YouTube SEO – How Does The YouTube Algorithm Work?

Every business has at least a basic understanding of SEO and knows how to “work” different algorithms, like Google’s, in their favor. But what about YouTube SEO and its intricate algorithm?


Since YouTube launched in 2005, it has developed into more than just an online platform for users to upload, share, and watch videos. Today, YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world. And it is a great tool for brands, companies, and creators to promote their work and offerings.


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YouTube Algorithm
Source: Pixabay


How is YouTube continuing to keep all those users coming back? YouTube uses a complex set of algorithms to serve a long list of relevant content, which always seems to know just what users want to watch.


Everything from ranking content to search results and suggested videos is part of this complex machine. But how exactly does the algorithm work, and how can you use it to your benefit?


How does the YouTube algorithm work?

YouTube strives to provide a uniquely personalized experience to each user, providing specific content relevant for them individually. For, YouTube feeds content through five different sections.


And to figure out which videos and channels each user enjoys watching, YouTube tracks their engagement with the videos they watch. That said, it cares less about which videos each user watches and how much time they spend on it, as much as it cares. But also, what kind of videos they interact with through comments, likes, and dislikes.


Since YouTube’s algorithm rewards engagement instead of vanity metrics like views and clicks, it encourages creators to make videos their audience likes watching instead of just trying to please the system.


Furthermore, YouTube’s algorithm uses special metrics to rank and recommend videos within each section of its platform. Let us go through some of the content that YouTube uses in its algorithm by categories.


The Search Feature

Two main factors that affect your video’s rankings are keyword relevance and engagement metrics. When ranking videos in search, YouTube considers how well your title, description, and content match each user’s requests. But also, how many users are watching videos from your channel and when they watched similar videos last.


So, of course, keeping tabs on user history is crucial. But YouTube will also look at which videos have got the most engagement requests.


Suggested Videos

Not all users will have the same experience on YouTube. But still, YouTube aims to provide the most relevant, personalized recommendations for each viewer. So, the algorithm analyzes each user’s activity and comes back with hundreds of suggestions that could be relevant for that particular individual.


YouTube ranks the personalized videos based on:

  • How well each video has interested and satisfied similar users
  • How often does each viewer watch videos from each channel or other videos with the same topic
  • How many times YouTube has already shown videos to the users


Moreover, YouTube knows that users tend to watch more content when they receive recommendations from several channels. That is why they like to expand their suggested video feeds.


YouTube Ranking Signals

To build brand visibility and increase engagement, you must understand the newest YouTube trends and SEO best practices. Here is more about how YouTube ranks videos on the search engine results page (SERP) and how brands can improve their videos for SEO.


On YouTube, there are two main ranking signals on the SERP – keyword relevance and engagement metrics. These will be described in more detail here:


Keyword relevance based on searches

To rank on YouTube, the first thing you need to think about is optimizing the videos and your channel for common search inquiries. Then, place relevant keywords within your videos’ title, tags, description, transcriptions, video files, and thumbnail files.


Furthermore, you need to check out the trendiest inquiries, which will guide viewers to your videos. You will find these searches within the YouTube Search Report. If you find that the requests are a bit different from your video’s topic, then you should consider updating your video.


In that way, you will fill the content gaps and add more keywords to your metadata. If you see a big difference, you need to consider making new videos to reach these popular queries.


Engagement metrics – watch time, likes, comments, and more

The next thing to consider when ranking on YouTube is optimizing your videos and channel for engagement. The key metric that you need to consider is the total watch time. How much time do your users spend watching your content?


But, before you can measure that, you first need to attract their attention. One of the best methods to instantly catch your users’ attention is creating exciting thumbnails for each video.


Thumbnails are little clickable snapshots that users see when searching for videos on YouTube. But, because they are the first thing your users see, alongside the video’s title, their purpose is to tempt the user by providing a glimpse into what they will get if they click on your content. 

If done right, thumbnails can help you separate yourself from the crowd on a platform packed with standard thumbnails. But be careful not to fall into the click-bait category.


If you want your thumbnails to stand out, consider including a talking head – people are drawn to human faces. Furthermore, select your colors, both foreground, and background, in a way that draws attention and makes them pop in between other videos.


When you have the user’s attention, you can engage them by creating an entertaining series or a show. Also, it is a good idea to create playlists around specific topics and videos with high audience rates.


In that way, you will improve the odds of users watching most of the videos within your playlists, which is a great technique to boost your overall watch time.


Another way to improve your total watch time is by measuring your videos’ performance compared to other engagement metrics, like average watch percentage, average view duration, audience retention, and average session duration.


Try to find which videos and topics perform best. Then, focus on creating more content similar to that to improve your ranking on YouTube’s search results page, as well as within the suggested videos feed.


Other Ranking Signals

Additional ranking signals to have in mind:

  • How often do users click on your video from the SERP?
  • How quickly a video’s views grow
  • How frequently does a channel uploads new videos? New videos rank higher right away, which might encourage creators to create new content.
  • How much time do viewers spend on YouTube after watching a video?


All in all, videos that answer users’ questions and hold viewers’ interest will benefit the most from YouTube’s ranking algorithm.


How YouTube algorithm works
Source: HubSpot

YouTube SEO – Video Optimization

To make the most of the YouTube SEO algorithm, both creators and brands need to improve their metadata. Metadata is about your video’s title, description, and tags.


