How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work in 2022?
Master the Algorithm to Grow Your Audience
It’s a simple question, really. But it can make all the difference for video content creators: How does the YouTube algorithm work? Knowing the answer can make the difference between going viral and staying invisible.
Currently, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm drives 70% of all views on the platform. But despite its influence, the algorithm’s inner workings remain mysterious.
When you’re publishing videos, you may be struggling to find the viewership you’re looking for. There’s a good chance that that’s because the algorithm doesn’t rank your content very highly. Learning how it ticks can pay off.
However, learning more about the algorithm is also useful if you’re already enjoying some success. It can be a great way to take your channel to the next level and really profit from the creator economy.
Here, you’ll learn about some of the YouTube algorithm’s lesser-known secrets. We’ll discuss how you can use it to get your videos to the right viewers – and compete on the platform.
What Is the YouTube Algorithm?
At its most basic, the algorithm is a loop of collecting data and recommending videos to users. It gathers data from viewers and channels to learn who will watch, like, and share which kinds of videos.
And it collects tons of these data points – about 80 billion signals every day.
Ultimately, YouTube’s goal is to keep users on the platform for as long as possible. It does this by making it easy for you to find an endless supply of videos it thinks you’ll like.
The algorithm’s work appears in several places across the site.
First, there is YouTube’s homepage, showing you rows and rows of video suggestions:
Second, the algorithm powers YouTube’s search function. If two different users search for the exact same phrase, the results will vary in content and ranking based on their individual history.
And finally, there’s the “Suggested Videos”. These shows up in a column on the right edge of the page. The first of these video suggestions is also “up next” – that is, queued for autoplay at the end of every clip. The videos’ end screens themselves will show even more suggestion.
The endgame? Keeping users from leaving the site.
There are slight differences to how the algorithm picks videos for each of these places. That’s because they all serve slightly different purposes.
The underlying principles are the same, though. Let’s now go on to explore those principles.
The Principles: How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?
YouTube funnels videos to users based on their feedback.
This feedback can either be explicit (likes, dislikes, subscriptions) or implicit (video watch time, shares).
With your data, the algorithm automatically builds user profiles. In the background, YouTube’s engineers use fancy machine learning and artificial intelligence models, but we’re not after the technical details here.
Something interesting happens in the next step: It groups similar users together, to fill out the picture of what individual users may or may not like.
Subsequently, YouTube uses this profile to decide what suggestions to make. This is a two-step process: The algorithm first generates candidates, and then ranks them.
Here’s a rough overview of this:
Step 1: Candidate Generation
Whether suggestion or search, the starting point is the same: YouTube’s vast entire video library.
The first step, candidate generation, has the job of selecting just a few hundred out of billions of videos. The picks reflect the viewer’s implicit preferences and demographics.
But these implicit preferences are more than just what the user has watched. It’s also how much they watched of each video.
This demonstrates an essential part of YouTube’s algorithm. A video watched to the end carries much more weight than those abandoned after seconds.
That’s one reason clickbait can backfire – if videos get lots of clicks, but little watch time, YouTube’s algorithm penalizes them.
Another critical measure of implicit preference is which videos you shared in the past.
The candidates generated in this step are all likely to be relevant for the viewer. Still, there’ll be too many to suggest all of them. This leads to the second step: ranking.
Step 2: Ranking Candidates
The factors that go into ranking are pretty similar to those of candidate generation, but a few new ones come into play. Consequently, your implicit preferences matter less. The algorithm will now prefer videos with more engagement: that is, more views, likes, and comments.
Every video is assigned a score, and the algorithm ranks them all according to that score.
But then comes one extra step. To ensure that the suggestions are as varied as each user’s interests, some randomness is introduced.
Most users watch videos on different topics at different times. Still, they will usually have one or two subjects they watch more than others. YouTube, reflecting this dynamic, won’t only suggest videos from the dominant subjects. Rather, it intentionally serves up a diverse selection.
This introduced diversity works in two ways. First, it encourages watching a variety of subjects. Second, it also introduces videos from less popular channels.
So, even if a channel’s videos aren’t top-ranking, they still have a chance to make it into the recommendations. Because they might just be right for you, and that’ll keep you on YouTube.
After a video passes through this second step, the algorithm will finally suggest it to you – whether on the homepage or elsewhere on the page.
How Can You Harness this Algorithm to Generate Views?
It’s important to have this basic understanding of how the YouTube algorithm works in theory. Yet the more valuable lesson for creators is how to use it to succeed on the platform.
Here are six critical steps to getting your videos in front of an ideal audience.
1. Increase Viewer Watch-Time
One of the most important things we’ve talked about above is that it’s important how much of each video your viewers watch. This means focusing on interesting, engaging content that your viewers will enjoy.
