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  • Alex Lefkowitz
    (Author)

    Alex Lefkowitz is the founder and CEO of Tasty Edits. He holds a BA in Entrepreneurship and is an experienced video editor, having edited hundreds of videos for dozens of creators before starting his own video editing company. Since launching Tasty Edits, he has directly managed thousands of video and thumbnail orders. Now, he draws on his experience working with professional creators to write about video editing, the creator economy, and video marketing. You can also read his work on Hackernoon and Medium. Plus, he's contributed several expert opinions in interviews and articles as a guest on platforms like Jotform.

    View all posts
  • Esteban Ramos
    (Author)

    Esteban Ramos is a full-time YouTube Channel Manager at Tasty Edits. He has worked with dozens of high-profile and up-and-coming content creators and businesses to grow their channels with strategic YouTube SEO and personalized recommendations. He is a seasoned pro at finding video ideas, boosting YouTube audience engagement, and diving deep into YouTube channel analytics. Videography and cinema are also his personal passions: In his free time, he hosts a Spanish-language movie podcast.

    View all posts
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YouTube’s algorithm drives 70% of all views on the platform, according to YouTube’s Chief Product Officer. 

It determines which videos go viral and which disappear into obscurity. Who succeeds as a creator, and who fails.

But how does it work? And how can you harness it to grow your YouTube channel?

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what the YouTube algorithm is, which areas of the platform it impacts, and how you can leverage it to supercharge your YouTube videos.

Contents

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What Is the YouTube Algorithm?

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about the YouTube algorithm. Partly, that’s because it has evolved massively since YouTube was first launched back in 2005.

youtube algorithm timeline
  • In 2005 – 2011 YouTube had no algorithm. Instead, it rewarded videos that had high numbers of clicks. Not surprisingly, this led to massive amounts of clickbait. 
  • In 2012 YouTube shifted to watch time as a metric. Videos that people spent longer watching did better, since it indicated that the content corresponded to their interests. As a result, creators started making more long-form content to engage viewers.
  • In 2015, YouTube launched what we now know as its algorithm. It published a  white paper, in which it announced the use of deep neural networks for recommendations and search results. We’ll dive exactly into how that works below. 
  • Finally, in 2016, the era of content moderation began. In response to misinformation going viral, YouTube introduced several control mechanisms and a strict rule for creators to follow its community guidelines or risk suspension. 
Image of the white paper Google published on the YouTube algorithm

Today, most social media content we see is algorithmically driven. Artificial intelligence and machine learning operates in the background to decide which recommendations and search results to show to individual users. 

YouTube’s algorithm does exactly that: It collects your data and harnesses it to select the right videos for you

Its ultimate goal? To keep you watching, liking, and sharing – and generating ad income for YouTube. 

You can see the handiwork of YouTube’s algorithm in four different places on the platform: 

  • search results 
  • suggested videos 
  • your home page
  • YouTube Shorts 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

How the Algorithm Influences YouTube's Search Results

When two different YouTube users type the same search query, they will rarely get the same results. 

Why? 

Because the algorithm uses their entire profile history, including previous interactions with creators and content to decide which videos are most likely to hit their sweet spot

That’s because YouTube is a search engine at its core – the second largest in the world, right after Google – and viewer satisfaction is its number one priority. 

Say you’re a vegan and you decide to look for inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner. When you type out “Thanksgiving recipes” in YouTube’s search bar, you’ll see a very different set of results than someone who’s been following a Paleo diet. Especially if you follow any vegan lifestyle creators, or have liked vegan recipe videos in the past.

The Algorithm Curates Your YouTube Homepage

A second spot in which YouTube’s algorithm has a major influence is your home page. The algorithm curates it to instantly captivate your interest

We’ve all gone to YouTube to look for a specific video, saw something different that captured our attention, and followed it down the rabbit hole. Only to emerge hours later, bleary-eyed after binging cat videos. That’s mission accomplished for the algorithm! 

On your homepage, you’ll see videos that are custom-tailored to your interests, based on your previous signals. This includes new videos from creators you follow, videos that you’ve watched before, and videos related to topics that you’ve been interested in recently

You watched an introduction to coding in Python? Expect a selection of programming content on your dash for the foreseeable future.

youtube's algorithm curates your site
Based on this user's homepage, it's likely they've been watching Late Night shows and Marvel content.

YouTube's Suggested Videos

Third, there’s the suggested videos. These show up in a column on the right edge of the page when you’re watching a video. The first of these video suggestions is also “up next” and queued for autoplay at the end of every clip. 

Plus, when you finish watching a clip, you’ll also see more suggested videos on the end screen

All of what you see here was selected by the algorithm based on user behavior.

Chances are that this user has been looking at skin care content.

The YouTube Shorts Algorithm

Finally, a fourth spot in which the algorithm has a major significance is YouTube Shorts

Shorts was launched as a direct competitor to TikTok and Instagram Reels in 2020. When it first came out, Shorts were mostly treated as separate from long-form videos by the algorithm. That’s why many creators – including huge players like MrBeast – created separate Shorts channels. However, that’s no longer the case. 

Now, YouTube’s Shorts algorithm seamlessly links into the general algorithm on the platform. For more details on how to optimize Shorts, check out our article on the Shorts algorithm here.

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how does the algorithm work?

The Principles: How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?

YouTube uses implicit and explicit user feedback to determine which videos to recommend to users. 

Explicit feedback includes clicks, likes, dislikes, and subscriptions. The algorithm assumes that if you click on a video you saw in your search results, you want to see more results like it. The same goes for subscribing to a creator or liking a clip. 

Implicit feedback is more subtle. It includes  video watch time and shares. Say you click on two videos in your search results. One you watch for all of two seconds before you nope right out of there. The other you watch through to the end. The second one is much more likely to have an impact on your future search results because your watch time was much higher! 

With this data, the algorithm builds user profiles using complex machine learning and artificial intelligence models. As a 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, then ranks them.

how does the youtube algorithm work

Step 1: Candidate Generation

Whether suggestion or search, the starting point is the same: YouTube’s vast video library, or corpus. The Shorts algorithm obviously works on the smaller, but rapidly growing set of short clips.

The first step, candidate generation, has the job of selecting just a few hundred out of billions of videos.

For this, it uses your profile, especially your implicit preferences.

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. Shorts on mobile, especially, has basically no space to work with.

This leads to the second step: ranking.

Step 2: Ranking Video Candidates

The variables that go into ranking are pretty similar to those of candidate generation, but a few new factors now come into play.

Here, your implicit preferences matter less. The algorithm will now prefer videos with more engagement: that is, more views, likes, shares, and comments.

In a nutshell: After generating a bunch of choices YouTube is pretty sure you’ll like, it ranks them by how well they do in general.

Every video gets a score, and the algorithm ranks them all according to that score.

But then comes one extra step: mixing it up.

To ensure that the suggestions are as varied as each user’s interests, some randomness is introduced.

After all, everyone has their favorite topics, but most of us like a bit of variety. Humans get bored. And that’s why YouTube doesn’t just suggest more of what it knows we like, but spices it up a bit.  

This introduced diversity works in two ways. First, it encourages watching a variety of subjects. Second, it also introduces videos from less popular – or newer – channels

So, even if your channel’s videos aren’t top-ranking, or if you’ve just started out as a creator, you still have a chance to make it into recommendations and the top search results. Especially since YouTube introduced an algorithm update in March 2024 that pushes new content from little-known channels. 

Now, typically at leat one video on your home page or in your recommendations (and there usually in third or fourth place!) will be by relatively unknown creators! 

new videos in recommendations
self care in creation gears hearts icon

How to work with the YouTube algorithm to grow your channel?

Given all this information on how the YouTube algorithm works, how can you actually harness it to get your videos to show up in recommendations and search results?

First off, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the YouTube algorithm is audience-centric. Your ultimate focus shouldn’t be on “hacking” the algorithm, but on creating content and presenting it in such a way that it’s appealing to your viewers.

In a recent interviewTodd Beaupre, YouTube’s growth and discovery lead, revealed:

“Creators often ask about optimizing their upload time or frequency for the algorithm. But we want creators to shift their thinking. Rather than focusing on the algorithm, they should focus on the audience. Replace the word “algorithm” in their questions with the word “audience.” We design the algorithm to serve the audience, so understanding audience preferences will help the algorithm favor their content.”

