How The YouTube Algorithm Works

How The YouTube Algorithm Works

Nov 20, 2021 13 min read

Today, YouTube is the second biggest social networking site with over 2.3 billion monthly active users and 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute!

It's evergreen, it's growing with time, you can monetize it, and there's so much power in YouTube. However, many people struggle with it.

Beating the YouTube algorithm is a myth since the platform has had more than 15 years to perfect its artificial intelligence. It guides the viewers' behavior, which also has a significant influence on the content creators. Let's take a closer look at the secrets of the YouTube algorithm in 2021 and use it to your advantage.

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What Is The YouTube Algorithm?

According to YouTube, the algorithm is a "real-time feedback loop that tailors videos to each viewer's different interests."

The YouTube algorithm decides which videos get suggested to individual users. In addition, the algorithm also helps to place videos at different places on the platform for people to view and click on the content.

Therefore, the content that appears on your home page is different from someone else's feed. All this is possible due to the YouTube algorithm.

The algorithm's goals are twofold:

  1. Find the right video for each viewer
  2. Get viewers to keep watching

How The YouTube Algorithm Works?

YouTube videos appear in six different locations on the platform. YouTube has a well-defined AI-based algorithm that defines how videos will appear at these 6 locations so as to serve the best interest of the viewer.

  1. Search Results
  2. Recommended Streams
  3. Notifications
  4. Channel Subscriptions
  5. Trending Streams
  6. YouTube Home Page

How The YouTube Algorithm Works For Search Results?

When you search for specific terms in the YouTube search bar, you see the search term results. But how does YouTube decide the ranking of videos on the search page?

YouTube Search Results

For search results, YouTube's suggestion is mainly based on the relevance of your video to the user's search and the keywords that you use in the video title and description. When YouTube delivers these results, they obviously want to ensure that the keyword or variations of the keyword that the user searched for are present in your video's title and/or description.

The YouTube algorithm also takes a look at whether the user has watched your videos before or not. Beyond that, YouTube also looks at which videos have driven the most engagement for a particular search query. Search results are not just a list of the most-viewed videos for a given query.

How To Rank In The YouTube Search Results?

To rank in YouTube's search results for specific keywords that are featured in your video, ensure to write relevant extended descriptions for your videos that feature those keywords. Also, make sure not to stuff keywords in your title or description or write content that isn't relevant to your video at all.

Incorporate the most relevant search terms in your videos. Write robust video descriptions of up to 1-2 paragraphs long, if relevant.

You can even brainstorm new YouTube video ideas by looking at search results for popular and less competitive queries. Lookout and identify those opportunities to serve your audience that isn't already well-served.

How The YouTube Algorithm Works For Recommended Streams?

The recommended video results appear on your home page.

YouTube Algorithm For Recommended Streams

Image Source: Medium

The first part of the algorithm recommended videos focuses on the viewer's history. The following questions help YouTube select videos that are custom chosen for the viewers' satisfaction:

  • What kind of videos have they watched before?
  • Do they mostly listen to music?
  • Do they watch vlogs?
  • Which channels videos do they watch frequently?

The second part of this algorithm focuses on the interaction between top videos and similar viewers (the one you are targeting). For instance, YouTube might have a group of users that consistently listen to the same band's music on YouTube. From there, they will choose the videos most watched by this similar audience and rank them highly when recommending videos of similar bands for other viewers.

One great thing about YouTube's recommendation algorithm is that it won't suggest the same videos and the same channels again and again. The algorithm knows and understands that viewers are interested in watching more than one topic and will create suggestions based on their previously watched videos.

How To Rank In The Recommended Section?

To rank your videos in the "Recommended" section of YouTube's interface, it is suggested that the end screen of your videos should close with a strong call to action that suggests your next video.

How The YouTube Algorithm Works For Home Page Videos?

Home page results refer to the results that appear on your home screen when you first log in to your YouTube account.

YouTube Algorithm For Home Page Videos

Image Source: YouTube

YouTube aims to deliver the most relevant and personalized recommendations to each viewer at this place. It is also an excellent place for non-subscribers to find your channel and its videos. Over 200 million different videos appear on the Home page each day for viewers around the world.

When a user visits their home page, YouTube displays videos from their subscribed channels, videos watched by similar viewers, new videos, and more. The selection of these videos is based on the following factors:

  • Overall video Performance: How well the video has engaged and satisfied similar viewers?

  • Viewer's watch and search history: It refers to how often the viewer watches videos of a channel or topic and how many times YouTube has already shown each video to the viewer.

YouTube has also found that channel subscribers watch more videos of that channel from their home page than through the Subscriptions tab.

How To Rank On YouTube Home Page?

Upload videos consistently. This gives your audience an expectation of when they can get new and fresh videos delivered to their home page from your end.

Keep your viewers engaged for a longer duration with your videos and encourage them to come back for more content. Whether you do it with one long video or you upload several short videos, the longer you keep your viewers watching your videos, the more your content will get surfaced on the platform.

