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How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work? A Guide for 2023

Published August 11, 2023

Data shows that YouTube has more than 2.6 billion users, making it one of the most successful social media platforms in the world. The company owes this success largely to its algorithm, which recommends different content to each user based on their watch and search history.

In the sections that follow, we’ll delve a bit deeper into YouTube’s recommendations system and determine what it’s based on. Read on, and take notes!

Explaining the YouTube Algorithm

As already mentioned, the YouTube algorithm is a content recommendation system that selects the videos a particular user will see once they enter the platform. The current version of the algorithm is based on three separate classifiers:

  • The first one selects videos for one’s homepage;
  • The second ranks all search results for every user;
  • And the third takes care of video suggestions.

Aside from matching users with videos relevant to their search queries, the algorithm has yet another purpose. Namely, its goal is to recommend content users will most likely watch to completion, thus maximizing the time they spend on the platform.

In other words, the algorithm tries to suggest videos that users will want to watch until the very end. To find such content, YouTube’s recommendation system takes into account the clips you normally watch and endeavors to find and prioritize similar content.

Exploring Each Part of the Algorithm

Now that you have some general info about the algorithm, we’ll turn our focus on each separate classifier.

The Homepage Algorithm

Every time you open YouTube, and even more so when you log in to your account, you’ll be greeted by a distinct homepage. The selection of videos you encounter on this page is usually quite varied, as the algorithm tries to stay relevant to your most recent search queries.

So, the most important parameter for this classifier is your watch history. For example, if you usually like watching game streams and movie or TV show review videos, your home page will be filled with similar content.

This fact also means that your homepage is highly sensitive to your current preferences. If you suddenly stop watching game streams and reactions and switch to acoustic covers of pop songs instead, your homepage will quickly catch on. Within days, if not sooner, the content on your homepage will change to reflect your interests and moods.

The Suggested Video Algorithm

YouTube takes slightly different factors into account for your suggested videos. When you search for or click on a specific video, the algorithm will offer you content based on what users who share your interests usually enjoy.

So, it’ll look at what other users with similar tastes and interests watch and suggest videos based on that data. In addition to that, the algorithm will throw in a video or two from channels that you already follow.

The Search Results Algorithm

This algorithm controls the videos and the order in which they will appear when you search for a word or phrase. In this instance, SEO is the most significant factor the platform considers.

Namely, the videos that appear first will be those that use the phrase you searched for as their main keyword. For example, if you search for “how to use twitch,” the videos that you’ll see at the top of the page will contain this long-tail keyword in their title, tag, caption, or description.

If there are more videos using that specific keyword phrase, YouTube will rank them based on popularity and view counts. This means that a video by a popular channel will rank higher than one from a new user.

How Can You Make the Algorithm Work for You?

Understanding the basics of how the YouTube algorithm functions can aid you in developing effective content and marketing strategies for your own channel.

For starters, it is essential to do thorough keyword research for your niche. In addition, you have to use precise and concise language in your titles and captions. That way, the algorithm will be able to determine what your video is about and recommend it to the right audience.

Moreover, you have to make your videos enticing and attractive at first glance. In most cases, viewers will notice your video’s thumbnail and title first and use them to gauge whether your content is worth watching. Thus, making custom thumbnails and coming up with memorable and catchy titles can help you pique their interest more easily.

Next, it is also pivotal to make your videos more accessible and easy to find. You can do that by attaching overlay ads on your videos, creating playlists, and ending each video with a powerful clickable CTA that encourages users to watch another video.

Last but not least, remember to keep track of what your target audience likes. By creating videos that will appeal to their interests, you’ll increase your chances of engagement. That can, in turn, lead to more subscribers and organic channel growth, which the algorithm will definitely pick up on.

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Written By:
Jessica is a writer who specializes in social media, marketing, and digital strategy. She is a graduate of Antioch College and earned her MBA at Boston College’s Carroll Graduate School of Management, specializing in STEM Management. Her work has been published in numerous academic journals and mainstream publications. She lives in New England with her husband, two children, and three dogs.
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