YouTube Algorithm Demystified: 10 Tips to Boost Your Reach and Engagement

Ever since the birth of the platform, the inner workings of YouTube’s algorithm have been something of a mystery to content creators. Many toil for hours trying to figure out the magic formula to maximizing their video performance and possibly even becoming an overnight viral sensation.

But there’s good news: YouTube engineers and product managers have released several pieces of info over the years to help shed some light. This information helps explain their goals, as well as YouTube’s mindset when it comes to designing a platform that delivers knowledge and entertainment to those seeking it.

In this article, we’ll share the basics of how the YouTube algorithm works, as well as several tips you can start using today to get ever-closer to viral status.

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What is the YouTube algorithm?

At its core, the YouTube algorithm is an AI-powered set of rules and data. It’s running constantly in the background, collecting billions of data points, then using engineer-created rules to figure out which videos to serve to which users.

The fundamental purpose of the algorithm is to try and guess what a YouTube user is looking for when they type a query into the search engine, as well as which videos they might want to watch next.

The algorithm determines this based on data points like the videos themselves, comments, text data like the  video’s description, and how various users use the platform and engage with the video content. Then it ranks those YouTube videos to try and maximize relevance and user satisfaction.

How does the YouTube algorithm work in 2024?

The YouTube algorithm has undergone significant changes since its inception. Initially, YouTube relied on what videos users clicked on to determine what content to recommend. However, this resulted in a bunch of clickbait-y headlines that negatively impacted the viewer’s perception and experience.

Since 2015, YouTube has been optimizing for viewer satisfaction. This is accomplished by surveying users in real time, as they consume content, collecting data on their satisfaction levels and using that information to inform its recommendation engine.

But how does YouTube determine what content is most satisfying for its users? Here are some of the factors that come into play:

  • Click-through rate (This measures the likelihood that a user will click on a video after seeing it.)
  • Watch time. (This is the total amount of time users spend watching a specific video or channel.)
  • The number of videos a user has watched from a specific channel.
  • The user’s search history.
  • The recency of a user’s viewing history.
  • The user’s demographic information and location.
  • Likes, dislikes, and shares (These metrics are used to gauge user engagement with specific videos.)
  • Not interested in clicks (YouTube tracks when users click the “Not interested” button on videos.)
  • Survey feedback (YouTube sends out millions of surveys each month, asking users to provide feedback on specific videos.)

Of these factors, only the last three can be directly influenced by content creators. The rest are dependent on external factors that are outside of their control.

How YouTube determines the algorithm

On YouTube, there are two places where you can see suggested videos, the YouTube homepage and the suggested video feed. Here’s how YouTube ranks videos in each of these spaces.


When you open the YouTube website or app, you arrive on the homepage. This is where YouTube shows you the most relevant and personalized video suggestions, trying to keep you on the app as long as possible.

Homepage videos are based on:

  • Video performance: How much similar viewers enjoyed the video
  • Personalization: Your specific viewing habits and watch history

At this point, YouTube doesn’t know your intent for visiting, so it relies on what it knows about the types of videos you’ve enjoyed in the past.

Suggested video

This section appears in the right-hand sidebar beside the video you’re currently watching. The algorithm looks at your viewing history during the session and makes recommendations based on what it thinks you will watch next. 

Criteria for suggested videos include:

  • Videos that tend to be watched together
  • Videos on a similar topic
  • Videos you’ve watched in the past

Because YouTube has some understanding of your current interests, these suggested videos are tailored to your session rather than a general selection. This helps YouTube creators get their videos in front of the right audience and increases the chances of going viral.

10 ways to improve your reach on YouTube

Now that you understand the basics of how the algorithm works, let’s look at some ways you can use it to your advantage and get more action on your channel.

1. Create videos that encourage participation

Want to create a viral video? Engage your audience by encouraging participation. Ask questions, request feedback, or start challenges related to your content. When viewers feel involved, they’re more likely to share your video, increasing its reach.

