Maybe you caught Matt Gielen’s recent article, “Reverse Engineering The YouTube Algorithm: Part II.” It summarizes a report published by YouTube engineers that explains how their algorithm uses content and user data to make video recommendations. It was thought provoking and well-researched. However, while it remains informative for any social video creator and marketer, there’s more to be said on maneuvering the algorithm to cater to creator and brand advantages.
The crux of Gielen’s analysis is that Watch Time and “Freshness” are the main algorithm drivers that contribute to a video’s success – incorporating these two goals into a YouTube optimization strategy are game changers for anyone’s KPIs. But, knowing you can’t fake Freshness, how do you actionably grow a channel’s organic traffic and watch time?
OK, if you want to see your videos appear in one of the coveted curated spots on the “Suggested” and “Recommended” sections on YouTube, consider these four strategies:
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It will be impossible to increase viewer retention without the users, which is why a discoverability strategy is imperative. Optimizing metadata harkens back to the OG SEO days of yore, but the tactics still stand firm on YouTube. Titles and thumbnails still need to be clean, concise, and honest to capture a user. By leaning into the algorithm, we have repeatedly seen that metadata optimizations, such as description overlap across videos and unique tags, can see lift in traction on channels. When metadata is optimized for search, our television and retail clients have seen views from search increase an average of 10%.
Aside from precise, thoughtful optimization, YouTube’s algorithm takes into consideration watch duration “from all YouTube watches (even those embedded on other sites).” Print that fact out, highlight it, and hang it up in your office space. This is CRUCIAL information for publishers. The fact that views from other properties boosts rankings is the reason brands and enterprises need to embed YouTube video players on their O&O properties instead of raw files. It might not look as slick on a brand property, but you shouldn’t let vanity obstruct your KPIs –– otherwise, what’s the point of creating the content in the first place?
Create Thematic Playlists
Once you’ve brought a user to your channel, how do you keep them there? Plain and simple, playlists are the easiest way to increase viewing session length. Rather than gambling on the algorithm to serve up the correct next video to your user, playlists allow brands and creators to manually group similar videos together to entice sequential viewing, consuming several videos at a time.
Our television clients have seen views from playlists increase an average of 18% when they were curated by an actual human instead of an algorithm. The reason is, by strategically dropping users into a playlist, brands and creators are able to better control the viewing experience.
Utilize An Interruptive Viewing Strategy
After a user has pressed play, Watch Time comes into play. Gielen’s emphasis on session Watch Time over the individual video supports an “interruptive viewing” strategy, which is another tactic for manually taking the reigns on the viewer experience. This approach leverages audience retention data to identify times throughout a video when a user is most at risk to leave, and then uses an info card to give the user an alternative that encourages continued viewership within the channel’s ecosystem.
For example, if channel owner X sees an average drop-off rate at :37 in their Monday tutorial videos, implementing an info card that links to a related playlist around :30 heads viewers off at the pass, offering an alternative video to watch before they decide to quit. While purposely moving a user off an individual video might feel strange, it gives publishers the opportunity to keep them on the channel –– which is more important than a single piece of content.
When considering navigating your content around YouTube’s algorithm, think about your game plan with a holistic channel approach. While you might have to sacrifice a clean look on your site, or even a low performing video, it’s important to make maneuvers that service your overall KPIs.
Don’t lose sight that the goal of your content is to get people to watch for as long as possible, which means posting longer content in more places with no “tune-out” points, visual optimization, and remembering that timing is everything. You can’t fake “Freshness”, but you can make sure your video is optimized correctly.
John Holdridge serves as Senior Vice President of Social Video Strategy at McBeard, a Fullscreen Company. A digital media veteran with 11 years of web, social, and digital video experience, he oversees the team that executes strategy and growth for the social video channels of Fortune 500 brand and media clients such as NBC, Intel, American Express, Ford, GE, and 20th Century Fox.