SEO tools similar to Ahrefs and Ubersuggest can help identify common searches and related keywords., so use them wisely. Keyword-rich titles and descriptions will make your videos pop in relevant searches.


However, YouTube recommends that you write a description that will give users a clear overview of your video. So, use natural language and not just a long line of keywords.


Keep in mind that the description helps viewers notice your video and decide whether they want to watch it. But, they will only see the first few lines initially, so make sure your most catchy and relevant keywords are at the beginning.


Also, make sure they match your title – you don’t want to use one set of keywords in your title and another in your description. 


Finally, add tags to your videos and help viewers find your content easier. But keep in mind that they play a smaller part in the discovery of your videos. The title, thumbnail, and description of your video are more important for your metadata when it comes to SEO and increasing traffic to your content.


Youtube Algorithm satisfaction
Source: Pixabay

Top YouTube Ranking Factors – Viewer Satisfaction

How YouTube ranks its content has changed in the last couple of years. Here is a short history:

  • 2011: Top ranking factors were clicks and views
  • 2012: Top ranking factor was watch time
  • 2015-Today: Top ranking factor is the satisfaction of the viewers.


Ranking YouTube videos based on the number of clicks and views showed an ineffective lead to a heavy amount of clickbait with confusing titles and thumbnails.


The overall watch time seemed like an improvement to rank the videos. However, there were drawbacks because this did not show whether users liked the content they watched. Now, YouTube’s highest priority is to rank content that will leave users feeling satisfied.


How YouTube Measures Viewer Satisfaction

YouTube uses a combination of different surveys and signals to determine viewer satisfaction. So, YouTube studies what users enjoy watching by occasionally presenting surveys on how they feel about the videos they watched.


Data from these surveys is used to train the prediction models so they identify which videos are the most satisfying. YouTube also uses engagement signals to calculate viewers’ satisfaction such as likes, dislikes, and clicks on the “not interested” button.


YouTube Algorithm In Layman Terms

Which ranking signals does YouTube use to decide which videos to show to people?


Each traffic source is slightly different. But ultimately, what affects your video’s view count is a mix of:

  • Personalization: the viewer’s history and preferences
  • Performance: the video’s success
  • External factors: the overall audience or market


How YouTube Ranks Content on the Home Page

The YouTube home page shows users a collection of different videos that its algorithms have determined they might want to watch.


YouTube’s home page algorithm uses a combo of performance and personalization indicators. The purpose of the algorithm is to deliver all the most relevant and best-suited recommendations to each viewer.


As said before, ranking on the YouTube home page is based on:

  • Performance: YouTube uses click rate and average view duration. This calculates how well a video will attract other viewers when they see it on their home page.
  • Personalization: YouTube personalizes a user’s video recommendations based on what they have watched in their history. Moreover how often they engage with an exact channel or subject.


So, to maximize performance on the YouTube home page, take a real and unbiased look at your videos. Pretend for a minute that you are a new user, unfamiliar with your YouTube channel. 


What is the vibe of your channel? Are the titles and thumbnails of your videos appealing? More importantly, are you relevant for your niche?


Remember that just having content on your YouTube channel is not enough, you also have to be active. So, uploading regularly will help sustain the interest of your viewers and help them build a nice routine of watching your channel. This is a key to generate viewer satisfaction signals.


Youtube rankings viewers
Source: Pixabay

External Factors Impacting YouTube Rankings

As a marketer, it is essential to keep in mind that external elements might impact their video rankings on the YouTube home page and suggestion sites.


This is outside the content creator’s power and can include:

  • Topic interest: Different areas have different sizes of audiences. Niche topics might have limited exposure because of the absence of broad interest.
  • Competition: How much time your viewers spend on content from other channels will have an impact on how much of your content is suggested to them.
  • Seasonality: The number of YouTube viewers varies throughout the year and it typically goes a bit down during holidays. Subject interest will always change during the four seasons; for example, in the summer will outdoor videos be trendier.


How YouTube algorithm works in 2021?

Today the YouTube algorithm chooses videos for viewers based on two goals: to find the correct video for the individual viewer, and attract them to continue watching.


When we talk about “the algorithm,” it is about three connected but somewhat different selection or discovers systems:

  • One that picks videos for the YouTube homepage
  • One that ranks results for the exact search
  • One that chooses recommended videos for viewers to watch next.


YouTube states that in 2021, Homepage and Suggested videos are typically within the top sources of traffic on most of the channels. Except for explainer or instructional videos, as they might see the highest traffic from search.


Keep Track of the YouTube Algorithm to Succeed on the Platform

As the YouTube algorithm grows, it is important to keep track of the changes so that you know what does and doesn’t benefit the platform. If you are a business or individual creator trying to increase your audience on YouTube, then you need to optimize your videos for the algorithm so that your channel gets the right list of subscribers.


Youtube SEO Succes
Source: Pixabay


With more than a billion hours of video watched per day on YouTube, there is no doubt that content creators and marketers need to take advantage of this platform to dominate and grow their audiences.


By understanding how YouTube algorithm works, suggests videos, content creators and marketers can make their videos work harder and use its nuances to your benefit.


It is important to know that you get the best results on YouTube, by focusing on your audience. If you know what people want and what they like watching, then it might be a good idea to adjust according to their interests.


The algorithm will reward you with recommendations and impressions, but remember to keep yourself up to date and experimenting over time. Keep your audience interested by creating new and inspiring content, as the audiences will change, just like the seasons, etc.


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