make them watch your content continuously. It’s an excellent strategy to make your place on the viewers’ Homepage and suggested videos section. But how exactly can you make a viewer keep watching your content? Well, there are two main ways to do it.
- Make playlists of your most famous content so the viewers can watch the whole video series without stopping.
- Add end screens on all your videos and suggest to the viewers your best content by enabling cards. It will make them keep going at the end of every video they watch.
These two tactics are the most potent for throwing a viewer into a binge-watching streak. It will help get more subscribers and, thus, more engagement, which will put your content on the algorithm’s radar.
5. Engage with Comments and Other Channels
Keep your audience engaged by replying to their comments and appreciate other content creators by commenting on their videos. Both these acts aren’t just out of compassion but a strategic way to expand and strengthen your social network.
Engaging with the audience will help you maintain better relations with them, which can attract more concurrent viewers and subscribers. And interacting with other YouTube channels allows you to stand as a community activist and get the support of others. Eventually, this socialization boosts engagement, making it easy to get chummy with the algorithm.
6. Give Your Audience What they Want
Your first and most important job as a creator is to give your audience what you want. And that requires some serious observation and studying. Keep an eye on your viewers and explore their interests. Find out what kind of content they like, what stimulates them, and what they find fascinating.
You can use YouTube analytics for this job and find a pattern of engagement by carefully observing your past videos. Once you gain this knowledge, use it to adjust your content according to the audience’s taste and enhance its quality. Remember that the audience is king because the algorithm decides to promote your video after recording the initial audience’s reaction.
7. Research and Experiment to Grow
Things might get boring if you keep giving your audience the same content over and over. That’s why it is extremely important to research and find out what’s new in the market that the viewers might like. Upload a few videos slightly different from the usual type of content every once in a while.
It will give your current audience something new and attract new viewers and subscribers. Also, checking how your experimental video performs is crucial for future endeavors.
You can use YouTube analytics for that job and see if your trial worked out well or not. Experimenting with content is great for growing as a Youtuber and increasing the reach of your content by adding much-needed variation.
8. Attract Views from Other Sources
The whole key to getting more reach on YouTube and attracting the algorithm’s attention is getting more traffic. Utilize all the promotional sources you have to endorse your videos, so they get more organic traffic. Here are a few tactics that you can use:
Cross Promote on Social Media: Upload the link to your videos on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc., to get views from there.
Websites/ Blogs: Embed your videos on a website or blog to convert the site traffic into channel viewers and subscribers.
Email Marketing: Add the link to your YouTube channel in the footer of the email. People will be able to see it whenever you send them a mail.
The algorithm pays attention to where you get the traffic from, and the more traffic you get, the more reach you obtain. So, try to get more traffic from the local sources to win its favor. Social media is the best option for that, but you can also use word-of-mouth promotion to achieve this goal.
We admit that understanding the YouTube algorithm is no easy feat! After all, it’s a complex neural network with years of evolution and engineering behind it. But no matter how difficult or daunting, the creators must find a way to get friendly with it. That’s the only way to beat the competition and break the internet by going viral.
We hope you liked this blog post and if you have any questions, ask them in the comments section. Check out our blog to read more informative articles about YouTube and other social media platforms. Also, consider subscribing to our newsletter so you never miss an update.