YouTube Filter & Explore Update: Stealthier Than A Google Panda

The Google Panda update set off fireworks on February 24. But an even bigger change to YouTube search results has slipped under the radar despite the fact that YouTube is the second largest search engine.

Now, Google is constantly tuning its algorithms, but many of the changes it makes are so subtle that few people notice them. However, the Panda update was “a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking — a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries,” according to The Official Google Blog, so the company let people know what was going on.

Now, YouTube has made a pretty big change to its search results page – a change that appears to noticeably impact 50.0% of its queries. But the word “algorithm” hasn’t appeared in The Official YouTube Blog since Sept. 21, 2010. That’s when Julie Kikla and Mahin Ibrahim, Account Managers, YouTube Partnerships, said, “Our algorithms are good, but they can only read, they can’t watch your videos. So in order to properly classify your video and index it for search, we need your help.”


They made several recommendations, including:

  • “Use our Keyword Tool to expand on or update your tags. It will give you good suggestions for related queries.”
  • “Titles, tags and rich descriptions (all categorized as metadata) will help your discoverability and increase CPMs. Descriptions can include up to 5,000 characters, tags can be 120 characters. Make a goal to use every one of these limits for each of your videos.”
  • “The more words you include in your description, the higher your chances of being discovered by searchers, which means the larger your audience can grow, and the more potential revenue you can earn.”
  • “Don’t just include tags upon video upload. If you have a popular video that continues to get views over time, update your tags regularly to take advantage of new searches. Online search behavior is always changing, so your tags should change along with it.”
  • “If you have a transcript available, make sure to upload it and turn on captions. This can help your discoverability as it will give us more data points to index your video.”
  • “Don’t repeat words in your description or title, this will not help you. Rather use different words and variations that users might search on to find your video.”

Get it? Got it? Good.

But if you take their advice and use the YouTube keyword suggestion tool, then you will discover it generates some pretty eclectic keyword ideas. The tool itself suggests testing it by searching for green tea. The first two recommendations are tea leaf green and green tea. But as the image below illustrates, the tool then suggests these phrases: hot rod, tea partay, tea party, and hot rod movie.

green tea.png

Oh, it gets better.

If you conduct a YouTube search for green tea, then as you’ll see in the screen capture below, the term appears in the title of the top three organic results and the promoted video on the right. But the title of the promoted video at the top of the page reads: “Lose weight Safe & Easy.” And neither the word green nor the word tea appears in the description.

YouTube search results for green tea.png

OK, so Dr.Tsoi and Dr.Chan are willing to pay to appear in promoted videos and they don’t have a lot of competition.

Back to the Future

But now you’ll also notice “Filter & Explore” appears at the top of the YouTube search results page. This is the new feature that YouTube has introduced that appears to noticeably impact about 50 percent of its queries.

And check out the suggestions to someone who has just searched for green tea:

  • life
  • masayoshi son
  • sencha
  • loose leaf
  • maccha
  • horseradish
  • white tea
  • sparidae
  • gongfu tea ceremony
  • chinese tea culture

If you click the Filter & Explore link, then you’ll see the radically new set of search options below.

search results for green tea.png

Filter is functional. You can filter for videos uploaded today, this week, or this month; or by long format, channel, playlist, movie, show, rental, HD (high definition), CC (closed caption), partner video, or webm.

But Explore takes you off to unexplored areas which could be denoted, “Here be dragons.” For example, I hope people interested in drinking green tea aren’t interested in drinking toner.

And if you click on the expertvillage link, then you’ll discover the videos below on How to Do Basic Kung Fu : Blocking In & Out in Kung Fu, Basic Car Care & Maintenance : Checking Car Radiator Coolant Level, and How to Rebuild Front Brake Calipers : How to Assemble a Brake Caliper.

search results for expertvillage.png

Back in November 2010, YouTube told us that it was exploring new approaches to help people discover new videos. Palash Nandy, Software Engineer, said on The Official YouTube Blog, “We know that sometimes people come to YouTube looking for a specific video, but at other times, they have only a rough idea of the kind of videos they want. We’ve been there too, and have been thinking for a while about this challenge of searching when you don’t yet know exactly what you’re looking for.”

That’s when YouTube unveiled a prototype called, “YouTube Topics on Search,” and it asked users to try it out on TestTube.

If YouTube Topics on Search were still being tested, then no one would think twice. But now that it has been launched as Filter & Explore, marketers need to sit up and take notice.

The YouTube algorithm may still look at the relevance, upload date, view count, and rating of a video. But the YouTube search results page has been radically transformed into a word association game.

Put simply, YouTube is trying to identify topics and associate videos with them. YouTube is using many different sources to find these topics, including frequently used uploader keywords, common search queries, playlist names, and even sources outside of YouTube such as Wikipedia articles.

I don’t know about you, but I think YouTube’s change is bigger (allbeit stealthier) than the Google Panda update. But what do you think?

Related reading

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Eight tips to getting your videos ranked on YouTube in 2019
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