There are a number of important ranking factors that YouTube considers when surfacing your videos.
Watch Time is the mother of them all.
In the first days of the platform, a large amount of views to a video early on was a signal of success to YouTube and in turn they would promote it further. However it became too easy to artificially inflate a view count and game the system.
As a result YouTube changed their algorithm to instead reward videos that were actually being watched and not just being clicked on. Here’s proof from one of YouTube’s top engineers:
This “Audience Retention” is now incredibly important and making sure that your videos get watched and watched all the way through is key. In fact it’s the number one ranking factor affecting your video and the success of the other videos on your Channel.
If your Audience Retention is low you will not only hurt the chances of that video being discovered but also the discoverability of other videos on your Channel as YouTube deems you less valuable.
With Watch Time being so important you need to be thinking about it when creating content and optimizing for the platform.
Here’s my guide to getting the best possible Watch Time on your videos.
I’m not a great believer in the idea that content is king but for Watch Time it reigns supreme.
You can optimize until the cows come home but if someone arrives at your video only to find that it sucks, they aren’t going to stick around.
Make epic content that delivers value to the viewer and there’s no way they’ll click away. A great viewing experience means they’re also more likely to watch again and better yet to share (another big ranking factor).
The videos don’t have to be epic in production or production values either, they just need to reward the viewer in a way that your competition can’t.
Whatever categories your videos sit in, ask yourself;
How can I blow people’s minds with my usefulness?
How can I change someone’s life?
How can I teach someone something that they never knew before?
What is it about my next video that will make it impossible NOT to share?
YouTube is full of average stuff that never gets watched so what can you make that will stand out from the crowd?
A video that starts with lots of waffle is not going to get watched. Attention spans just don’t allow it.
Whether that be branding, long-winded introductions or content that’s irrelevant to the main subject, it needs to be cut.
Not only is this unnecessary, but if your viewers are clicking away early-on this is going to hurt your Watch Time and your standing in YouTube’s algorithm.
Here's an example of such an unnecessary intro. It comes from fellow YouTube expert Dusty Porter, and I know he won't mind me calling this out as he uses it as an example on his YouTube Creators Hub Podcast all the time:
So how do you ensure your videos get off to the best start possible?
The first thing you can do to optimize the start of your video can be done before the video even begins.
Before someone has ever clicked on your video they use the Thumbnail and Title together to paint a picture in their heads of what to expect. Take any guesswork out of this for the viewer by using the Thumbnail and Title together to not only sell the video but to tee it up.
This way you have set up the story before it even begins removing the need for any kind of introduction. Here’s a fine (if a little odd) example of this from Mr Beast.
Here are three more tips to ensure that once the video starts it doesn’t get stopped:
- GET STRAIGHT TO THE POINT – if you have posed a question, answer it straight away, not 3 minutes in to the video.
- Move any branding from the start of the video to the end if longer than a few seconds. You may be impressed by your beautiful title sequence but for most people it’s off-putting.
- Keep greetings and intros short and simple but maintain your Channel’s tone of voice. Personality and authenticity is very important on YouTube, just keep it quick.
Think your video intros are pretty tight? Why not put it to the test?
The Wadsworth Constant. Ever heard of it? Thought not.
Well it’s a theory that says that the first 30% of any YouTube video can be lost and the video will still make sense.
This isn’t true for every video of course but if it’s true for yours, you’re in trouble.
There used to be a hack built into YouTube to test this but now you have to do things a little more manually. Check out my video below and test out your videos against the Wadsworth Constant.
If your video still makes sense after this cut then its time to get wieldy with the axe on your next video intro.
A lot of people ask me what the perfect length of a YouTube video is. My answer is always:
A YouTube video should be as long as it is interesting and not a second longer.
It could be 1 minute, it could be half an hour, as long as it remains on-topic and gives the audience what they came for. All that matters is that people are staying tuned.
Stay focused and cut out anything that isn’t necessary for your video to work. Start to go off on a tangent and you’ve lost a big chunk of your audience.
Recently the waters have been muddied by the introduction of YouTube’s subscription service called YouTube Red because this pays out based on the amount of monetized minutes watched. It also seems that YouTube’s algorithm generally is rewarding longer videos.
However, you should not try to artificially inflate the length of your videos in order to gain more views or revenue unless you are certain this will not hurt your Audience Retention rates.
As with anything on YouTube, experiment, track the changes and in this case see how your Watch Time is affected.
If the tone of your voice and content start to change as you wrap up your video, it’s a clear indication to the audience that it’s over and people will click on to another video.
Anything that isn’t essential viewing on YouTube doesn’t get viewed.
Now that Autoplay has been introduced at the end of videos it’s a crime to let this happen. I say this because if you’re optimizing as much as possible it should almost always be your video lined up to play next and by losing the viewer at this point you are missing out on an almost guaranteed view.
Keep the tone and pace level all the way up until the end so that viewers won’t click off in fear of missing out.
Check out this great example of an optimized ending:
The way that viewers have reacted to your content in the past is a good indication of how they’ll react in the future, especially if you have a consistent content strategy.
YouTube Analytics is a powerful tool and can be super helpful in the fight to keep audience retention high.
For Watch Time the best metric to track is Audience Retention.
The Channel average is a good indication of success but if you’re adapting as you go the most recent videos are more relevant for this exercise. Look at your last 6 -10 videos and see where the audience start to drop off.
Go to the videos in question and hit Analytics > Audience retention.
Here’s an example from one of my older videos:
The dip (where the red line is) is where I’m seeing the biggest drop off in audience retention for my video. The time corresponds with where I started to sign off, so in future videos I corrected this and have seen less drop-off towards the end of my videos.
Check your analytics and see where the drop-offs occur and what they correspond to.
Most likely it’ll be:
· Where you start to wrap up (see point 3)
· Where you ask people to click to another video
· After you’ve answered the question the video sets out to answer or delivers on its “hook”
· Where you start to go off-topic or lose focus.
Another cool thing to check while you’re in analytics is how your retention rates compare to the YouTube average. Just hit the Relative Retention box to compare the two.
Some people swear by this and some people (myself included) think this can contradict point 2 and will mean that your introduction may be unnecessarily long.
The idea is that you start the video by teasing something that’s coming up at the end of the video as an incentive to stick around.
Movie and TV trailers seem to do this well – here’s a good example.
I think for this to work you need to have a highly engaged audience that want to hear all you have to say in the lead-up to the pay-off and not viewers that are dropping by for a quick answer to a question.
As with all things I’d suggest you experiment and see how if affects your Audience Retention rates that you have benchmarked.
The stats don’t lie.
It can be very tempting to try a few tricks and hacks to show up in more Search results and Suggested Videos but attempts to manipulate YouTube’s algorithm with unrelated metadata is usually a one way ticket to failure.
Not only are you in breach of YouTube’s Community Guidelines (read Terms Of Service), you can also hurt your SEO.
Well, when viewers find your video and don’t get what they want because it was misrepresented by your metadata they’re likely to click away and fast.
This will hurt your Audience Retention rates and further to that, damage your future rankings.
Place quality views over the quantity of views and the traffic will follow, as well as the algorithmic boost. This is the goal of any YouTube Channel manager.
Create content with your audience (and Audience Retention rates) in mind and you’re much more likely to make content that people just can’t click away from.
You’ll then start to see the benefit to your individual videos and ultimately your YouTube Channel as a whole.