How To Play the YouTube Algorithm Game

Written by
Danielle C.
 on 
November 5, 2021

Your engagement on your recent content feels low and you’re desperately googling how the YouTube algorithm works so you can get it working for you rather than not. But if your search history has devolved into a series of frustrating buzz words (“YouTube Algorithm 2022”, “Pythagorean theorem”, etc), then this breakdown is for you.

As you focus on building subscribers for your YouTube channel, the mantra to remember is audience is key. The person behind the algorithm curtain isn’t the engineering team, but rather your viewers, both existing and potential.

A few critical categories to consider:

Existing viewers vs. New viewers

While it may be easy to feel frustration because your video content isn’t trending, it’s vital to remember that the “What’s Trending” page is only a reflection of a small audience, and not necessarily your existing or your target audience. The algorithm is completely powered by audience feedback and demand. As a creator, you’re going to want to strike a balance between keeping your existing subscribers happy and engaged while also hooking new subscribers. While there is a chance for the casual viewer to happen upon your video and enjoy that content you worked so hard on, the goal for new viewers is to get them to keep coming back for more. YouTube now has a special audience tab on the YouTube analytics page for its creators to evaluate audience engagement on a more detailed level.

Controlling the Controllables

Like anything, there is only so much you as a creator can control. Some of these reminders may seem obvious. For example, shorter videos retain audiences at a higher rate than longer content, but did you know that there are seasonal changes in viewing content as well? These shifts in audience engagement are also affected by the type of device the audience is utilizing. Think about your own viewing habits. On your phone during your lunch break? You’ll probably gravitate toward shorter content.  Kicking your feet up and browsing for something to watch on your Smart TV? Longer videos keep audiences hooked in that setting. Longer view duration and audience engagement (think impressions, click-throughs, likes, and comments, end-screen clicks) are all audience-driven golden nuggets in the YouTube algorithm. Can you control how exactly viewers choose to engage? Nope. So what can you do?

  • Publish content consistently. You can’t make a name for yourself if you don’t have content toward which you can drive your audience. Build that library by identifying your target audience’s values and piquing their interest with quality content.
  • Develop your own unique style. We all remember the poster on our high school guidance counselor’s wall that told us to “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Turns out, it’s not the worst advice for garnering subscribers either. Cultivate your own style and lean into it!
  • Hook viewers with a hot thumbnail and targeted keyword search phrases. Think clickbait but for content that your target audience will actually want to watch. Don’t forget to consider what other content creators are using and narrow your potential competition by implementing unique key search terms.
  • Always be open to improvement. Identify your weak spots and be willing to work on them. Poor audio? Get an external mic and try again. Boring background aesthetics? Instead of a blank wall try a green screen or maybe a bookshelf with all those little Funko Pop dolls you’ve been nerding out about.

Evergreen content

Keep churning out the good stuff! Your existing viewership has stuck around because they appreciate the content you’ve created and they’re interested in seeing more. While audience is key to dictating how the algorithm works with your content, you’ll want to focus on striking yet another balance: quality over quantity. High quality videos at a consistent rate are more likely to perform better than a less carefully curated video dump. Try to put yourself in your viewers shoes, especially those casual and new viewers. What kind of content will keep them coming back for more?

The bottom line is that the YouTube algorithm recommends upwards of 600 million unique videos daily. And these videos aren’t necessarily related to consumer searches. With this in mind, there is still plenty of opportunity for new creators to gain traction and for existing creators to reel in new subscribers by consistently churning out engaging content.

More views and a growing audience means more potential revenue for your channel. Ensure you are properly monetized with a game plan that involves consistent publishing, unique personality-rich content, and targeted search term-thumbnail pairings. At the end of the day, you want to have a great platform to host your content where you call the shots, own the data, and build your business.

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