rank youtube videos

YouTube Ranking Factors: Watch Time

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T hey say success leave clues and when it comes to identifying the most critical YouTube ranking factors this is certainly the case. YouTube provides video creators with a wealth of information that’s in alignment with how it prioritizes search results. YouTube also offers “best practices” on it’s creators blog (youtubecreator.blogspot.com) and provides an ebook called the “Creator Playbook” (thinkwithgoogle.com/playbooks/youtube.html).

Alone, these resources are helpful. However, after studying the analytics associated with many high ranking YouTube videos, I’ve connected the dots and cracked the code. What I’m sharing is working and working well. These are the critical YouTube ranking factors, implement these strategies yourself and prepare for success.

You dig?

YouTube Channel Growth
April 25th – July 23rd 2016

Brian G. Johnson YouTube Channel Growth

How Does YouTube Rank Videos?

To get a better understanding of how YouTube ranks videos today, lets take a look at how YouTube use to rank videos. Previously, the algorithm prioritized videos based on a number of factors including the number of views (more being better), the video title, tags and description. Furthermore, a great video thumbnail was (and still is) incredibly important. A well optimized video thumbnail converts more searchers into video viewers, thus increasing the view count and ultimately the overall video ranking. This algorithm was easy to exploit. YouTube was not rewarding “videos that people liked” with better search positions. But rather, videos that drove more clicks (as a click generated a view). Thus, rankings were easily manipulated by creating enticing thumbnail images. Back in the day, clickbait thumbnails lead to better rankings. Sad but true.

YouTube had a broken search algorithm on it’s hands and needed to make serious changes. After all, great videos were being buried by videos that sported thumbnails that drove lots of clicks. Many of which didn’t offer any meaningful value to viewers and thus were quickly abandoned. Today, that’s changed and what’s replaced view count is whats called YouTube watch time. Watch time rewards individual videos as well as YouTube channels that that keep viewers watching.

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Exhibit A: Engaging Videos That Keep Viewers Watching

We’ve started adjusting the ranking of videos in YouTube search to reward engaging videos that keep viewers watching.YouTubeCreator.blogspot.com/2012/10/youtube-search-now-optimized-for-time.html

On Friday, October 12, 2012 the YouTube Creator Blog posted an article that mentioned changes to the YouTube search engine in order to “reward engaging videos that keep viewers watching”. YouTube does this by measuring user generated data focused on how long viewers watch videos. However, watch time goes far deeper than simply calculating how long people watch a single video. Watch time is a handful of metrics that measure user activity across individual YouTube channels and on the platform as a whole.

Watch time metrics paint a much clear picture as to whether or not viewers like a video. If a viewer clicks a video (thumbnail) and then quickly abandons, that sends a clear signal to YouTube. The viewer did not like the video and stopped watching. However, if a viewer watches a video for a longer period of time and then clicks on another video by the same YouTube creator. Those actions clearly illustrates that the user enjoyed the first video and thus wanted to further explore additional videos by the same YouTube creator. This is a great example of how YouTube watch time analyzes and measures the viewing habits of users across it’s platform.

Boiling It Down

YouTube ranking factors are based on viewer activity. The long viewers watch your videos and stay on your channel the better. Focus on creating engaging videos that keep people watching and you’ll be addressing what’s most important to YouTube, dig it.

Watch Time, YouTube & You

YouTube wants you to pay attention to watch time, a lot. So much so that it makes sure you see it every time you login into YouTube creator studio as it’s visible in the analytics widget. Click on analytics and once again, the first thing you see is two watch time metrics including “watch time” and “average view duration”. Both of these are crucial YouTube ranking factors.

Exhibit B:
YouTube Analytics: Watch Time

YouTube Ranking Factors - BrianGJohnson.TV

YouTube Ranking Factors: Watch Time

  • Watch Time (Accumulative)

On it’s own, watch time is the metric that measures the accumulative amount of minutes watch. This is measured on a per video and per channel basis. Think of “accumulative minutes watched” as the fuel needed in order to rank for keyword phrases in YouTube. Target a super competitive phrase such as “weight loss” and you’ll need lots and lots of fuel (accumulative minutes watched) in order to rank. This is why I suggest smaller channels with fewer subscribers target less competitive phrases, that over time will drive views and ultimately can lead to great rankings. In the image below (YouTube Analytics #1) notice my iMovie video as “accumulated 28,508 minutes of “watch time.

