YouTube has shared some new insights into how its feed algorithm works, addressing some common questions from creators around video distribution, and how they can align in order to maximize reach.
The video builds on the algorithm insights videos that YouTube shared back in July and in October, which also provided answers to some key distribution questions. If you’re looking to improve YouTube performance, it’s definitely worth watching them all, while it may also be worth checking out YouTube’s ‘How it Works’ explainer platform, which includes additional notes on video distribution.
Here’s a look at the questions and answers that YouTube shares in this latest installment.
1. If a video is not performing well, will updating the thumbnail improve performance?
YouTube says that this can be a good way to improve video performance, though there is nothing within the algorithm that changes as a result or gets triggered by a thumbnail change.
“Changing the way your title or thumbnail looks is a really effective way to get more views, but in general, we only recommend making changes when your video has both a lower click-through rate, and it’s receiving fewer views and impressions than usual.”
YouTube notes that when you do change your thumbnail, you may notice a sudden change in performance, initially, but this is not due to anything built into the algorithm, it purely relates to how people are engaging with your content.
“When you change your title and thumbnail, you may notice that your video starts getting more or fewer views, and that’s generally because your video looks different to viewers and that’s gonna change up the way that people interact with it when it’s offered to them in recommendations. Our systems are responding to how viewers are interacting with your video differently, not the act of changing your title and thumbnail. There is no trigger if you change your title and thumbnail that will cause our systems to increase or decrease impressions, it’s all about the audience.”
So your thumbnails can obviously have an impact on click-through rates, but YouTube’s system doesn’t factor in changes and re-assess content based on this.
2. Does your video’s click-through rate among your channel subscribers impact the likelihood of it being recommended?
Some creators have raised concerns that performance among their channel subscribers could impact their reach to non-subscribers, which would then mean that channels should look to clean out older and inactive subscribers to improve performance.
YouTube says that this is not factored into its recommendations as a major driver:
“Our recommendation system doesn’t really focus on the subs feed as the primary signal. In Discovery, we focus on how well the video performs in the context that’s shown. So ranking on ‘Home’ for a given viewer is mostly based on how a video performs when it is shown on ‘Home’ – so, do viewers click-watch and enjoy the video when it’s offered to them on their homepage?”
YouTube also notes that its algorithm understands which of your subscribers haven’t watched your videos in a long time, and it will avoid showing it to them, which lessens any potential impact in this respect. So no need to clean out your subs lists.
3. How does YouTube’s algorithm determine the order in which videos appear in relation to a search query?
YouTube says that its search algorithm is very similar to the one used by parent company Google in ranking its search results.
“Just like Google, search on YouTube has a similar goal where we wanna’ show the viewer the most relevant results for their search query.”
YouTube’s video search results are predominantly ranked based on:
- Relevance – How well your title, description, and the content of your video match the viewer’s query
- Performance – This includes total views of the video, how long people have watched the video for, likes, shares, etc.
“Search is not a list of results of the most viewed videos for a given query, it’s very much the most relevant, and the videos that we think you’re most likely to watch.”
4. If YouTube doesn’t show your videos to all subscribers (based on, for example, subscriber inactivity), why is this a relevant metric?
YouTube says that subscriptions are one factor used in its algorithm rankings for user video feeds, but that doesn’t mean that your subscribers will see all of your videos.
“Our recommendation system doesn’t actually push out viewers to anyone, but actually finds or pulls in videos and ranks them for viewers when they visit YouTube based on what we think they’re most likely to watch.”
So YouTube’s system will show each user the content they’re most likely to engage with, and while subscriptions are a factor within this, they won’t necessarily ensure all your subscribers see all of your latest updates.
Why is that?
“We did actually run experiments where we prioritized videos from subscriptions above all recommendations from all other channels, but in all of those experiments, it dramatically reduced how much viewers watched and how often they came back to YouTube. So for that reason, we really focused recommendations on videos that viewers are most likely to watch and enjoy, and while subscriptions are used to inform that, the data shows it’s not always the most highly predictive factor about what videos people want.”
This is a keynote – if your subscribers aren’t regularly engaging with your content, YouTube won’t keep highlighting your videos to them. So, for one, you can’t assume that you’re reaching all of your subscribers, and two, that subscriber count on channels may not necessarily be indicative of reach. View counts per video are a more accurate indicator.
YouTube notes that it does have a ‘Subscriptions’ tab to give people the option to see the latest updates from the channels they subscribe to.
5. If you upload several videos at once, but keep some of them as ‘unpublished’ till you choose to activate them, will that reduce your video reach?
This relates to a note in one of YouTube’s previous algorithm insights video, where they said that viewers will only get three new video notifications, per channel, each day. So if you upload more than three videos per day, you may not get the same amount of reach with your content.
But does that also relate if you upload several videos, but then make them active over the course of, say, a week?
YouTube says that this will not impact reach.
“What matters is how viewers respond to your video after it’s been published. That’s what a recommendation system is learning from. So if you set a video as scheduled or unlisted and you flip it to ‘Public’ later on, no impact. Don’t worry about it.”
That doesn’t necessarily answer the query in relation to notifications – i.e. will your viewers still get notifications of your new videos if you upload more than three in a day, then make them active over time, but it YouTube says that this won’t impact overall reach.
6. Does uploading videos in two different languages impact content/channel performance?
YouTube says this can have an impact because your viewers will respond based on the language they understand.
“Uploading in two different languages can sometimes confuse your viewers unless your audience is mostly multilingual and they can enjoy videos in both languages. We often recommend spinning off into multiple channels per language if you’re catering to your audience. You can imagine if you’re subscribed to a channel and you’re seeing videos that are, for example, in German and English, but you only speak one of them, you’re gonna ignore the one that’s not in your native language.”
That makes sense – your performance will be impacted by viewers ignoring one or the other while having a dedicated channel for each could see better performance.
“If you have a mostly multi-lingual audience, then keep your channel that way. If your channel is designed around the specific type of viewer, probably we recommend separating them or spinning them off.”
7. Does it take a certain amount of hours of watch time before a video is highly recommended?
Some creators have noted that some of their older videos have gained traction at some stage, despite them being active for a long time. Does that mean that they’ve reached a key number which then sees them get more distribution?
YouTube says that this is not the case and that there’s no particular threshold which a video needs to meet in order to start getting recommended.
“A lot of viewers don’t watch videos in chronological order or decide what they wanna’ watch based on when a video is published. If you go to your homepage today, you might notice that a lot of those videos were published weeks, months, sometimes even years ago. If you’re showing more interest in an older video, it could be that the topic that your video is about is increasing in popularity, a bunch of new people discovered your channel and they’re going back and watching more, or a few other reasons.”
YouTube says that it’s fairly common for older videos to pick up steam later on, but there’s nothing within its algorithm that triggers wider sharing based on view counts.
These are some good insights, and as noted, they add to the other algorithm insights YouTube has provided throughout the year. If you’re looking to make YouTube a bigger priority in 2021, it’s definitely worth checking them out, and getting a better understanding of how you can maximize your video performance.