It is now 2020, and although we don’t have hoverboards and flying cars yet, we do have a great opportunity when it comes to video marketing with the YouTube platform. My name is Luke Sherran, and in this Weekly Wisdom, I am going to be talking about where you should be focusing most of your time when considering the performance of your videos on the YouTube platform in 2020.
In this video, I will cover the YouTube algorithm, where to spend most of your time, an overview of the collaborative filtering, the behavior metrics that you need to understand, and how to use analytics to optimize your content.
YouTube Traffic Sources
Since 2015, I have worked with a lot of different channels and video creators, and most of them still focus a large amount of their time around keyword research, the metadata, and organic search. Whereas there is still a place for this, the YouTube algorithm is based primarily on user behavior metrics. Understanding how to trigger the YouTube algorithm to extend the reach of your videos will yield far better results than just focusing on search traffic alone.
To put this into context, search traffic typically makes up between 15% and 25% of total traffic on popular YouTube channels. On my channel, search traffic makes up around 22% of my total traffic; this isn’t because I don’t get a lot of search traffic, it is just that there are bigger and better traffic sources to focus on.
Generally speaking, over 70% of all traffic now comes via YouTube’s recommendation engine. So again, if you just focused on search, you’re really missing out. The problem is that things like keyword research and metadata feel really tangible and those with an SEO background feel very comfortable using them. The issue is that no matter how perfect your keyword research is, or how well formulated your tags are, if your behavior metrics aren’t good, then YouTube won’t recommend your video and your video won’t rank.
Metrics to Focus On
Originally the YouTube algorithm was based on pretty basic principles, and a video was ranked largely on how many views it had. The issue with this is that it was very easy to gamify. It led to a lot of clickbait and, ultimately, a lot of viewer frustration. Viewers often had to click on multiple videos before they could find the content they wanted.
So in 2015, the YouTube engineers made a critical change to the YouTube algorithm and actually prioritized watch time over views. Watch time was seen as the most reliable metric to determine video quality and the most difficult to gamify. And in 2020, it is still one of the most important metrics used to determine video quality.
YouTube SEO in 2020
When we talk about YouTube SEO in 2020, the primary focus where you spend most of your time should be your content. Your content is not just your video; it is also your thumbnail and your title. This is because the main metrics you want to consider are:
- Click-through rate
- Watch time
- Percentage watched
Click-through rate was always a little bit of an unknown on YouTube, but the new Studio actually shows you your click-through rate for each video, which is extremely useful.
Collaborative Filtering Explained
We know how important the click-through rate is because it makes a large part of collaborative filtering. Collaborative filtering is the way in which YouTube predicts trends and user behavior based on machine learning and profiling of its users, including their age, gender, geography, demographics, watch history, and probably hundreds of other factors. Collaborative filtering could easily be a video on its own. So I am going to try and summarize it with just some very basic examples.
Let’s say that YouTube suggests your video to a number of YouTube users that are all very similar in profile. They serve up your video as a potential video to watch, and your video is the one that they are interested in, and they click on it. Let’s say that the watch time metrics that follow are positive as well. YouTube will then suggest that video to a whole range of other users matching that profile. And if they click on a video and they have good watch time, then YouTube extends the reach to an even larger audience. If they click on a video and they like it, this process repeats on and on. And in very simple terms, this is how a video can actually go viral. Now for the videos that aren’t clicked on. If this happens enough times, YouTube actually stops suggesting them.
This is actually true for search too. Let’s say that, theoretically, you manage to get a video to rank number one for a specific search query, but nobody clicked on the video. You can be sure that YouTube won’t maintain that position. It will demote it until it disappears out of the search results completely. What is interesting is that this whole process was largely dictated by the quality of the title and the thumbnails, and that is why they are so important.
Title and Thumbnail Optimization
When it comes to crafting your title, the priority should be creating something interesting, or that has a unique hook. If you can include keywords naturally within your title, then great, but don’t do it at the expense of writing a good title. The SEO impact of a keyword-rich title is almost insignificant compared to everything else.
Of course, the same goes for thumbnails. Optimizing thumbnails is a skill and a discipline all of its own and could easily make up an entire video. But thumbnails need to stand out. They need to be good quality, and they need to look interesting enough to encourage click-throughs. From a click-through perspective, because they are so visual, they are much more important than the title because they are what will catch the user’s attention.
Some of the most popular YouTubers will spend anywhere from two to three hours creating their thumbnails, and in some cases, the concept of the thumbnail comes before the video. This is a stark contrast to most users who typically will create their thumbnails a bit of an afterthought, normally during the upload process, and will just click basically a random frame from their video.
Optimizing for Watch Time
When it comes to watch time, this is obviously down to the quality of your video, but also how you structure it too. Traditional story arcs are typically less successful on YouTube because you just don’t have that same level of patience as they would when watching a film or TV.
You need to find out what works best for you. But try experimenting with an emerging story arc or reverse storytelling and see what works best for you and your channel.
Within YouTube Studio, you can see an audience retention graph for each of your videos, and you will want to spend some time reviewing it and see if you can identify any trends. This will give you a lot of insights into what works and what doesn’t.
Typically, in underperforming videos, you will see a big initial drop off, and this could be because the video hasn’t met the expectations set by the title and a thumbnail. Or it could be the quality of the video might be poor, or maybe there is a long intro that users just skip.
You should also see if you can identify any obvious drop off points in your audience retention graph. If you can, what actually happened at this part in the video? Did you have a really long scene? Was it a particularly slow part? Did you make a bad joke? Or maybe you said something that just doesn’t resonate with your audience. Although you cannot retrospectively change this, it does give you the information you need to learn from before creating your next video.
Optimizing for Higher Percentage Watched
In terms of the total percentage watched, again, the pace and structure of your video are really important. But a mistake we see a lot is really long outros.
Most YouTube viewers are pretty savvy now when it comes to YouTube videos, and if they sense that you are starting to wrap things up, they won’t sit and watch; they will move straight onto the next video. So keep your outro short or consider adding something unique to the end of your videos to actually keep people watching. Bloopers and outtakes could be a really easy way of doing this.
So when we are talking about YouTube optimization in 2020, rather than focusing on things like keywords and metadata, what we should really be focusing on is:
- How can we improve our click-through rate?
- How can we improve our watch time?
- How can we improve our percentage watch with each new video?
- What did we learn from our last video that we can apply to get better results in our next video?
Now, there are lots of techniques and strategies we can use to actually trigger the YouTube algorithm. And largely these are based around exceeding expectations. When a video performs better than YouTube expects it to, this can actually encourage the algorithm to extend the reach of that video. Within YouTube Studio, it now even shows you what these expectations are for certain metrics.
So to summarize, if you want to do well on YouTube in 2020, then you really should focus most of your time on your content. Your content is your title, your thumbnail, and, of course, your video content. Now, just to clarify, I am not saying that you shouldn’t do some of those other things, but you really should focus your content first and foremost.