3 Ways to Take Advantage of the YouTube Algorithm Change


In a change aimed at increasing the relevance of its suggested videos and discouraging misleading thumbnail practices, YouTube announced that it has changed its video recommendation algorithm. Now, total viewing time will be factored into the suggested video algorithm, meaning videos with spammy, irrelevant content or deceptive thumbnails will not rank as well as more focused and rewarding clips. It’s important to note that rather than determining the video’s viewer retention as a percentage of video watched, the algorithm instead accounts for the total number of seconds someone watches a video, regardless of overall length. Here’s three ways to increase your viewing time and keep your viewers hovering at the edge of their seats instead of hovering over the back button.

1.) Thumbnails are still important

Boring ThumbnailsAlthough total viewing time is the new change that will affect the recommended selections, clicks will still be incorporated into the overall algorithms suggestions. To that end, it’s still very important to make an expressive thumbnail to draw in potential viewers. Think of your thumbnail like a movie trailer – it should capture enough of the video’s essence to let viewers know what it’s about without giving away the ending. It also should be reflective of the title of the video – don’t forget that these will come up in search results, so don’t rely on your channel or personal brand to provide the entire context. Just like a movie series, it should also incorporate some standardized branding visuals as well, providing a link in the viewer’s mind between videos.

2.) Monitor your response and adjust accordingly

Sample YouTube AnalyticsYouTube is adding additional tools to help manage videos and monitor their progress. In addition to their tools for tracking viewership and traffic sources, YouTube has debuted their downloadable Watch Time report, accessed in the top banner of the Analytics Views Report, with helpful metrics like Total Watch Time for videos as well as standard demographic and referral data. Use these metrics to help shape the content and timing of your videos. Additionally, the Audience Retention tool provides a visual way to break down where your videos are losing or gaining traffic.

3.) Get Brand Messages in before your content

Most viewership peters out towards the end of the video, dropping sharply when the outro includes company or personal branding. Content-hungry users will skip onto another video, losing you extra seconds of viewership that can factor into your videos relevant ranking. A simple way to diffuse this is to move all branding and ‘credits’ towards the beginning of the video. Be careful to include an introduction before your credits to ensure the viewer doesn’t simply skip past them in the beginning as well. This simple shift will earn you extra viewing time and ensure that your brand is getting exposure to the viewer.

Interested in easily tracking embedded YouTube videos on your website?

Do you think the changes to the Suggested Videos algorithm will be helpful or hurtful? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think.

Dan Wilkerson is a former LunaMetrician and contributor to our blog.

  • Hi Dan,

    I’m not sure about your suggestion to move all company credits etc to the start of the video.

    Are you saying that total viewing time is simply a measure of where the video plays to in terms of the scubber bar, or is it a true total elapsed time that accounts for people scrubbing forward past any irrelevant credits that might be placed in the way at the start of the video?


  • Hey Blair,

    Awesome question! As far as we can tell from the language that YouTube used in their release, the algorithm will not account for video that is skipped by the viewer and will only count seconds of video that are played through.

    My personal recommendation is to move credits/branding towards the beginning after an introductory segment. This will help keep trigger-happy viewers watching through your credits/branding section and help keep viewers through to the end of the video – I’ve noticed a very sharp drop off in viewer retention if a video ends with a credits sequence.

    This will also make sure that your brand image gets conveyed to a viewer who might have clicked through to the next video as your content was winding down, and earn you a few extra seconds of viewing time from viewers who instinctively click forward on the scrubber bar when they see credits at the beginning of a video.

    Thanks for the great question!


  • John

    If it’s total viewing time that counts, and not relative viewing time (i.e. a percentage of the video watched), then it shouldn’t make a difference if you have the credits at the end. If it’s not relative, in fact, you would be better served having the credits at the end so that the viewer doesn’t accidentally skip through actual content or get frustrated with credits early in the video and abandon it prematurely.

  • Hey John,

    I can see your point about wanting to avoid frustrating the viewer. I would definitely advise to make sure that your credits are as succinct and relative as the content of your video!

    As far as putting the credits at the end goes, the only issue there is that users instinctively drop out of the video prematurely when they see the roll begin. Those are extra seconds of earned viewing time that you’d be missing out on that you can reclaim by moving them towards the beginning of your content.

