YouTube Algorithm Change: ‘Time Watched’ Key to Higher Video Search Rankings

stopwatch-itsYouTube has started adjusting the ranking of videos in YouTube search to reward engaging videos that keep viewers watching. In other words, “watch time” has replaced “view count” in the YouTube algorithm.

If you missed the news, it wasn’t announced on the Official YouTube Blog. Instead, it was announced on the Official YouTube Partners and Creators Blog.

This latest change is a continuation of ongoing efforts by YouTube to focus its video discovery features on watch time, and follows changes YouTube made to Suggested Videos in March as well as more recent changes to YouTube Analytics.

Eric Meyerson, YouTube’s head of creator marketing communications, explained why YouTube had started to focus on watch time back in August.

“YouTube viewers watch a lot of video — over 4 billion hours a month at last count. But the average household also watches several hours of video per day on their TVs. So for YouTube to become the most important media in more people’s lives, we’ve got a lot of growing to do,” he said. “Over the past few months we have made some changes to YouTube to encourage people to spend more time watching, interacting, and sharing with the community. To support this, we’ve updated what we call video discovery features, meaning how our viewers find videos to watch via search and suggested videos. These changes better surface the videos that viewers actually watch, over those that they click on and then abandon.”

Why This Shift?

YouTube’s video discovery features were previously designed to drive views. This rewarded videos that were successful at attracting clicks, rather than the videos that actually kept viewers engaged. (This short-sighted focus led some video marketers to use “cleavage thumbnails” to attract clicks.)

“Now when we suggest videos, we focus on those that increase the amount of time that the viewer will spend watching videos on YouTube, not only on the next view, but also successive views thereafter,” Meyerson said. “If viewers are watching more YouTube, it signals to us that they’re happier with the content they’ve found. It means that creators are attracting more engaged audiences. It also opens up more opportunities to generate revenue for our partners.”

The experimental results of these earlier changes were positive – less clicking, more watching. So, YouTube expects the amount of time viewers spend watching videos from search and across the site to increase.

What does this mean for video marketers?

This should benefit your channel if your videos drive more viewing time across YouTube. However, if your videos were only focused on attracting clicks, then you could drop in the rankings as even “PSY – GANGNAM STYLE (강남스타일) M/V” has reportedly done.

How Can Video Marketers Thrive in This New World?

The best thing video marketers can do to be successful on YouTube is make videos that people want to watch. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, many of the old tactics that some video marketers may have used to optimize videos for YouTube will now backfire.

For example, some marketers intentionally made their videos shorter in an attempt to get a higher retention rate. Unfortunately, this won’t help. While high retention on your videos is a good indication of engagement, YouTube is actually optimizing for how a video contributes to a longer viewing session on YouTube. So, your video isn’t more likely to be seen just because it’s shorter.

Conversely, other marketers intentionally made their videos longer, assuming that longer videos lead to more watch time. This also isn’t necessarily true, because it can be more challenging to keep viewers engaged through a longer video. (Imagine a speech by your CEO that drags on… just… a little… too long.)

As a result, YouTube’s primary recommendation is to make great videos that your audience will love and share, and stay away from questionable optimization strategies.

Watch YouTube Analytics Like a Hawk

The day before it announced its algorithm change, YouTube added new Time Watched reporting to YouTube Analytics, providing video marketers with more tools to evaluate the performance of their videos and channel.

If video marketers watch YouTube Analytics like a hawk, they can use this data to better understand what your audience wants to watch. More time watching content means a more engaged audience and more ad revenue. That’s what YouTube’s focus on watch time is all about.

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