That said, here are 8 strategies to help you.

1. SEO-Optimize Your Content

YouTube is the second-biggest search engine in the world. To win over its algorithm, you have to stick to search engine optimization (SEO) best-practices. 

In many ways, SEO-optimizing a video is similar to SEO-optimizing a blog post for Google. 

Start out by doing some keyword research to see what topics your viewers are most interested in. (Check out our full guide on how to go about that here!) 

Next, you need to incorporate your keywords into your content to show YouTube’s algorithm its relevance. Include them in your: 

  • video title
  • description 
  • video script (spoken keywords count as they are transcribed during upload! )
  • your subtitles and captions
  • chapter titles 
  • tags and hashtags
search for YouTube content ideas on keywordtool.io
Platforms like Keyword Tool can help you pinpoint the best topics to target in your next video.

You haven’t been SEO-optimizing your content? It’s never too late! 

You can always go back and tweak elements that will give your videos an additional boost. In fact, statistic show that you can get old content ranking by going back and adjusting video titles and descriptions, adding hashtags, chapters and custom subtitles, and polishing your video thumbnails. That’s not because the algorithm registers changes, but because these elements give viewers a better experience and lead to higher engagement. 

2. Focus on Watch-Time

As mentioned above, one of the most important factors is how much of each video your viewers watch. The higher your video’s average view duration, the more likely YouTube will be to suggest it to others.

This even goes for Shorts: Engagement on long-form videos also boosts your chance of getting your short-form content in front of people. Your subscriber count and similar metrics matter much less here.

Focus on creating engaging content that keeps people captivated throughout. Part of this is a well-structured video script. Keep it concise, build in a strong hook, and drop exciting bits of information about what you will still reveal later on. 

Another important element is having solid visuals, especially when it comes to editing – a single botched cut or weird effect can make a viewer nope right out of there. 

One thing that can help you identify which parts of your videos work well and which don’t is YouTube Studio. In the Analytics tab, you can see exactly where attention starts to drop off. 

Need more details? Check out our full guide to getting more watch time here!

youtube studio video analytics
YouTube Studio shows you exactly which moments are key for retaining your audience.

3. Time Your Content Right

Next up, it also matters when you updload your content, and how frequently. 

While YouTube says its algorithm doesn’t take into account how frequently creators upload new videos, viewers certainly do.  They’re much more likely to follow a creator who they know will keep delivering juicy content on a regular basis.

Creators who have a fixed upload schedule can even become fixtures in their followers’ lives! Irish comedians and YouTube stars Foil, Arms, and Hog, for instance, upload new comedy sketches every Thursday. Not only do people in the comments frequently mention that it’s a high point of their day, the reactions when they upload additional content outside their schedule are always thrilled!  

video days
Foil, Arms, and Hog uploaded on Monday for a change and their viewers were delighted!

However, it’s not just your content creation rhythm you need to get right, but also your upload times. 

When you upload your YouTube videos matters. You need to pinpoint the time when most of your audience is online. That way, they’ll be able to watch your new video straight away and leave comments and likes. This initial boost of engagement can give you major edge with the YouTube algorithm! 

4. Get Viewers to Watch Multiple Videos

Viewers who’ve already watched several videos from your channel are much more likely to see more of your videos in their suggestions. There are a few key tactics to encourage this type of engagement.

One easy strategy is to mention past videos on your channel. (“If want to learn more about this, check out my video about X.”) You can also add the link to the video in question straight as a card. 

Plus, you should include as many links as you can to your other content. You can:

  • 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 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.

Take vlogmas, for example: Many vloggers do daily videos and weekly round-ups in the run-up to Christmas. This gives their audience a lot of closely related content to watch.

All this encourages viewers to check out more of your videos. And that, in turn, makes it more likely that they – and similar users – see your content suggested.

vlogmas playlist
Zoe Sugg's binge-worthy Vlogmas playlist encourages viewers to watch multiple videos.