Keep doing what works best for you. When you create videos that are liked by your audience, keep creating similar kinds of videos. This is because YouTube surfaces more of what viewers want to see. Do keep experimenting mindfully to see what your audience likes to view. Observe the feedback from your audience and give them time to adjust.

See how often your channel appears at home, globally, by going to your YouTube Analytics Traffic Sources.

Avoid creating content that violates the YouTube policies. Ensure you title your videos accurately, use non-spammy and appropriate tags, and avoid misleading thumbnails.

How The YouTube Algorithm Works For Trending Streams?

YouTube's Trending feed is a list of new and popular videos on YouTube in a viewer's country. In the trending feed, some trends are predictable, such as a new song from a popular artist or a new movie trailer, but some are completely surprising.

YouTube Algorithm For Trending Streams

Image Source: Medium

Therefore, YouTube aims to combine popularity with novelty while sorting out videos for the trending feed. This list considers the total view count (especially the rate of growth in views), where views are coming from, and some other signals as well. Hence, the video with the highest daily view count may not necessarily be number 1 on the Trending list.

The trending list also includes Creator On the Rise and Artist On The Rise, where every week, up-and-coming creators and artists are featured for a full day. Trending videos are never sponsored; this simply means that creators can't pay to have their videos shown in the trending videos list.

How To Rank In The Trending Streams?

Consider making broadly appealing and shareable videos. When you create such videos, they have the potential to reach tons of different audiences besides your subscribers.

Focus on metrics such as the total number of videos uploaded, growth in views, and growth in subscribers.

Observe how often your videos appear on the trending tab by looking at YouTube Analytics Traffic Sources.

Know more about YouTube Analytics: A Powerful Way To Grow Your Channel

How The YouTube Algorithm Works For Channel Subscription?

Viewers can see all the newly uploaded videos from all the channels they have subscribed to by visiting their subscriptions page. This feed includes highlighted videos and a list of all the most recent uploads.

YouTube Algorithm For Channel Subscription

Since subscribers are those viewers who have themselves opted in to see more of your videos, they are your core audience and biggest fans. Remember that subscribers also see some subscription content on their Homepage and in the Suggested Videos section.

In order to rank your video in a viewer's subscription tab results, YouTube uses view velocity. View velocity is a number that quantifies the number of subscribers who watch your video right after it's published. Your videos will rank higher in your viewer's subscription tab, depending on how high your view velocity is.

Also, know that view velocity isn't the only part of the subscriptions ranking algorithm. YouTube also looks at the number of followers your channel has when ranking your videos.

How To Rank On The Subscriptions Page?

Ask in a genuine way to your viewers to subscribe to your channel. Explain to them the benefits and how subscribing to your channel will support you. Avoid buying subscribers by all means.

Ask viewers to subscribe to your channel when their sentiment is at its highest. This can include events such as after a big laugh or a scene's climax).

Educate your viewers on where they will see your channel's videos once they subscribe.

Make your videos public when you think your viewers are most likely watching, and there are chances of gaming more subscribers to your channel.

Understand that it's common to have more subscribers than views. All your subscribers won't be able to see all videos of your channel.

Make a creative series of videos out of your ideas. This will encourage your viewers to keep coming back to your channel for more exciting content. In this sense, they have more chances of subscribing to your channel.

Remember that it's normal to get a few subscribers to unsubscribe when you upload specific videos.

See how many viewers are subscribing to your channel in YouTube Analytics. Compare your watch time from subscribers with watch time from other traffic sources to calculate your content's impact on your audience.

Statusbrew makes this easy for you to carry out this comparison by simply selecting the most appropriate metrics and creating the widget of your choice. In fact, Statusbrew allows you to make many more comparisons by offering 180+ industry-rich metrics that would help you to determine your channel's growth and performance.

How The YouTube Algorithm Works For Notifications?

YouTube notifications are alerts sent via mobile push alerts or emails when a new video is made public. They tend to kickstart early traffic to your newly uploaded videos but don't necessarily drive the bulk of traffic in the long run.

By default, YouTube only sends occasional notifications to viewers from channels they watch a lot of those you are subscribed to. If your subscribers wish to receive notifications every time you upload a new video on your channel, they can tap the bell icon next to the "SUBSCRIBED" button.

Your viewers can either opt to either receive no notifications from your channel, receive some notifications or receive all notifications.

YouTube Algorithm For Notifications

The only way to optimize your videos for showing up in viewers' notifications is to ask your subscribers to tap the bell button next to the subscribe button.

When viewers receive too many notifications, YouTube has observed that they often tend to unsubscribe from notifications altogether. Therefore, YouTube limits notifications to 3 per upload/live stream per channel in a 24-hour window.

How To Rank On The YouTube Notifications?

Thank your dedicated group of fans and subscribers who have tapped the bell icon.

Make your videos public when you think most of your viewers are awake and ready to watch.

Observe the watch time generated when your channel appears in notifications globally. It can be viewed from your YouTube Analytics Traffic Sources.

When some of your subscribers have pressed the bell icon but still aren't receiving the notifications, ask them to make sure that notifications are turned on in their mobile device settings from YouTube.