You can ask questions like, “What topics should we cover next?” or “Share your favorite tip in the comments.” You can also suggest challenges, like “Try this and tag us in your video!” These strategies make your audience feel more connected to your content.

Another tip: Create videos that address trending topics or common questions in your niche. This can boost visibility and help your content resonate with a wider audience.

2. Keep your brand consistent

Your channel should be a beacon of consistency: YouTube users should know what type of content to expect when they see a “new video” notification. Bonus points if they’re able to recognize your videos based on the colors, fonts, and imagery of your YouTube thumbnails (we’ll cover that more in the next tip).

Take 5-Minute Crafts for example. You know exactly what you’re getting—it’s right there in the name. When you visit the channel, you see beautifully consistent branding: bright colors and fun illustrations. You’ll also find that most of their thumbnails are split into two or three columns, or have an otherwise symmetrical layout.

5 Minutes Craft YouTube

3. Fuel the recommendation engine with additional sources

If you’ve recently launched a new YouTube channel, the last thing you want is to rely solely on the recommendation engine.

That’s because YouTube’s recommendations are based largely on how viewers have interacted with your videos in the past. Without enough people watching your videos, there’s no data for YouTube to use. So you need to actively promote your videos through various channels:

  • Partner with the press or other influencers
  • Send new videos to your email list
  • Promote your videos on social media
  • Start a YouTube affiliate marketing program

You’ll also want to focus on YouTube SEO and gaining more subscribers. With YouTube using repeated interactions and subscriptions to tailor recommendations, you can boost the chances of your current and future videos being suggested to users based on their viewing habits.

4. Make your content bingeable

Because the algorithm is paying close attention to how much time YouTube users are spending watching your content, you’ll want to keep them hooked and coming back for more. Here are some tips to keep them watching your videos for longer:

  • Manually offer suggested videos for your other videos using cards and end cards.
  • Use a specific call to action within a video or in the video’s description.
  • Slide in scenes from other videos to direct viewers to other fun and interesting content.

You can also use cards to lead viewers further into your YouTube channel. Additionally, consider turning on subtitles for all of your videos so people can continue to watch even if they can’t have their sound on.

5. Design clickable thumbnails

Apart from your video’s title, your YouTube thumbnail is one of the biggest factors that makes someone click on your YouTube video. Here are some tips for boosting your click-through rate (CTR) and signifying to YouTube that your content is desirable:

  • Zoom in on action shots or expressive faces
  • Add short, easily readable snippets of text to give more context and pique interest
  • Brand your thumbnails with signature colors, fonts, imagery, and even your logo
  • Try using photography’s “rule of thirds,” where you position the most important part of the photo in the first third or last third of the frame instead of in the center

You can always look to other sources for inspiration, like YouTube’s trending videos tab and even streaming services Netflix and Amazon Prime.

    6. Optimize for a single keyword

    “Keyword stuffing” is an outdated technique that doesn’t necessarily help anymore. But keywords still play a massive role in the algorithm trying to figure out user intention, or what type of content a user is looking for when they type something into the search engine.

    That’s why you should base each of your videos around one primary keyword and an optional one around three secondary keywords. If you’re not sure where to start,       TubeBuddy is a great resource for helping you choose keywords.

    First, enter your potential keyword into the search bar and check TubeBuddy’s stats in the sidebar. Try a few similar keywords until you find one with a Very Good or Excellent score. If your content usually ranks well, you can ignore the Competition option.


    Then, include the keyword in your video’s title, description, and tags. Add a couple of hashtags at the bottom of your video description to categorize your YouTube content.

    Optimizing your videos around a focus keyword and a few secondary keywords can help your videos appear higher in YouTube search results. Plus, the practice can help YouTube’s algorithm understand your content better so it knows when to recommend your videos.

    7. Scope out your competitors

    As with pretty much any type of business, you’ll benefit from keeping an eye on your competitors. Take a look at their YouTube channel, examining things like:

    • The types of content they post
    • Their most popular and engaged-with videos
    • The branding elements they use
    • The way they title and describe their videos
    • The keywords they’re optimizing for
    • Any series or playlists they make
    • Their audience’s engagement levels in terms of likes and comments

    Once you’ve scoped them out, you should be able to pick up on which strategies are working for them, as well as which ones could use some work. And that’s where you swoop in: Take loose inspiration from what they’ve done and make it even better.

