The YouTube algorithm and how it works

The YouTube algorithm and how it works

By David Onjili

The year 2005 is synonymous with Hurricane Katrina. It ravaged the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and specifically New Orleans killing 1200 people and destroying property worth some $125 billion. 

It is also the year that YouTube was founded. Fifteen years down the line, YouTube has revolutionized how we watch videos and created jobs for many. So how does YouTube and especially its algorithm work?

The YouTube algorithm is described by Tech Review magazine as both the programming code and hardware behind YouTube’s ranking system. Its purpose is to filter the billions of videos on the platform and show specific users the videos that suit their taste. This serves two purposes: to keep viewers on the platform for longer, and to recommend videos to viewers based on their preferences.

How to trigger the YouTube algorithm

The ultimate objective of YouTube is to have more and more people binge-watch content and accumulate views for advertisers. This is usually achieved once a person watches a single video and as they finish, YouTube uses an algorithm to suggest similar content for the viewer.

In the first decade (2005-2015), content creators on YouTube were rewarded by the number of clicks their videos had. Later, YouTube realized that a number of content producers used, and still use click-bait titles to get people on their platform but failed to retain them into watching their content as their video’s content never matched their catchy titles.

This led to a change in strategy by YouTube, which moved from clicks on videos to watch-time a video is able to attract. The goal of this was to convince advertisers that viewers would actually spend time on the platform and watch their products advertised during videos. This was passed down to content producers as they were expected to make videos that would compel the viewer to watch till the end or for more than a minute. The more watch time a video gets the higher the advertising revenue a content creator on the platform is able to earn.

View-hours, not just views

This is important to note especially at a time that many Kenyans are taking to the platform as a source of income and space to express themselves. The goal is not to make a poor-quality video with catchy phrases but rather produce content that will engage viewers. This is also important as you do not need many views per video but rather more view-hours per video to earn more. All this depending on the algorithm and location of your audience. 

Different locations are assigned different CPMs (Cost Per Mille or also referred to as Cost Per Thousand). CPM is the amount an advertiser is willing to pay for an advertisement for every 1000 visitors on the website or channel. A video with a mostly USA based audience may benefit as the country’s CPM is usually around $7 and can rise to $15 as compared to $1 for Kenyan or other lower CPM region audiences.

Location alone does not dictate CPM, comparing videos that review cars on YouTube, Kelton Hardrict, a Stanford University Aerospace Engineering master’s degree student, founding member of startup Deuce Drones and YouTuber, he realized that he earned more when he reviewed Tesla cars especially from American audiences. Advertisers were able to pay more for their product to be advertised during the video since they wanted to capture the American audience. This has a resultant effect with Hardrict earning more from the video as a result of a favorable CPM.

Engage viewers

Your objective hence as a content creator on YouTube is simple. Create engaging content that will have your videos continuously watched; have your videos attract audiences not just in Kenya but globally. This is very key especially with CPM, even as you seek to grow your videos and have more people watch them, the goal is to make them captivating so that the viewers hunger for more. With this, the YouTube algorithm will push you up the search drive and anyone who keys in a search word relevant to your content e.g. fashion or football will be able to automatically see your videos suggested to them as a result of the algorithm.

Note that YouTube content creators earn from advertisements, sponsored ads and affiliate marketing. The algorithm is only relevant to the YouTube advertisements. For sponsored ads, it is the YouTuber who enters into an agreement with the advertiser and this also applies to affiliate marketing; where a company may ask you to market their products. The latter two is where those with big YouTube channels may outdo you.

Yet, you can still earn decently from YouTube ads if you produce engaging content and are able to attract a divergent viewership. The secret is in your content creation and target market. Try it out and remember YouTube enjoys more than 5billion watch hours in a day. There is a market there.

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