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What Matters Most in Ranking at the Top on YouTube?

by Valerie Reader

youtube watch timeWith more than 400 hours of video being uploaded every minute and a user base that’s at least 1 billion strong, YouTube is the 800-pound gorilla of video sharing websites. Stories abound of businesses and full-time YouTubers who have found success in leveraging the immensely popular video platform, and marketers who implement YouTube videos into their content strategy are often able to tap into a massive stream of traffic and leads that might otherwise remain untouched.

With all of the potential that YouTube offers, many marketers feel frustrated due to poor results. They may upload videos, but they often don’t see anything beyond a smattering of traffic, and very low rankings in YouTube’s search results. So what’s the deal? How can marketers crack the code to improve their YouTube rankings and get more exposure for their brand? Below are two of the most important factors in creating top YouTube videos, as well as how to use them to improve your brand’s presence on the world’s largest video sharing website.

Watch Time: The Secret Sauce to Better YouTube Rankings

In light of the colossal number of videos being uploaded to YouTube every second of the day, the site’s algorithm engineers have had to develop some type of criteria to help them sort, filter, and assess the quality of each video in order to determine their relevance to users’ search queries.

Videos that are looked upon favorably by YouTube’s algorithms get the distinct privilege of showing up on the search results pages (which currently hold 20 positions per page), as well as the recommended/suggested videos that appear in the sidebar, or in the video player itself once the current video has been viewed. While there are dozens of different signals and metrics that YouTube includes in its ranking formula, one of the most influential factors that YouTube itself has publicly endorsed as an important ranking criteria is “watch time.”

What is Watch Time?

According to YouTube, watch time is the amount of time users spend actually watching your videos, as measured in minutes and seconds. When you log into the admin interface for your YouTube channel, you should see a graph that lists your watch time, which is given as a daily total.

According to YouTube, the algorithm that suggests videos for user queries “includes prioritizing videos that lead to a longer overall viewing session over those that receive more clicks.” In other words, YouTube is more concerned with how long users remain on the video after the click (i.e., a “full view”) than just giving preference to videos that receive a large amount of traffic.

The Importance of Viewing Sessions

Watch time is intricately linked to another important YouTube ranking factor known as “viewing sessions.” A perfect example of a viewing session can be seen in the all-too-familiar experience of searching on YouTube for a video, and then 30 minutes later realizing that you’ve clicked around and watched about five more videos on top of what you were originally searching for.

For the creator of the first video (the one you were initially looking for), this series of activity counts as one viewing session, and is factored into the total watch time for their account, even if they aren’t the author of any of the subsequent videos. Knowing how to increase the likelihood of longer viewing sessions will have a positive influence on the overall performance of your YouTube channel. So how do you do that? Below are some tips to help you optimize this and other aspects of watch time on YouTube.

Tips to Optimize YouTube Watch Time: Employing a Solid Content Strategy

  • Create high-quality video content that meets a need, answers a question, solves a problem, addresses a pain point, or otherwise engages viewers in order to garner a loyal following and build your subscriber base. The more your subscriber base grows, the more your videos will get watched and shared, which boosts watch time.
  • Build several playlists of your videos around various themes and subjects such as events, shows, how-to series, topic discussions, Q&A sessions, etc. This will typically guide your viewers to watch more than one video per session, thereby positively influencing watch time.
  • Create a diversity of content. Instead of worrying about the age-old “quality vs. quantity” debate, do a little of both. Vary your video lengths, having some that are only 2 or 3 minutes long while others can be 30 minutes or even an hour long. As mentioned earlier, covering a variety of subjects helps as well.
  • Keep your viewers watching by taking advantage of helpful tools such as Cards, Annotations and Featured Content. Also consider adding end slates (a.k.a. outro screens) to your videos to catch viewers on their way out; as you’ve probably experienced before, this can reel you right back in to watching more videos!
  • At the end of the day, more videos equals more watch time. There aren’t too many problems that can’t be solved by just continuing to publish quality videos on a regular basis. Consistently add to your inventory of videos, and your watch time is bound to flourish.

Ranking well on YouTube doesn’t have to remain a mystery. Use the tips outlined above to help you boost watch time, improve your rankings and reap the benefits of a solid video marketing strategy!

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