In a nutshell: Don’t make videos longer than they need to be. Do everything you can to get your viewers to stick with you until the end. Keep them entertained throughout. Drop hints about exciting tidbits of information that you reveal later on. You might include a fun outro in every video.
This requires some reflection on the quality of your videos and the responses that they’re getting. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t!
The more viewers watch your entire video, the more likely YouTube will be to suggest it to others.
2. Get Viewers to Watch Multiple Videos
Viewers who’ve watched several videos from your channel are much more likely to see your videos in their suggestions.
The first step to earning multiple views is to put out a lot of engaging videos within your niche (we’ll talk more about niching down in a moment). While it’s true that this is a lot of work, you’ll want to publish regularly anyway.
There are also a few key tactics to encourage this type of engagement.
One easy strategy is to just to reference past videos on your channel. Simply say something like, “If you enjoyed this video, then you’ll love the one we published last week about Topic X.”
Include as many links as you can to your other content. Pin a comment with a link to your most popular video. Create a playlist of audience favorites and of related videos. Include an end screen with links and thumbnails of similar videos.
Thinking carefully about your content strategy makes this much easier in the long run. If you produce videos that are related in some form to begin with, it’s much simpler to create these connections. They’ll also look natural to your viewers. Video series are excellent for this.
All this encourages viewers to check out more of your videos. That in turn makes it more likely that they – and similar users – see your content suggested.
3. Focus on Shares, Not Just Subscribes
Getting subscribers is vital in building an audience, of course. But getting viewers to share your content is just as important.
Like watch time, shares are an essential part of the implicit feedback recommender algorithms consider. As we’ve seen above, implicit feedback features in both candidate generation and ranking.
Thus, it has a huge influence on which videos your audience sees on their homepage.
Beyond that, shares are an organic way to expand your channel’s viewership. On the one hand, you get the strengthened position of implicit recommendations. On the other, direct links to your videos will spread all across the web!
So, encourage your audience to share your videos on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or anywhere else they like to hang out. And: This signal boosting can attract even more shares on those platforms.
4. Build Credibility Within Your Niche
New YouTubers often post videos about anything and everything that piques their interest. It’s is an integral part of finding a niche that works for you and connects you with your ideal audience.
But – unless you’re really just doing this for yourself – you’ll need to settle down a bit eventually. Randomness won’t help you hold an audience.
Once you’ve determined your niche, it’s important to build credibility within that niche. Improving your reputation will drive viewers to more of your videos, giving you better implicit feedback.
Becoming a credible authority takes a lot of time and videos to achieve. Good planning and consistent publishing gives your channel the best chance at success.
5. Expand Video Topics to Hit Multiple Niches
One lesser-known way to increase organic reach is hitting several niches at once. True, it’s crucial to find a focus. But if you find overlapping subjects, they might pull in otherwise disinterested users.
Let’s take a video that focuses solely on beauty products as an example. Only people who have viewed videos about beauty products are likely to see it suggested.
Now consider a video about a celebrity’s favorite beauty products. There’s a good chance it’ll also get suggested to fans of that celebrity – even if they don’t usually watch videos about beauty products.
You don’t need to force this tactic on every single video. Still, try to include content that will interest various people for a variety of reasons.
6. Create Positive, Emotionally Compelling Content
Finally, YouTube’s algorithm increasingly rewards positive, emotionally engaging content.
It’s true that YouTube has been accused of promoting hateful or dangerous content in the past. But recent changes to the algorithm have shown a shift in ranking. There is now more of a preference for videos likely to encourage good feelings in the viewer.
Ethics isn’t the only reason for this. YouTube actually found that total watch time goes up when controversial content is downranked. Just as importantly, advertisers avoid borderline content. This gives the platform a solid motive not to suggest emotionally negative content.
This advice applies to more than your video content itself, though. It also applies to titles and thumbnails. Avoid titles with clickbait, shock value, or controversy to try and generate interest. Don’t use ALL CAPS, and don’t make false claims to mislead potential viewers.
Your videos are most likely to get suggested if they are authentic and connect with your target audience.
Keeping Up to Date: How the YouTube Algorithm Works Changes Constantly
There is one more thing for content creators to consider: The YouTube algorithm changes practically every day. In a typical year, engineers make hundreds of modifications to the algorithm.
However, as a creator, your job is to publish great videos, not keep up with the ever-changing algorithm. That’s where we come in. Not only does the team at Tasty Edits stay up-to-date on every change. We also help make sure your content is ready to take advantage of them!
Whether you’re just getting started or looking to take your online presence to the next level, Tasty Edits can help.
Want more tips to produce video content that viewers will love and that will earn you money? Reach out to us.