  • Average View Duration

Estimated average minutes watched, measured per video and per channel. This is without question an important metic to focus on, after all YouTube mentioned that they “reward engaging videos that keep viewers watching“. A simple strategy is to create longer videos. You can’t hit a four minute average view duration when publishing a three minute video. My strategy has been to create “fun engaging videos that keep viewers watching” in the shortest amount of time. Sometimes that means creating a twenty minute video. Especially true when doing a tutorial or in depth case study, it’s hard to go deep in two or three minutes. In the image below, notice my average view duration of 5:06 for my iMovie video. That’s a solid view duration for my channel and the videos ranks incredibly well. In a future post, I’ll share ideas and strategies on how to creating engaging videos that keep people watching. However, that’s for another blog post.

YouTube Analytics #1 Watch Time Metrics


  • Audience Retention & Relative Audience Retention

Audience retention and “relative audience retention” are metrics that measure how long a video keeps viewers watching. Similar to average view duration, these are important metrics to focus on. After all, retention is a measurement of length “We’ve started adjusting the ranking of videos in YouTube search to reward engaging videos that keep viewers watching.”

Generally speaking, my retention scores are poor. However, I often create longer videos that cover deep subjects that require more time. That being said, I’ve noticed that some of my better ranking videos have above average “relative audience retention” scores over the first three minutes of the video. Check out the screen capture images below.

Relative Audience Retention #1


Relative Audience Retention #2


Relative Audience Retention #3


In each example above, the relative audience retention scores are “above average” over the first few minutes. I find that interesting. I’ll also mention that Tim Schmoyer from the channel Video Creators has mentioned that “retention does not directly impact” search rankings, but it does lead to more watch time and longer average view durations. So, to in essence, retention “may not” directly impact search results. However, it does lead to more watch time, which does impact search rankings.

It’s Super & It’s Secret

YouTube analytics offers creators access to much of the data that they use to rank videos, but not all. Below, I’ve shared several additional factors that can greatly increase views, subscribers and ultimate success on YouTube.

  • Upload Frequency

Is how often you upload to the YouTube platform an actual metric that YouTube tracks and uses in their algorithm? It’s hard to say, many video experts say yes. However, without question it can and often does lead to better rankings for YouTubers. I’m a big fan of Casey Neistat, if you don’t know. Casey is a film maker who’s done work for HBO and more. His channel was stalled out at 500,000 subscribers. He then began uploading daily vlogs and his channel blew up. As I write this, Casey is approaching 4 million subscribers.

From June 4th or so till July 19th I uploaded some 50 or so videos. On average publishing six times weekly. I was not easy, however I increased my views by more than 400%. Uploading often is a powerful and simple strategy that works.

420% Growth in Views!

Brian G. Johnson YouTube Channel Growth

  • YouTube Session Time

YouTube session time is a very interesting metric that rewards creators who drive viewers back to their channel. Example, share a link on Facebook to one of your YouTube channel and you’ll have effectively created a new “YouTube session” for anyone who clicks on the link from Facebook. After all, the user was on Facebook, then jumped to YouTube. Furthermore, anytime a user visits YouTube, the first video they click on get’s credit for starting the YouTube session. In this scenario, the viewer had not yet engaged with any videos on the platform and the first click is very telling. After all, each and every page on YouTube features dozens and dozens of videos (lots of choices). Remember, YouTube wants to reward channels and videos that keep viewers watching. As I write this, I would imagine that the algorithm takes a look at if the user is subscribed or not to the channel that was generated the YouTube session. If the user was subscribed, then that sends a big message to YouTube. I know and like this channel. Increasing YouTube session time is something you can do, in a number of ways. Heck, just by publishing more videos you’ll effectively increase your Session Time scores as you’ll be creating more opportunity to click on your videos. You can also share videos to social sites, mail your list (you’ve got a list right) and more.

  • View Velocity

This is a ranking factor that is fairly new to me. It’s based on the number of views a video receives in the few days after it’s released. More is obviously better and once again paints a very clear picture as to how much people like a particular video. Matt Gielen, shared some amazing information on this subject over on Tube Filter. I’ve also a handful of YouTubers talk about seeing massive growth to videos views based on promotion and sharing that happens off of YouTube.

One of my most successful videos was shared a fair amount on Facebook, that resulted in YouTube session time, social signals and more watch time. When you release a video, do what you can to drive views right away, it helps with a lot of the YouTube ranking metrics.

Implement These Key Metrics with My 12-Step Tube Rank Ritual System

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About the Author

Brian G. Johnson

Author, speaker, all around excitable guy and the worlds first poodle wrangler. I've been teaching, training and tinkering online for many years. Be brave, stake your claim and amplify your message! People DO NOT fail, they simply GIVE UP before the magic happens.

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