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How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?

Jamie Landry
January 27, 2023
Last Updated On
how the youtube algorithm works

If you work in social media (or are a frequent watcher), the YouTube algorithm might seem mysterious — but it’s an exciting mystery to dive into.  

YouTube’s algorithm has two primary purposes: to promote content that users want to see and to keep them on YouTube as long as possible. 

What Is the YouTube Algorithm?

The YouTube algorithm (also called their search and discovery system) is a set of rules that look at different factors across the platform to determine which videos get recommended, which ads you receive, and much more — as mentioned above, it aims to recommend relevant videos and keep viewers watching longer. 

Do we know the actual mathematical equation YouTube uses to promote content? No. Do you need this to be successful on the platform? Also no. 

If you’ve found a thought-provoking channel dedicated to amusement parks, discovered a new, independent artist, or found a recipe for a new-to-you ingredient — the algorithm is at work.

How Does the YouTube Algorithm Work?

Over the years, YouTube's algorithm has changed.

  • If you were curious about how to create a YouTube channel in 2011, the most relevant ranking factors you would have focused on were clicks and views.
  • In 2012 watch time was the most critical metric until user satisfaction became key in 2015. 
  • From 2015 until now, user satisfaction metrics remain the most important. 

Although the YouTube algorithm has different rules to analyze content, satisfy users, and encourage them to keep watching, at its most basic level, it looks at user satisfaction and engagement over on-page content (but this doesn’t mean you should ignore titles, descriptions, and tags — more on that later). 

So, how does the algorithm help YouTube measure user satisfaction? The YouTube algorithm measures viewer satisfaction by looking at individual user activity, like what users watch, how much time they spend watching, what they like, dislike, survey feedback (those thumbs up and down are more important than you might think), and more, so they can suggest relevant videos.

Essentially, the algorithm hones in on:  

  • What do users like? Watch history 
  • How do users consume content? Viewer duration, feedback, and overall engagement 
  • What’s trending? Does your content connect to seasonal topics, pop culture or industry trends, and competition? 

While the algorithm claims it doesn’t factor on-page content like thumbnails, titles, descriptions, tags, chapters, and other features included in the YouTube Creator Studio, these do persuade users to engage with content, and these factors are taken into consideration to rank videos in Search and Trending. They also help show YouTube how your content is relevant for users who engage with similar content.

Users want to be entertained, and YouTube wants to entertain them — the algorithm works to ensure viewers see content they like and content that they don’t even know they like yet.

Ranking Factors for the YouTube Algorithm

YouTube takes relevance to your audience and overall performance into account.  These elements include: 

  • Watch history 
  • Search history
  • Liked and disliked content  
  • Time spent watching similar videos
  • ‘Not interested’ feedback
  • Survey answers and completion
  • Comments 

To rank in YouTube’s ‘Trending’ category (which brings your content to more people, allows them to engage with it, and eventually leads to better search rankings and suggestibility), there are a few key factors to consider: 

  • Does the video title, description, tags, and video content itself match how your audience searches? Be sure to focus on tags if the content you’re writing about is commonly misspelled. 
  • Is your content similar (without copying) to other content with high engagement? 
  • Do you utilize keywords in your description, title, and tags that your audience commonly uses? YouTube’s algorithm doesn’t factor in most-viewed videos for Search rankings—make sure your description is airtight and accurate without being keyword stuffed.   

Tips to Hack the YouTube Algorithm in 2024

So, you want a YouTube algorithm hack? Try these tactics to grow your audience: 

Analyze Competitors

What are your competitors doing to reach more people? Do they pose questions within their videos and descriptions, or do they use clickbait titles to rope viewers in? Stay original and don’t be afraid to forge your own path, but stay on top of trends. 

Monitor Analytics 

To really hack the YouTube algorithm, it’s essential that you monitor your YouTube Analytics. Dash Hudson’s YouTube Insights gives you a holistic glimpse of your channel and even lets you break down content by topic, video type, or campaign, so you get specific insights you can use to hone your video (and cross-channel) strategy. 

Don’t be Afraid to Make Changes

Most social marketers will have a YouTube marketing strategy, and while plans are created for a reason, agility is one of your greatest assets to grow your channel and build a community with your audience. Dash Hudson’s video topic segmentation feature tells you if certain content performs better than other content, which you can use to your advantage to identify content that connects best with your audience. 

Do your videos with a certain thumbnail style get more engagement? What about videos where you pose questions in-video to your audience? Don’t be afraid to repeat formats and use these patterns to your advantage to leverage the content that resonates with your audience. 

Don’t Rely Solely on Organic Search 

The algorithm takes user experience into account the most. To get that valuable data from your audience, they’ll need to watch it first. Share YouTube links on social, in newsletters, and on your website to increase your reach and grow your audience. 

Another way to diversify your reach is to utilize calls to action via cards at the end of your video. Whether you link other videos or playlists of related content, this encourages viewers to keep watching. 

Encourage Subscriptions 

No, you don’t need to ask your viewers to ‘smash that like button,’ but you should encourage them to subscribe in a way that feels organic. What value does your content provide that others don’t? 

Lean into this to avoid just asking your audience to subscribe — tell viewers what’s in it for them. 

A great example of creating value on YouTube for their audience is Hunter Fans. The brand produced a valuable bank of content that educates its audience on its product but also offers installation guides, tips to wire a ceiling fan, and even how to connect your fan to Google Home. This content serves homeowners, maintenance workers, and prospective customers who wonder if a Hunter fan is right for them.

Create Creative and Engaging Thumbnails 

Your thumbnail will be one of the first things your audience sees, whether your video appears trending or if you send a direct link. 

Try using a thumbnail template to keep content fairly consistent. This makes it easy to identify what performs well and areas you might want to monitor or change. Don’t be afraid to be agile, but developing standard branding is a great starting point so you have a baseline for what works and doesn’t.  

Avoid ‘clickbait’ titles that don’t connect with your content since this can lead to a high bounce rate and a general disconnect with your audience, impacting how often your videos are shown to similar viewers. Google also interprets high click-through rates compared to low watch time as a disconnect with viewers, so keeping them engaged throughout the entire video is important. 

Consistency is Key 

To that note, find your niche on YouTube and stick with it. While you might have more than one type of video for your audience, use the same format for various video themes. 

When viewers subscribe to one video, you’re more likely to retain subscribers with similar content — the viewer likes what they saw. Stray too far from your premise, and you risk losing followers and tanking engagement. 

A great example of brands creating a variety of content while remaining consistent is the luxury watch brand WatchBox Studios. It focuses on new launches, the history behind well-regarded pieces, and interviews with key industry players. Despite having many different playlists, it uses the same thumbnail templates and format. 

Engage with your Audience

Don’t ‘set it and forget it’ — reply to comments and feedback with meaningful replies and insights. Audience engagement is a huge ranking factor, which goes far beyond the like and dislike button. 

Build a community with your audience. Viewers want to feel like they’re talking with you, and you’re not just talking at them.  

Measuring YouTube Performance with Dash Hudson

Social marketers’ eyes spend many hours combing over data and analytics — Dash Hudson provides easy-to-digest analytics in a YouTube Dashboard with all the most valuable insights to your business. 

While insights for individual video and channel performance are automatically pulled into your video Dashboard, there’s also a level of customization. Video segmentation is a valuable tool for organizing campaigns, Shorts, and videos by topic. Whether recipes, product reviews, or lessons, you get holistic and specific data to drive improvements. 

  • Video segmentation: Track video performance and how your audience responds. Track subscribers based on individual video performance and receive creative insights so you can improve engagement over time. 
  • Paid media insights: Keep eyes on paid media and track how YouTube ads perform — with data you can act on. From frequency capping (preventing certain users from seeing your ads too much), re-marketing opportunities, and ROI, you can quickly analyze paid performance across campaigns. 
  • Audience insights: Discover how your audience found your content, and continue to grow viewership with unique data from viewers. 
  • Campaign reports: See the impact YouTube has on your overall campaign with sophisticated reporting and data.

If you work in social, you likely split time between different platforms, which can make real-time replies challenging in a fast-paced environment. Dash Hudson has a sleek, modern scheduling interface, but you can also save time by replying to comments and messages from one direct location.   


How do you hit an algorithm on YouTube?

Aside from knowing your viewers, you need to tell the algorithm what your content’s all about. This includes optimizing titles, descriptions, and the content itself for search. Does your content answer a valuable question? Aim to entertain? 

Look at similar content to determine how viewers search for a given topic. 

How do you go viral on YouTube?

If you work in social marketing, no doubt you've been tasked to 'create viral content.'

While no marketer has a crystal ball to see into the future, YouTube insights allow you to take a closer look at your existing content and dive deeper into trends, topics your channel covers, and creative analysis so you can learn what resonates with your audience, and how to leverage that into something viral. 

How do you grow fast on YouTube?

Know your audience. This is the most essential step to growing your audience fast on YouTube since its algorithm will most likely promote your content based on how your audience responds to it. The more you understand what viewers want from your content, the faster you grow on the platform. 

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