5. Focus on Shares, Not Just Subscribes

Getting people to hit that subscribe button and sign up for notifications is vital in building an audience, of course. But getting viewers to share your content is just as crucial.

Like watch time, shares are an essential part of the implicit feedback recommender algorithms consider. This implicit feedback features in both candidate generation and ranking and 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. Having viewers share your videos on social media, or embedding them in their blog posts is a great way to draw in people who would never have come across your channel otherwise. 

Encourage your audience to share your videos on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or anywhere else they like to hang out. You can even produce short teasers and vertical remixes that are perfect for Shorts, Reels or TikTok. This signal boosting can attract even more shares on those platforms.

6. Build Credibility Within Your Niche

New YouTubers often post videos about anything and everything that piques their interest. It’s 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 become more targeted. It’s really difficult to build and keep an audience if your videos are all over the place. Someone who loved your video about Yoga breathing exercises against anxiety might not at all be interested in your review of a film you saw!

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 engagement and better implicit feedback.

Becoming a credible authority takes a lot of time and videos to achieve. Good planning and consistent publishing give your channel the best chance at success.

7. Choose Topics to Draw In Viewers Interested in Other 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.

Here’s an example: YouTube cook Andrew Rea regularly recreates dishes from popular movies and books – and makes it fun. Fans of Everything Everywhere All At Once, for example, had a field day with his Everything Bagel.

8. 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 content and misinformation in the past. But a 2019 update to the algorithm cut back viewer consumption of borderline content by over 70% – that’s content that is close to violating community guidelines, but doesn’t cross the line enough to be removed.

Now, there is a clear preference for videos likely to encourage good feelings in the viewer.

But ethics – and a broader trend called reactive creativity – isn’t the only reason for this.

YouTube actually found that total watch time goes up when controversial content is downranked. Just as important, for both YouTube and you, is that advertisers avoid borderline content.

This gives the platform a solid motive not to suggest emotionally negative content. At least not to people who don’t actively go looking for it. While YouTube doesn’t show viewers dislikes anymore, the algorithm certainly takes them into account.

This 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 drum up 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, its 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 for producing video content that viewers will love (and earn you money)? Reach out to us.

FAQs

The YouTube algorithm makes recommendations based on individual viewer’s history – the creators they follow, the videos they’ve watched, and the content they’ve engaged with. The algorithm constructs a profile based on this information and will recommend videos that match this profile.

YouTube recommends videos by checking what content users have interacted with recently. If you’ve liked a video, shared it, or even watched it to the end, you’re likely to get recommended similar ones.

As a first step, YouTube generates candidate videos based on a user’s profile and the explicit (likes, shares) and implicit (watch time) signals they send. Then, the results are ranked based on the performance metrics of video candidates.

Yes, watch time is an important implicit signal that the algorithm determines whether users enjoy a video. It’s one of the reasons why clickbait doesn’t work. Videos with high click rates but low watch time get penalized.

The key to hacking the YouTube algorithm is to curate a great user-centric experience. The consistent advice by top managers at Google has been to focus on your audience and creating content that matches their interests, instead of pursuing tactics aimed at winning over the algorithm.

Authors

  • Alex Lefkowitz

    Alex Lefkowitz is the founder and CEO of Tasty Edits. He holds a BA in Entrepreneurship and is an experienced video editor, having edited hundreds of videos for dozens of creators before starting his own video editing company. Since launching Tasty Edits, he has directly managed thousands of video and thumbnail orders. Now, he draws on his experience working with professional creators to write about video editing, the creator economy, and video marketing. You can also read his work on Hackernoon and Medium. Plus, he's contributed several expert opinions in interviews and articles as a guest on platforms like Jotform.

    View all posts
  • Esteban Ramos

    Esteban Ramos is a full-time YouTube Channel Manager at Tasty Edits. He has worked with dozens of high-profile and up-and-coming content creators and businesses to grow their channels with strategic YouTube SEO and personalized recommendations. He is a seasoned pro at finding video ideas, boosting YouTube audience engagement, and diving deep into YouTube channel analytics. Videography and cinema are also his personal passions: In his free time, he hosts a Spanish-language movie podcast.

    View all posts