We Analyzed 1.3 Million YouTube Videos. Here’s What We Learned About YouTube SEO

youtube ranking factors banner

We analyzed 1.3 million YouTube videos to better understand how YouTube’s search engine works.

Specifically, we looked at the correlation between ranking factors — like views, comments and shares — with YouTube rankings.

We learned a lot about YouTube SEO. And I’m sure you will too.

Here is a Summary of What We Discovered:

1. Comments appear to be an influential ranking factor. We found that a video’s comment count strongly correlates with higher rankings.

2. Longer videos significantly outperform shorter videos. The average length of a first page YouTube video is 14 minutes, 50 seconds.

3. We discovered that video views have a significant correlation with rankings.

4. The number of shares a video generates is strongly tied to first page YouTube rankings.

5. There’s a moderate correlation between a channel’s subscriber size and rankings. This means that even small channels have a chance to rank their videos in YouTube.

6. Video likes are significantly correlated with higher rankings.

7. “Subscriptions driven” has reasonably strong correlation with rankings. Therefore, videos that result in new subscribers have an advantage in YouTube search.

8. We found a very small relationship between keyword-rich video tags and rankings. This could represent the fact that YouTube can now understand video content without the help of metadata.

9. Videos that contain an exact match keyword in their video title appear to have a slight edge over videos that don’t. This means that including a keyword in your title may improve your rankings by a slim margin.

10. We found zero correlation between keyword-optimized video descriptions and rankings.

11. HD videos dominate YouTube’s search results. 68.2% of videos on the first page of YouTube are in HD.

I have detailed data and information of our findings below.

Video Comments Have a Very Strong Correlation With Rankings

YouTube encourages creators to publish videos that maximize engagement. Needless to say, comments are a strong indicator that people are engaging with your video.

But does YouTube use comments as a ranking signal?

Our data suggests that they do:

youtube comments chart

As you can see in the chart above, the more comments a video has, the higher it tends to rank. Considering YouTube’s emphasis on user engagement, this result isn’t a big surprise.

Key Takeaway: Videos with lots of comments tend to rank best in YouTube.

Longer Videos Outrank Short Videos

When it comes to video SEO, should you create short videos? Or are you better off with longer videos that cover a topic in-depth?

We analyzed our data to find out.

Our data shows that longer videos tend to significantly outrank short videos.

video length chart

In fact, the average length of a video ranking on the first page of YouTube is 14 minutes, 50 seconds.

What’s happening here?

YouTube has publicly confirmed that a video’s total watch time is a key ranking signal.

youtube-creator-blog-screenshot

Also, in 2015, Google was granted a patent for an algorithm that uses “watch time” as a ranking signal.

In short, YouTube wants to promote videos that keep people on YouTube for a long period of time. Longer videos accomplish this best, hence the preference for longer video content.

Another theory is that longer videos provide more overall value in a single video. This is true for “how-to” videos as well as for content designed to entertain. The value that longer videos provide may encourage more interaction signals (including comments and likes) that ultimately impact rankings.

In fact, if you do a cursory search of popular keywords, you’d be hard pressed to find a short video (< 3 minutes) ranking highly in the search results.

youtube search results 2

Key Takeaway: Longer videos perform best in YouTube search. The average video on the first page of YouTube’s search results is 14 minutes, 50 seconds long.

Video Shares Are Strongly Tied to Higher Rankings

Google has consistently denied the fact that social signals play a role in their algorithm.

However, YouTube’s algorithm works independently of Google. So there’s a possibility that YouTube uses shares from social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as a ranking factor.

In fact, we did find that shares have a strong correlation with higher rankings in YouTube:

total video shares

It’s important to note that we used YouTube’s public share report for this analysis.

video shares

Why is this important?

One of the major issues of using social shares as a ranking signal is that they’re easily gamed. Anyone can can hand someone a few dollars in exchange for sharing a piece of content 100 times on Facebook.

This isn’t the case on YouTube.

