YouTube 101: How the YouTube Algorithm Works? (New Update)

Last updated March 17, 2021

user Written by Nhat Kieu Minh

How does the YouTube Algorithm Works

Knowing how the YouTube algorithm works is crucial to draw subscriptions from YouTube users. Fortunately, while some platforms are rather reticent about their systems, YouTube, the most famous video-streaming channel, is surprisingly transparent.

Without further ado, let’s get started on this article to help you better understand the platform and get more YouTube views in the long term.

How Does The YouTube Algorithm Change?

Before getting to know how the algorithm operates, let’s have a brief look at the history of the YouTube algorithm.

2011: Optimizing For Clicks And Views

YouTube was first created in 2005 to crowdsource video of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s most-talked-about Super Bowl performance. 

For the next six-year period, it came as no surprise to see YouTube suggested videos with the most views and clicks, regardless of the viewing length.

This phase was when misleading titles and thumbnails started to take over the platform. Such profusions of clickbaits did get the views they yearned, along with users feeling tricked and unsatisfied.

2012: Optimizing For Watch Time

Fast forward 11 years (from 2005), the algorithm started to realize that it failed to keep viewers on the platform with this measure.

Optimizing For Watch Time
It Was All About The Watch Time In 2012

It began to gauge the success of one’s video through the view duration, a.k.a the Watch Time. If a person had watched a video to the fullest, it would’ve meant that they found that video valuable and interesting.

Videos that have longer Watch Time were prioritized in recommendations and YouTube Homepage, attracting even more exposure from users.

For that reason, creators came up with the idea of making their videos significantly shorter with the hope that viewers would watch those videos to completion. On the other hand, others made longer videos to increase the Watch Time.

Either way, YouTube did not endorse such creators. They maintained to stick with the initial purpose: produce videos that your audience wished to see, and the platform would reward correspondingly.

2015 – Now: Optimizing For Satisfaction And Responsibility

In 2016, YouTube became quite transparent with its way of working by releasing a whitepaper explaining its machine learning-based algorithm for suggesting videos.

With access to users’ history and other metrics (Likes and Dislikes, Shares, Not Interested button), the algorithm could optimize for a personalized stream of recommendations to perceive the utmost satisfaction from users.

Subsequently, in 2018, 70% of Watch Time on YouTube is spent watching videos the platform suggests. 

In terms of the ranking funnel, creators’ videos are assigned a ranking based on relevancy and other core factors (which will be explained further in the article).

Subsequently, the videos are put in an order, ranking from highest to lowest, and shown to users as they look up a keyword on the search bar.

This learning process of the YouTube algorithm is a part to contribute to the platform’s primary goal: to keep the users satisfied.

Over the years, YouTube’s immense growth and popularity have caused a rising number of content moderation problems. What YouTube suggests to users has become an issue not only for creators and advertisers but also in the news and government.

The situation has gotten so serious that YouTube started to take responsibility for its content flow by releasing the new community guideline to give credit for authoritative content and reduce the spread of misleading, dangerous content.

As a result, consumption of borderline content and harmful misinformation has been reduced by 70% in early 2019. 

Some creators fear that their content may have accidentally run afoul of ever-changing community guidelines and be penalized with strikes, demonetization, or worse, ban from the platform forever.

How Does The YouTube Algorithm Work In 2021?

Over the past decade, more than 2 billion YouTube users visit the site monthly to find the content they’re fond of. 

The two main goals of the YouTube algorithm now include finding the right video for each individual and getting them to stay on the platform for as long as possible.

When we talk about the algorithm, it involves three learnings:

  • Arrange videos for the YouTube Homepage
  • Rank videos for Search result
  • Select Suggested Videos for users to watch next

For most channels, the top source of traffic comes from YouTube’s Homepage and Suggested Videos.

How Does The YouTube Algorithm Work In 2021
How Does The YouTube Algorithm Work?

Source: Video Creator

YouTube Recommendation Algorithm

The YouTube recommendation algorithm contains videos suggested on the Homepage or personalized-recommended videos that viewers may want to continue watching on the platform.

So, how do you get your videos to be suggested on the Homepage? The Homepage ranks videos based on:

  • Performance: How well a video engages with users (Like, Dislike, Comment, Share), the satisfaction of an individual toward that video (intriguing content, complete watch till the end, etc.), and other evaluation factors include the click-through rate, average view duration, etc.
  • Personalization: Hardly anyone has similar videos on their Homepage because YouTube is not a trending tab. Videos will be selected based on the viewer’s watch history and how often they watch a channel or topic.

Our advice? Optimize your content for viewers with these factors in mind. Put yourself in their shoes and ask, What do I wish to see from this channel?

YouTube recommendation algorithm
Video on Homepage and Suggested Videos

Next, the Suggested Video. These are the videos that a user may be interested in after watching similar content. The algorithm will recommend:

  • Videos that are often seen together
  • Topically relevant videos
  • Videos the user has seen before

You must be on YouTube long enough to realize that the algorithm often offers similar content to what you have watched in the past. Many people highly appreciate this feature when it comes to suggesting new sources of information and entertainment.

YouTube Search Algorithm

YouTube is the world’s largest video-streaming platform, with its search engine second to Google. You have to understand that YouTube finds videos to serve viewers but not viewers for its videos. That said, some YouTube SEO knowledge will come in handy for optimization.

There are two core factors to determine whether your videos will have a high ranking among the search results, including:

  • Keyword: The keywords you use in the video’s metadata matters as it helps YouTube’s search algorithm categorize your content to the right audience.

The algorithm also considers whether the keyword properly indicates the user’s search intent, the search volume of that keyword, and finally, its position as the main keyword or secondary keyword.

  • Performance: After the algorithm has categorized your video, it will check its speculation by displaying that video among the search results.

If the video has a good click-through rate, likes, comments, shares, etc., it means the audience enjoys watching your video. 

The longer the video attracts and retains viewers, the more satisfied the people who are searching. As a result, the video will have more exposure, thus increasing the SERPs.

Important Factors To Impact YouTube’s Ranking Algorithm

  • Watch Time: Obviously, your videos need to propose a good amount of Watch Time to rank higher. The longer the Watch Time, the higher your ranking.
  • Audience Retention: YouTube tends to prioritize videos with high retention views, which are the views from viewers who watch your videos from the very beginning to the end.
  • Click-through Rate: The click-through rate (CTR) goes correspondingly with the Watch Time. If a video has a high CTR yet low Watch Time, you can already assume it’s click-baiting. 

Nonetheless, it’s different from attention-grabbing thumbnails and titles. YouTube appreciates the effort you put into this to get a higher CTR; it’s not only fair but rather ideal.

  • Video Length: According to statistics, longer videos are likely to have a better ranking than shorter ones.

7 Tips To Increase Traffic Source On YouTube

Do Your Keyword Research

Certain SEO keywords and metadata will show better results than the others if you know how to make use of them. YouTube has made it clear that content-relevant queries matter when you’re optimizing videos for search engines.

In a time where content is densely saturated, know your niche. People want quality content, and the algorithm prioritizes people’s satisfaction. Knowing your niche will not only save you a lot of time on keyword researching but also help your content reach the right audience base.

Youtube keyword research
Do Your Keyword Research

Before posting a video on your channel, you ought to do some thorough keyword research to choose out phrases and terms that are highly relevant to your video content; then, vigorously place them:

focus keyword is important
Where You Put The Keywords Is Important

Don’t try to overtake the algorithm by posting unrelated content to the keywords that you use.

One, the algorithm will soon notice that. Two, your subscribers and viewers will notice that too. Once they do, there’s no going back. You’ll lose a great number of subscribers, thus undergoing an immense decrease in exposure.

Remember, there is no shortcut to gaining organic engagement.

Provided that your video’s topic is somewhat different from the keywords in YouTube’s Search Report, you can add the missing parts to fill the content gaps. Subsequently, you may consider making new videos referring to these keywords if the difference is stark.


The first impression is very important. Initially, not everyone can make an impressive description, but over time, you’ll get there.

focus keyword in video description
A Video Description

YouTube doesn’t despise lengthy descriptions, so don’t be afraid to go the extra mile if you have more than one thing to say.

Nonetheless, some people won’t read anything longer than three sentences. Therefore, be wise with the first few lines you’re going to use. You can give a little introduction about yourself and the content you’re making to those who are new to your channel.

The video description is the perfect place to capture audience engagement; you only need to front-load the first line with an attention-grabbing, keyword-focused description and watch your popularity fly high.

Create Impressive Thumbnail To Increase CTR

The thumbnail is one of the first things people see when looking at the search results as they type in a keyword. A good thumbnail should deliver the video content without having to look at the title.

youtube thumbnail examples
Which Video Are You Going To Click Depending On The Thumbnail?

Making eye-catching and enticing thumbnails to get people’s attention and let them decide whether they like your content after clicking on the video. Before getting viewers to watch your videos, you ought to increase the click-through rate.

On a general scale, a person responds significantly better to visual presentation than just the text, explaining why you should put out more time and effort in making a great thumbnail before posting your video on YouTube.

It is recommended that you use images featuring easy-to-read and awe-inspiring fonts along with facial close-ups as those are the videos with the most views, according to statistics.

In the end, make sure:

  • The thumbnail is clear and easy to see and read.
  • The thumbnail stands out.
  • The thumbnail is visually corresponding with your title and description.

Do you see the importance of thumbnails? Take some time to learn how to create a branded thumbnail of your own, and watch your video thrive!