    8. Create YouTube Shorts

    YouTube Shorts are YouTube’s answer to TikTok and Instagram Reels. Shorts are vertical videos designed for mobile viewing and quick consumption.

    Content creators can use these to connect with their audience and share concise, entertaining videos. It’s a new way to engage viewers and boost your reach.

    The YouTube Shorts algorithm determines which videos to recommend based on various factors. Here are a few key ones:

    • Creator history: A creator’s past content performance matters too. Consistent, high-quality content can give creators a boost in the algorithm.
    • User engagement: Likes, comments, shares, and watch time all play a role. More engagement means better visibility.
    • Personalization: The algorithm looks at a user’s viewing history and preferences to suggest relevant Shorts. It helps users see content they’ll enjoy.
    • Content relevance: The algorithm checks the content and metadata (title, description, tags) to match it with users’ search queries or browsing habits.
    YouTube shorts

    9. Encourage viewers to keep watching

    You might be able to get people to click on your video. However, keeping them watching is the hard part. Fortunately, you can earn more watch time (and boost your video completion rate) by taking the following steps:

    • Start with a strong hook to grab attention right away.
    • Use different shots to keep things interesting.
    • Transcribe your videos so people can watch them without sound.
    • Check your analytics to see where viewers drop off and adjust your video length.
    • Add interruptive moments in long videos to keep viewers’ attention.
    • At the end, ask viewers to subscribe, check out more videos, or turn on notifications.

    10. Track important metrics

    YouTube is known to dislike misleading content, i.e., Shorts and videos optimized for clicks rather than visitor satisfaction. It emphasizes that creators should focus on providing value through their channels and uses metrics like impressions, CTR, and watch time to rate their content.

    You can see these priorities in your YouTube analytics dashboard. You’ll find metrics related to organic reach that show YouTube’s focus on click-through rate and watch time, including:

    • Impressions: How often your video thumbnails appeared as recommended videos, on the homepage or in search results.
    • Impressions click-through rate (CTR): How often people watched your video after seeing the thumbnail.
    • Views from impressions: How many times viewers watched your videos after seeing them on YouTube.
    • Traffic sources for impressions: Where on YouTube your video thumbnails were shown to potential viewers.
    • Watch time from impressions: The amount of time people spend watching your videos after clicking on them.

    Evolve with the YouTube algorithm

    One of the biggest challenges content creators face is the constantly changing nature of the algorithm. If you’re playing the long game, you’ll periodically find that the techniques of yesterday aren’t working as well for you today.

    The algorithm is constantly changing and evolving to meet the needs and wants of YouTube users—so the number one rule for you as a content creator is to change and evolve with it. Stay on top of algorithm updates, learn from experts and your peers, and pivot as needed. When you can keep a flexible, resourceful approach, you’ll be better equipped to reach your goals.

    YouTube algorithm FAQ

    What is YouTube’s algorithm?

    The YouTube algorithm is a sophisticated real-time feedback loop designed to help you find videos that match your interests and maximize your satisfaction. It constantly analyzes your behavior on the platform to tailor video recommendations specifically to you. 

    Who programs the YouTube algorithm?

    YouTube has a team of engineers and developers who program the algorithm. They constantly update and refine it to ensure it aligns with the rules set for content discovery and viewer engagement.

    What triggers the YouTube algorithm?

    Different factors can trigger the YouTube algorithm, including:

    • Video watch time
    • User history
    • Relevance
    • Engagement (likes, comments, and shares)

    How can I increase my YouTube video views?

    You can increase your YouTube video views by:

    • Creating high-quality, engaging content that resonates with your target audience
    • Using strategic and relevant keywords in titles and descriptions
    • Interacting with your viewers to build a loyal audience
    • Maintaining a consistent posting schedule
    • Promoting your videos on other social media platforms