Unlike sharing content using a webpage’s social sharing icons, YouTube knows which users share video content…and where they share.

youtube social share icons

This tracking makes this signal much harder to game.

Combine that with the fact that YouTube encourages publishers to create highly-shareable content (and that YouTube reports shares in YouTube Analytics), and you have a strong possibility that the relationship between shares and rankings is more than a chance correlation.

Key Takeaway: Highly-shared videos outrank videos with fewer shares.

A Video’s View Count Is Significantly Correlated With Rankings

Video views used to be YouTube’s #1 ranking factor.

The thought was that: lots of views=popular video=quality video.

However, YouTube discovered that views often serve as a poor indicator of video quality.

So they changed their algorithm to emphasize factors like audience retention and engagement:

youtube emphasize watch time

However, we discovered that a video’s total view count continues to have a significant correlation with rankings.

video views rankings chart 2

It appears that you still need a critical mass of views to rank in YouTube. (In fact a YouTube engineer stated that, while views aren’t as important as they once were, YouTube still uses them).

That’s because, without views, your video can’t generate the other signals that YouTube uses to evaluate your video’s quality (like total watch time and comments).

But at a certain point, views have diminishing returns.

That’s why you often see high-quality videos rank above lower-quality videos (even when the lower-quality video has significantly more views).

example of low video view video ranking

Key Takeaway: Video views are significantly correlated with higher YouTube rankings.

A Channel’s Subscriber Count Is Moderately Correlated With Rankings

We found a moderate correlation between a channel’s total subscribers and rankings:

channel subscribers chart

This is good news if you run a small or new channel.

Unlike Google, which seems to have a preference for big brands, YouTube is more likely to rank content from “the little guy”.

For example, for this popular keyword, videos from two small channels outrank a video from a channel that has over 2 million subscribers:

ranking with low subs

This type of result isn’t uncommon on YouTube.

(Of course, channels with millions of subscribers have an edge. But our data shows that this advantage isn’t as significant as you may think).

Key Takeaway: Channels with lots of subscribers have an advantage in YouTube. However, videos from smaller channels consistently outrank videos from popular channels.

Videos With Lots of Likes Outrank Videos With Fewer Likes

It’s no secret that YouTube prefers videos that engage their audience.

And video “likes” serve as a powerful engagement signal. After all, likes are a crowdsourced way of evaluating how the YouTube community feels about your video.

That’s the theory. But what does the data say?

Our study revealed a significant correlation between likes and video rankings:

youtube likes and rankings chart

This suggests that YouTube may use likes as a ranking signal.

However, as you know, correlation doesn’t always mean causation.

Videos with lots of likes are also likely to be high-quality. And high-quality videos generate other ranking signals (like audience retention) that YouTube values.

Key Takeaway: YouTube may use likes as a direct ranking factor. Or it could be that heavily-liked videos generate other signals that YouTube truly cares about.

Videos That Result in New Channel Subscribers Rank Higher Than Videos That Don’t Generate Subscribers

If someone really enjoys a video on YouTube, what are they likely to do? Subscribe to that channel so they can see that channel’s future videos.

In other words, a video that encourages lots of new subscribers is a sure sign of quality.

Not only that, but getting new subscribers is an extremely hard metric to game at scale.

Sure, you can get a few people (or bots) to subscribe to your channel after watching a video. But it’s much more difficult than generating thousands of fake views or likes.

Knowing that, its likely that YouTube uses “subscriptions driven” as a ranking factor.

Our data did indeed show a significant correlation between “subscriptions driven” and higher video rankings.

subscriptions driven rankings

As they do with shares, YouTube displays the number of subscriptions driven underneath each video:

subscriptions driven

(Publishers can choose not to show this information publicly).

Like with most metrics, you can boost the number of subscribers your videos generate by creating world-class video content.

However, you can also ask viewers to subscribe:

<img class="wp-image-19306 aligncenter" style="border: 4px solid #cccccc;" src="http:/
Source: http://backlinko.com/youtube-ranking-factors

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