How Does YouTube Shorts Algorithm Work?

Whenever you upload a YouTube Short, your subscribers get notified about it. This will draw the viewer's attention and increase the traffic.

YouTube Shorts Algorithm

Image Source: Theverge

Other than that, your viewers will also be able to watch it from their Homepage. Whether they are your subscribers or not, YouTube Shorts of a channel will be visible to them on the Homepage. YouTube Shorts are shown on the Homepage based on the traffic due to subscribers watching it after getting a notification and recommendations.

Apart from these, the Shorts Shelf is another way how your YouTube Shorts can gain traffic. For your videos to appear on this shelf, you will have to wait for some time, ranging from 24 hours to several days (or even a week). And once it hits the Shorts Shelf, you will observe a massive growth in traffic driven towards it. Remember, the largest and most explosive growth comes from the Shorts shelf.

How To Beat The YouTube Algorithm?

One of the best ways to stand out of the competitive space on YouTube is to ensure that you create quality content and use the right tools and techniques to optimize your videos for the YouTube algorithm. Apart from the tips mentioned above for optimizing your videos for specific sections, here are some tips on how to beat the YouTube algorithm.

Focus On Your Audience And Not The Algorithm

YouTube's goal is always to get people to watch more videos that they enjoy so that they come back to the platform regularly.

YouTube's systems have no opinion about what type of video you make and don't favor any particular video format. Instead, they try their best to follow the audience by paying attention to aspects such as:

  • What they watch the most
  • What they don't watch
  • How much time do they spend watching a particular creator's or channels video
  • Likes and dislikes on your videos
  • 'Not interested' feedback from viewers

Rather than focusing on what the algorithm 'likes,' it's better to focus on what your audience likes. If you do that, the YouTube algorithm will automatically follow you.

Expect Fluctuations And Seasonality In Your Views

It's natural for your channel's performance to fluctuate over time. Today's audiences have a lot of options. They may like your videos one week and not so much the next week -- or maybe they are on vacation and not even browsing YouTube. Expect fluctuations and seasonality in your views and video performance, and try not to jump to conclusions based on a few uploads. Take a higher-level view of your overall channel performance.

Keep Up With Experimentation

Experimenting is super essential for creative people. When starting a new YouTube channel, you should try almost all sorts of videos until something works. After that, if you would like to try something new, listen to your audience's feedback.

If you have been posting the same kind of videos for a long time and it isn't driving as much engagement as it used to, this signals that it's time to try out something new. Because even the best video formats have a finite shelf life, and experimentation with different video formats can help you identify the next wave to maintain or grow your engagement.

Use Long-Tail Keywords As YouTube Tags

The number of tags you can include in your videos is limited. Hence you may want to look for long-tail keywords or multiple-word tags relevant to your video's broader topic. Remember that you should never use copyrighted or trademarks material in your metadata if you do not have explicit permission from the owner.

YouTube Tags

Image Source: Strangershow.com

Research Your Competitors On YouTube

Before you start creating videos for your target audience, it can be helpful to research what kinds of videos your competitors are creating. Doing this will help you have a good idea about what your competitors are doing to attract the target audience's attention, including:

  • The kind of videos they are creating
  • The level of their engagement
  • The number of views they have
  • The metadata they are using

Once you know all these aspects of your competitors' videos, it will become easier for you to produce better content.

Optimize Your Video Thumbnail

Thumbnails are like a Miniature visual window or mini-poster to your YouTube videos. It helps your viewers decide whether to see your video or not, as thumbnails are the first thing that viewers see. Keep in mind the below points to optimize the first look of your video to gain the maximum clicks and views on your video.

  • Prioritize the USP of your video while creating thumbnails
  • Design your thumbnail creatively
  • Sync your thumbnail with video content

Go with YouTube's specific video thumbnail requirements:

  • 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Optimal resolution of 1280×720 (the minimum width of 640 pixels)
  • Image formats: JPG, GIF, or PNG.
  • Under the 2MB limit

YouTube Video Thumbnail

Image Source: Pixelixe

Deep Dive Into The YouTube Analytics

The amount of insight you are able to gather about your audience from Analytics and the ability to gauge their interest in your content is incredible. The goldmine lies in the data about website traffic, lead generation, and sales for your business.

While YouTube Creator Studio provides insights into your overall channel performance, it's using a social analytics tool such as Statusbrew that you can deep dive into the analytics of each video to judge their performance and make informed decisions.

Statusbrew's Reports Lab feature allows you to track minute metrics about your YouTube videos, such as YouTube red views, YouTube views, YouTube likes, dislikes, shares and comments, average view duration, estimated minutes watched.

YouTube Analytics

In fact, you also have the flexibility to prepare reports as per your need or choose from a dozen report templates already provided. The good thing here is that every report is draggable, easy to arrange; you have complete control over design, and every widget is exportable.

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Rushali Das

Rushali is a content writer at Statusbrew. She is fond of writing content that compels people to slow down and look more closely to discover the unknown stories.