Encourage Binge-Watching

Once you have got a viewer to watch one of your videos, retain them to binge watch others as well. Optimize for added Watch Time at the channel-level by practicing strategies involving video consumption and consistency, including:

  • Cards: Flag relevant videos of similar topics at the end of your video to pitch viewers to consume more content. You can even add a short scene (teaser) from such videos to increase the chances of clicking.
  • End Screens: End with a CTA to retain viewers to watch another relevant video. A strong CTA can make a world of difference. 
  • Playlists: Group topically similar series into a playlist. This small action will make it easier for viewers to keep track of what’s going on. 
Create Playlists To Help Viewers Keep Track
Create Playlists To Help Viewers Keep Track

You can make a video series to capitalize on a recent spike in viewers, which was proven to increase the overall Watch Time very effectively.

  • Subscription Watermarks

External Traffic

External traffic refers to traffic from outside of YouTube; it is when someone visits your channel via another source, i.e., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. External traffic is another important factor to have an impact on YouTube’s recommendation algorithm.

Nonetheless, its influence only stops right there.

External traffic aids in getting your video displayed on YouTube Recommended. But once your video has made it there, it will want to give a good performance to maintain its position. If your video fails to do so, the success is only short-term.

Some YouTube channels suffer video views and click-through rate drops due to too much external traffic. The question is, is this going to affect the entire channel performance adversely?

YouTube has stated that it isn’t an issue when the average view duration drops because your video receives an excess of external traffic. In fact, this problem is quite common. 

Additionally, the algorithm pays more attention to the viewer engagement with a video after regulating it than any other factor.

Consistent Uploading Schedule

The uploading frequency is another important factor affecting one’s channel performance.

People often say quality over quantity, but if you can have both, why not go for it? If viewers watched and enjoyed your videos, they would want to see more.

Besides having quality content, you will want to arrange a posting schedule, so your fans and subscribers know what and when to look forward to.

You don’t have to post too many videos in one go, but try to upload at least one video a week.

The algorithm is not going to be overwhelmed if you post too many videos at once. However, just because YouTube doesn’t have restrictions on how many videos can be suggested to a viewer per channel in one day, it doesn’t mean you can post however much you want.

One, you will be out of ideas soon; this we can be sure of. And two, the audience needs time to process the information you’ve just provided in one video, just as much as they look forward to your new ones.

Plus, while there is no limit to the number of videos you can post in one day, users will only be receiving three notifications per channel in a 24-hour period of time.

If you’re constantly uploading videos, the chances are that each video is getting significantly fewer streams, and that is a sign your viewers are running out of steam.

Your video will continue to stay in a user’s recommendation section for as long as they continue watching the video (multiple times).

Also, can the algorithm tell the good clicks from the bad?

Sometimes, invalid clicks are mistaken as normal activities of a user; the platform’s AI will catch the subtle signs of ingenuine clicks that humans miss.

Community Engagement

If you have been on YouTube for quite some time, don’t forget to interact with your audience.

Community Engagement
Reply To Your Viewer’s Comment

You don’t have to do much; simply reply or leave a heart on comments you like. If there are too many comments, you can always make a video to show your appreciation rather than just reply to a few comments.

Talk to your fan base. Bear in mind that the algorithm notices these things; it knows when you’re having conversations with your viewers and subscribers or just paying lip service to increase your social media metrics.

Use Video Tags The Right Way

YouTube tags include phrases and queries used to provide the algorithm with a sense of what your video is about. They give more context to help YouTube categorize your content easier, thus helping people find your clip.

Using youtube tags
Add Tags!

You should expect to see a rise in not only views but also likes, comments, and shares provided that you use YouTube tags the correct way.

Simply follow the MVC Formula, which is respectively Main Keyword – Variations – Category. Allow us to explain further.

In a video, it is recommended that you use up to 8-9 tags, in which the first one is for the main keyword, the next three are for variations, and the rest is for the category.

The next three tags include broad and relevant keywords to give the algorithm a context of what your video is about.

However, don’t try to stuff your description with unrelated keywords just to get more exposure. You may succeed at first, but the algorithm will learn that fraudulence very quickly. Worst case scenario, your video is listed as spam content, and the channel is taken down.

Using the targeted keyword as the first tag is a good starting point because YouTube encourages channel owners to use the words and phrases that make the most sense to the video.

Once you figure out how to apply this formula effectively, your view count will take a giant leap forward. Better yet, some of the videos may even go viral!

Just like video titles, video tags are used for determining your ranking in Suggested Videos. So, if you didn’t have any in your videos before, it’s time to go back and edit them. Instant results will be shown right away!

To Wrap Up

Now that you know how the YouTube algorithm works, it’s time to take a step further and optimize your channel. We all know how disappointing it is to create videos and watch it fail without getting the appreciation it deserves.

By understanding how the platform works, content creators and even marketers can make the most of their YouTube channels and, later on, watch their channels grow. And we trust that you can be one of them.


Nhat Kieu Minh linkedin

CEO & Founder of EazyViral

Continuously growing is our main target to become one of the best trustable providers in social networking services.

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