December 10, 2020

How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?

Having only been released in 2016, the digital marketing community still has lots to learn about YouTube’s machine learning algorithm. 

The purpose of YouTube’s algorithm is to determine which videos will be suggested to which users. The goal of the algorithm is to keep users watching videos for as long as possible by recommending relevant content. 

YouTube focuses on a variety of factors when rankings, with the most important factors being relevance and performance. 

Relevance refers to how well the video content matches the user’s query, including title, description, tags, keywords, and thumbnail. YouTube measures performance by tracking how many users watched a specific video after conducting a similar search query. 

Individual Videos 

Rather than looking at your channel as a whole, YouTube focuses on the performance of individual videos. If a couple of your videos underperform, YouTube will not penalize all your videos – each individual video will be judged on its own merits. 

It is completely normal for video content, and all content for that matter, to vary in terms of views, reach, and clicks. As long as the video is getting views and attention, it will continue to be shown on SERPs and recommendations. 

Inactive Subscribers 

Another factor that does not necessarily impact YouTube’s algorithm is inactive subscribers. Many small businesses have been posting content on YouTube since the very beginning, which means they might have a number of inactive subscribers. These are users that no longer watch your videos, no longer comment or like, or maybe even no longer log on to YouTube at all. 

When it comes to email and other marketing strategies, inactive subscribers are never a good thing. But when it comes to YouTube, these users do not affect performance or rank. Instead, YouTube’s algorithm is designed to only focus on active subscribers and viewers. Since YouTube only cares about what current viewers are watching, whether or not your account has inactive subscribers is worthless information. 

Number of Uploads 

When it comes to social media platforms, there is always the question of “Is my brand posting enough?” or “Is my brand posting too much?” 

When posting on YouTube, these questions do not apply. Brands can upload as many videos as they want, and more importantly, there is no limit to how many videos can be recommended to viewers from any given channel. 

When uploading multiple times during the day, brands should always be keeping an eye on the number of views for each video. If each video is getting fewer and fewer views, it might be time to cut back or pause posts until the next day. YouTube will notify subscribers a maximum of 3 times in a 24 hour timespan per channel. Waiting for the next 24 hour period will increase your chances of reaching more subscribers though new video notifications. 


Watch time is a metric used by YouTube to measure the amount of time users spend watching a video. While there is no particular amount of watch time needed before your video is allowed to be recommended, watch time does play a large role in YouTube’s algorithm. The higher your watch time, the higher your chances of being recommended through YouTube Search. 

However, it does not matter how long it takes for your videos to gain momentum before being promoted. As soon as users start showing interest in your video content, YouTube will begin highlighting your channel. 

This is due to the fact that most users do not pay attention to when the video was published, they only consider whether or not the video will answer their search query. 

External Traffic 

External traffic is without a doubt one of the most important factors that influences YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. 

External traffic refers to visitors that arrived at your brand’s YouTube channel from an external source that does not belong to the company, including websites, search engines, and social media platforms. 

This source of traffic allows YouTube to identify the videos that have performed well outside of the platform. This is important to YouTube because videos with high external traffic are likely going to receive the same level of traffic once recommended to users, which is exactly the type of content YouTube is looking for. 

However, if the video is being shown in the recommendations section, but not performing well, YouTube will not keep recommending the video. Whether or not the video keeps appearing in the recommendations section depends entirely on how much viewers engage with the video after clicking on it from their homepage or in their recommendations. To measure engagement, YouTube tracks whether viewers choose to watch the video, how long they watch it, and whether or not they enjoyed the video. YouTube does not factor in the click-through rates or view rates from these external traffic sources. 

If you would like more information about how the YouTube algorithm works, need help optimizing your YouTube video content, or other digital marketing services please contact Pink Dog Digital at (410) 696-3305, email us at, or visit us on the web at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *