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How to Beat the YouTube Algorithm

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Illustration of Going Viral on YouTube

Posted on 08/24/2020 at 02:15 PM

What if you could have your videos go viral every time you upload?

YouTuber Mark Rober uploads around one video per month. His videos are full of fun, educational, and family-friendly content. On the surface, don’t seem very special, but here’s the kicker: every single video has an average of about 27 MILLION views. His channel averages about 36 million views per month (that’s around 1.16 million views per day!!).

So, how does he do it? Is his content simply so good that it keeps viewers coming back for more, or is there more to the story?

Image of a computer with the youtube logo

YouTube is the second largest search engine on the planet and is owned by the largest, Google. Getting found and growing an audience on YouTube can be a huge boost for your brand. What if there was a way to beat the YouTube algorithm and tilt the odds of “going viral” in your favor?

In this article, we’ll break down the content, tactics, and best practices implemented by the top YouTube content creators to help you grow your brand on YouTube and expand your digital reach!

Understanding How the Algorithm Works

In order to give the YouTube algorithm what it wants you must first understand exactly how it works. Like any skill, creating content that speaks to the masses requires practice and a deep understanding of the very specific science behind it.

When you upload any video, the algorithm starts working to test just how “good” the content is. YouTube’s primary goal is to share engaging content that will keep people on their site longer so the algorithm tests your content in phases to see if it can help meet that goal.

Phase 1: The Upload.

Right after you upload a video, YouTube shows it to a small “early” audience. This audience is comprised of a mix of people who have recently viewed or engaged with your content and a large percentage of your current subscriber base who the algorithm believes are most likely to watch and react to it. It also serves it to anyone who has “hit that notification bell” to make sure they never miss one of your uploads.

The larger your test audience, the better the data so if you have a lot of subscribers you have a better chance of the video doing well, but the beauty of this phase is that the balance on non-subscribers means that even channels with a low subscriber count have a fair chance of virility. If the video flops with this audience, the video slips into obscurity. If it “does well” with this audience, the algorithm moves on to Phase 2.

Phase 2: The Viral Moment.

If your video reaches this phase it means that based on the reactions of your core audience, the Algorithm Gods have smiled upon your video and will begin to show it favor. What this actually means is that the algorithm will begin to show your video to a wider audience made up of people with similar interests and search habits to your core audience (similar to how look-alike audiences work on Facebook).

If the video continues to do well with the expanded audience, it has proven that it has a larger appeal beyond your typical fan base and core audience. This is your viral moment. Your video will now get recommended more and more for as long as people continue to reactive positively.

How does YouTube Decide What Content is “Good”?

The YouTube algorithm looks for three very specific metrics that any YouTuber can see via the Analytics section of their Creator Studio. These mighty metrics are:

  • Click-Through Rate (CTR)
  • Watch Time
  • Audience Retention

The YouTube Holy Trinity of Data: CTR, Watch Time, and Audience Retention

When creators can maximize each of these statistics, they vastly improve their chances of reaching their viral moment. Specifically, video content is considered “good” and potentially sharable if it averages over 4 minutes of Watch Time, has a Click Through Rate Higher than 10% (more on this how to improve this in a minute…), and more than 50% Retention.

How to Improve Retention

Keeping people on your video may seem difficult but becomes easier when you understand a bit about human nature and psychology. Generally speaking people have a deep need for closure. When creating content, you can and should keep this in mind and use it to your advantage.

Make it hard to stop watching by prolonging the pay-off. Think about your favorite book, show television show, or movie. How did they keep you invested through to the end? When you have watched a show on television (or a YouTube video), how many pointless commercials (and YouTube ads) have you sat through just so you could find out what happens “after these messages from our sponsors”? Why did you keep watching?

It was likely because of one of two things: You didn’t know how it was going to end but really wanted to or you had an idea of how it would end but no idea how they would get there. To hook your audience, consider using this formula at the beginning of each video to set the tone:

1. Start with a Hook

This should be what the video is about and tease how the video will end. Maybe pose a question that you plan to answer through the course of the video.

2. Provide Context

Here you should explain why it matters and perhaps what lead you to ask the question mentioned in the hook. Basically, you are giving your viewer a reason they should care.

3. The Set-Up

With your set-up, you explain how you are going to do whatever it is you are going to do in the video. You use this as an opportunity to provide a clear understanding of what to expect and hints at the hook (the reward) at the end of the video.

Ultimately, a great hook, context, and set-up will show the viewer what they have or where they are, tease what they want or where they could be, then explain the challenges to get there with a promise to deliver the solution at the end.

Great Pacing Makes Great Videos

Another great tip to keep your audience engaged is to make a conscious effort to have the pacing of your video smoothly flow from one point to the next. Avoiding dull moments can mean the difference between keeping someone’s attention and losing it (and them) to another video. You can do this by occasionally reminding people about the reward at the end of the video and “teasing” that the best is yet to come. Consider writing mini cliffhangers between transitions in your videos to keep them watching.

The above tactics will only take you so far. To keep retention high you must master the art of powerful storytelling. Your video should tell the kind of story that you would want to hear. If it would lose your interest, it will likely lose the interest of your viewers too. Plan out your content from start to finish. The more time you invest in planning and implementation, the greater the reward.

How to Improve Click Through Rate (CTR)

You may have the best story on the planet, but in its video form, it is useless if no one is clicking to watch it. Maximizing your CTR requires just as much strategy as building the video content itself. Think of this as the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of your video. Even if people find your video, if they don’t click on it, it may as not well exist. Two factors play into taking advantage of both human psychology and the algorithm to maximize your CTR: Optimized Metadata and an Optimized Thumbnail.

Optimizing Metadata

Metadata is the SEO copywriting of your video. When done properly, it feeds both the YouTube and Google algorithms the information they need to recommend your video. The experts implement keyword research into their metadata to make it stretch even further. Meta falls into four categories:


Titles should be kept at 50 characters or less. This is to avoid truncating (your title being cut off) when it is shown on mobile and in searches. Titles should be concise and to the point, contain keywords, be clear, and “punchy”.

  1. TAGS

Tags are the keywords that help the search engines find your content. They also help group your content with similar content so it can be found easier by people who share similar interests. Don’t overlook the value of longer Tags (3 to 4 words).


YouTube provides you with 5,000 characters. Though digital marketers recommend using as much of this space as you can, the first line is by far the most important. The first line is what shows up in the search results so treat it as your elevator pitch to your video.


Thumbnails are the teaser image that promotes your video. Humans are visual creatures and we interact with things that catch our eye. Your thumbnail should always be custom (don’t use the screengrabs provided by YouTube), super clickable, and “thumb-stopping”. To create The best thumbnail images, have a very specific strategy in mind that follow these best practices:

  • Images should have a homemade feel, but still clean and professional (not sloppy or blurry)

  • Text on images should be legible and contain 4 or fewer words

  • The image should contain a demonstration of the payoff (the reward) to tease what to expect and entice people to click (like click-bait) but delivers on the promise

  • Take your thumbnails seriously as they may be the most powerful way to draw people in

An illustration of a confused marketer

Sometimes More is Less…

The key to creating quality original content that will bring people back for more is to focus on quality over quantity. Really take time to strategize the content you create to make sure it stands out. We have all heard the saying that wise people listen more and speak less so that when they do speak their words carry more weight. This can be true for video content as well.

A good video will be evergreen. It can be shared again across social media every three to six months and will not hit the law of diminishing returns until about the 3rd share. If you create new content and upload it once to twice a month, you have more time to really focus on creating pure and sharable content that will continue to provide returns for months (if not years) to come.

Consider creating exclusive content for each platform you are on. Sometimes this means using the larger piece of video content for YouTube and taking short pieces of it to share across other social networks. This will push traffic to the video and help boost the value of it in the eyes of the algorithm. You can also use the content of the video to create an article or blog like this one for even more keyword value.

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Next Steps

Creating a video content strategy as part of your overall digital strategy can be a real challenge but the payoff is worth it. If you are not sure where to start or need help, the experts at Global Reach can help you figure out where video content can help you most! Contact us today to learn more!

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