How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?

Learn how YouTube’s algorithm works to bolster your channel’s statistics and reach wider audiences.

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Oct 20, 2022

Jan 08, 2024


How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?

YouTube Algorithm

Did you know that roughly 30,000 hours of new content is uploaded on YouTube every single hour? There are almost a billion videos on the platform –Which means that there is a video in almost every topic imaginable! You can watch DIY videos, tutorials, ASMR videos, music clips, films, sketches, language learning content, scientific experiments, news, talk shows, mini-series, vlogs, and a lot more on YouTube. Given the massive number of videos available on the platform, how can one find the content that will entertain them or answer their questions? 

For this particular reason, engineering team at YouTube has developed a cutting-edge algorithm that helps users find what they are looking for. Moreover, this algorithm ensures that right videos are suggested to the right people. For instance, let’s say that you are interested in healthy living and fitness. You watch workout videos, fitness vlogs, healthy recipe tutorials and more. You wouldn’t expect YouTube to show you fast food videos or something equally unrelated to your interests such as furniture reupholstering tutorials.  
We can take look at this ‘suggestions’ mechanic from the perspective of the creator as well: Let’s say that you are a gamer who does live streams, shares gameplay and walkthrough videos. You would expect your videos to be suggested to gamers and people interested in gaming instead of people interested in, say, entrepreneurship content, so that you can reach your target audience.

From the viewer’s point of view, how the algorithm does what it does is not really important: The content you want to watch finds you one way or another! 
Yet from the content creator’s perspective, understanding the intricacies of YouTube algorithm is essential. When you know how it works and why it does what it does, you can make the algorithm do the heavy lifting for you. You can fine tune your videos to ensure that YouTube algorithm helps you acquire organic growth.

Having more than 35 million active channels, YouTube is a very competitive place if you want to monetize YouTube videos. That is why many content creators work hard to understand and take advantage of YouTube’s algorithm so that their videos get more views and bring more revenue.

If you want to reach wider audiences and take your YouTube channel to the next level, take a closer look at our detailed YouTube algorithm guide below. Learn how to optimize your videos and keep your viewers engaged through tips and tricks like using appropriate keywords, popular hashtags and interesting sounds like 8D music.

How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?

In the early days of YouTube, the suggestion algorithm was quite primitive. That is why content creators exploited clickbait titles, misleading video descriptions and such to get more views. As a result, the user experience on the platform suffered significantly. In order to fix this issue, YouTube team started their quest to improve the algorithm around 2012. With the efforts of their engineer team, YouTube incorporated metrics like time spent watching each video and time spent on the platform. 

This early version of the algorithm would reward the channels whose videos amassed more watch time. If the viewers of a video would watch it to completion, that channel and its videos would be suggested to more users. In order to make this algorithm update work for them, some content creators started making shorter videos so that the viewers would watch them till the end. Others went towards the opposite direction to share longer videos and increase their total watch time. 

Thus, YouTube team noticed that time spent watching a video doesn’t equate to that video’s quality. Then came another update to the algorithm: YouTube introduced mechanics like Share, Like and Dislike to measure viewer satisfaction in 2015. 

To take things one step further, AI tools were integrated to YouTube suggestions algorithm in 2016. This way, it started to make more personalized and successful suggestions to the viewers. As a result of this significant enhancement, 70% of the watch time of the viewers were amassed by the videos the algorithm suggested in 2018. In other words, the algorithm got significantly better at noticing the patterns in viewers behaviors along with their taste and satisfaction.

In the last few years, YouTube’s algorithm faced another challenge: Content moderation. Although it was very good at finding the best content to suggest to viewers based on their taste and previous activity, it failed to reduce the spread of harmful information and borderline content. Even today, there exists a plethora of content that doesn’t violate the community standards hence that cannot be removed, yet that is inflammatory and spreads false information. Both YouTube users and governments expect the platform to hinder such content from gaining more visibility and causing harm to especially protected groups in the society. 

The newest and maybe the hardest quest of YouTube team so far is to improve their algorithm in a way that demotes potentially harmful content while being able to make on point video recommendations to the viewers. 

How does the YouTube algorithm work in 2022?

In order to offer the absolute best content for the viewers in these different sections, 2022 version of the YouTube algorithm considers a wide array of different factors:
  • Watch history of the viewers: The algorithm pays attention to what viewers watch and what they skip. If the viewers click on your video and leave immediately, it seriously harms your click-through rate.
  • Moreover, the algorithm aims to offer viewers similar videos to the ones they watched before. So if a viewer has watched a video that is similar to yours, it is highly possible that your video will be recommended to them. 
  • Watch times: YouTube aims to recommend viewers videos like the ones they watch until the end. So your click-through improves when your viewers watch your videos for longer.
  • Likes and dislikes: The algorithm takes viewer feedback seriously: Videos with more likes are recommended more while videos with more dislikes are not.
  • “Not interested” option: If many viewers click on this option for your videos, the algorithm opts out of recommending your videos often. 
  • Demographic and geographic information: YouTube aims to improve video recommendations by taking demographics (age, gender etc) and location of the viewers.
  • Past searches: The algorithm takes previous video searches of the viewer into consideration when recommending videos. That is why it is always a good idea for content creators to keep up with most searched queries. 
  • Channel activity and “freshness” of the content: YouTube prefers recommending videos from channels that are updated frequently and regularly. Moreover, newer videos have priority over older ones.
  • Engagement and growth rate of the video: If a video is making numbers fast or getting overwhelmingly positive interaction, the algorithm shows a greater tendency to recommend it.

Does rewatching a YouTube video count as a view?

Yes and no. In terms of YouTube’s algorithm, a view means when a viewer watches more than 30 seconds of a video. If the viewer rewatches the video for longer than 30 seconds, it counts as a view.

In order to block spamming or increasing video views by using bots, YouTube introduced a restriction to rewatching: Only 4 or 5 replays are counted as views in 24 hours. After 4 or 5 times, the rewatches of that viewer are not counted until the next day.

YouTube Algorithm Focus Areas

To make better suggestions, YouTube algorithm mainly focuses on two areas: Engagement and metadata.

Engagement: Likes, dislikes, shares, comments, watch time and click through rate of a video are considered as “engagement metrics.” In addition to these, YouTube’s algorithm also considers the content of comments. Single word comments, emoji comments and similar “short” comments don’t do much to increase the engagement rate of a video. Longer comments with replies and likes along with positive comments increase a video’s chance to be recommended while negative comments decrease it.

Metadata: Video’s title, thumbnail, description, keywords and hashtags make up the metadata. If the metadata matches with a viewer’s search query or interests, they are recommended the video. 

Where can the algorithm recommend your videos?

The current version of the YouTube algorithm recommends what to watch to the viewers in three different sections:
  • The feed or homepage where the user can see new content uploaded by the channels they subscribed along with some fresh content from other channels
  • YouTube search results page where the user can see videos related to their search query
  • Suggested videos that appear on the right column while watching a video

How to apply these algorithm tips to your brand

If you want to “hack” the YouTube algorithm, pay attention to the tips below:
Don’t shy away from using SEO optimization tools: Find the relevant and popular keywords for your video and try to use these keywords as much as you can in the title and description. Moreover, you can derive inspiration from these keywords for finding the best hashtags.
Use YouTube analytics: YouTube offers extensive analytics to help your channel grow. Get to know your audience: Learn their location, age, gender, interests. Moreover, you can see when your audience is most active to schedule your new videos accordingly. 
Pay attention to the thumbnails and titles: Your thumbnails must be high quality and interesting to look at while your titles must be concise and inviting. This way you can spark the curiosity of your audience and convince them to watch your video.
Be consistent and patient: YouTube’s algorithm rewards frequently updated channels and fresh content. That is why be religious with your content schedule: Post new content frequently and often. 
Aim for high engagement: Videos with higher engagement have higher chance of being recommended. That is why create a sense of community and encourage your subscribers to leave comments, like and share your videos. You can also learn how to share a YouTube video on Instagram to attract more viewers from your other social media accounts. 

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