    For instance, I have an old commercial that I made for a lacrosse company with 1000+ views. The video itself is only 30 seconds long, so you would expect close to 100% retention for such a short piece of content – however, using the viewer retention tool, I can see that my retention actually drops dramatically when the stores information is displayed. Even though it’s only a few seconds, lets just call it an even 3 seconds a view, I lost a lot of seconds of viewing time in aggregate that I might have saved if the store information was better integrated with the content. I lost those extra seconds for each of those viewers that dropped off, so even though it might have only cost me 3 seconds per person, in aggregate it adds up to a large potential bonus towards my Suggested Videos ‘score’.

    With the new changes to the scrubber bar and frame previews rolling out, its more pertinent than ever to keep branding short, sweet, and to get it in before the viewer drops out, earning you back those 5 seconds per viewer that might have been lost at the end of the clip.

    Awesome point! 🙂

  • Most viewers leave within the first ten seconds so never have long credits at the start and have none at the end. I start my videos with action, the first credit appears 10 or fifteen seconds into the video, bits of info on whats happening appear throughout the video at the top of the screen and so that people can find me my youtube channel the address appears for at least 30 seconds at the top of all videos as does my facebook address. As a result I average 3.3 million video hits each month and my Facebook page has over 50,000 followers as of end march 2012

  • Hey John,

    Awesome! Glad to see someone with as large a following as yours confirming our best practices. You’ve found a great way to connect with your audience and your videos are very polished.

    Are you enrolled in YouTube’s partner program? You should be able to select a custom preview thumbnail for your videos; have you considered incorporating some branding there? From a usability standpoint, your viewers would be better able to distinguish your films from others and it could help keep them in-channel.

    Great use of playlists, by the way!


  • Hi Dan, I am going to have my digital marketing class uses this article for an assignment… I have been considering video for my food & beverage site and glad to get these tips before launching.

    John’s tips on some action first… awesome! Never considered it but it really makes sense.

    • Hey Dom,

      Sounds great! Be sure to tweet at us (@LunaMetrics) when you finish your first video!

      We totally agree with John’s points, as it definitely would be bad to frustrate or confuse your audience. Annotations are a great feature for subtly incorporating branding and live links into your film without obstructing the video or frustrating the viewer, but as a best practice we always recommend incorporating a short branding sequence (preferably a standardized version) immediately after an intro to the content of the video.

      Happy filming!


  • We are looking into creating a channel to provide required training for our staff. We need to know who has logged in and viewed videos in order to satisfy annual training requirements. Does YouTube create this type of detailed information?

    I’d like something like what Khan Academy uses.

    • Hey Dick,

      YouTube won’t be able to give you information about specific viewers/what they’ve watched.


  • Hi Dan, thank you for such an insightful article here about algorithms. I heard of it somewhere else but now this is more confirmed. Which length of the videos on average is by your experience most “converting”? Thanks.

  • Hi, just found your site today and wondering if you can shed some light on a Youtube issue for me? I have a video on youtube that has been averaging about 5000 views per day over the past month then all of a sudden between the 14th and 16th of Sept 2012 my views suddenly dropped to just a few hundred! Now hearing what’s been said about the new algorithm I thought if anything that would be in my favour as my video is over 4 mins long and has over 50% viewer retention over that 4 minute plus duration. Any ideas then on why the sudden big drop and what I can do to get the numbers back up? Thanks

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/menamiketrx is my YouTube Channel. Really appreciate your info and some of the great responses. I also have a question in regards to the new Algorithm and can see how this would negatively impact my videos and indeed that has been my experience. My question is whether I should eliminate using YouTube’s annotations that I use to direct viewers to one of my other videos. Seems this would be a very bad method as it is enouraging viewers to actually leave the video before it is over. Whatcha think?

    • Hey Mike,

      Currently, conventional wisdom dictates that views are the most important metric in determining where a video ends up, so getting an extra view on another video is probably better than losing some time on the video they currently are watching. Total speculation on my part here, but I think that if I were in Google’s shoes, I would add an exception for someone clicking through to an annotated video. A user performing that action would convey to me a user who is engaged and interested, meaning the content is engaging and interesting, meaning it’s the real deal.


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