YouTube Marketing: Some Motivating Evidence and How To Work With The Algorithm

Social media draws a lot of attention from marketers, and rightfully so. It has changed the game in terms of how businesses can communicate with their audience, and how their audience can stay engaged with them. The insights these platforms provide in terms of analytics on customers makes them very, very valuable for advertisers.

But what if I told you that neither Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter or Snapchat are the top used social media website/app in the United States?

That title belongs to YouTube. According to a Pew Research Center study, a higher percentage of U.S. adults use YouTube than any other social platform:

Even during the pandemic, YouTube remained a high-use platform, according to eMarketer’s study of platforms used for social interaction among Gen Z and all adults:

Even among all adults, it is the second highest used platform for social connection during the pandemic (overall it’s third as text messaging is first overall among adults). Be honest, how many of you reading this blog expected that to be true?

Thinking about mobile? YouTube was the 10th most downloaded app in Q2 2020, and the third most downloaded app on iOS (Apple’s operating system).

If you need some more evidence of why marketers should consider using the platform, consider some stats courtesy of HootSuite:

  • While globally YouTube has approximately 2 billion monthly logged in users, 15% of their total traffic comes from the United States.

  • In 2020, YouTube is projected to rake in over $5.5 billion in ad revenue.

  • Ads on YouTube increase purchase intent by 53%.

Given the above, YouTube is absolutely worth considering as a marketing channel, depending on your audience. But what are some things to know to put your content in the best position for success? In following the theme of our recent Facebook and LinkedIn blog posts, we’ll cover what we know about the YouTube algorithm here to give you a head start when you post your content. We’ll also touch on the different types of ads if you decide to go the paid route. Before we dive in, let’s start with a quick note about content:

YouTube Isn’t Just For ‘Videos’

As everyone who has ever searched for a cat video when they are bored can tell you, YouTube is a great place to find videos. If your customers are into video content and are users of this platform, posting videos here is a great way to build a following and connect. But what if you don’t have any videos to post, does that mean you can’t use the platform?

There’s another avenue to consider: podcasts.

Although some may not think of YouTube as a good resource for podcasts, it turns out it is. According to Business Insider, 43% of monthly podcast listeners visited YouTube for a podcast in the past year (as of September 2019), which outpaced both Apple at 34% and Spotify at 23%. If your audience connects with this form of media, it’s something to consider if you want to have a presence on YouTube without some of the production that comes with making videos.

That said, I would still recommend recording the podcast via video and posting that as opposed to just static noise. For a podcast to really deliver for your brand, the user should be listening all the way through. If you just use a static image on YouTube as opposed to video, you lose 90-95% of your audience within the first 90 seconds of the podcast. That means they may not make that connection with your brand through this channel. So I recommend if doing podcasts and posting the video recording on YouTube.

Now, let’s dive into some points about the algorithm:

What Matters On YouTube When Organically Marketing

YouTube’s search algorithm works very similar to Google’s, which should be no surprise. The two goals of it are simple: help viewers find the videos they want to watch, and get viewers to keep watching more of what they like. If it can do both of these things well, it gets viewers to return, keeps them on the platform longer and bumps up sitewide stats, which it then turns around to pitch to advertisers, who spend money to advertise. The earth keeps spinning.

In terms of metrics YouTube uses to judge success, there isn’t one metric that is chief among the rest. That fact comes directly from YouTube. The goal of the algorithm is to help YouTube grow its reach over time and appeal to all users, rather than just heavy users of the platform. In fact, when they tested an update to the algorithm they noticed that watch time was significantly increasing, but that the algorithm recommended videos that were over an hour long. So users would have a harder time finding relevant content to them.

One thing that matters is how many people ‘like’ a video. YouTube takes that as a signal of quality, and will show your video to others in its suggestions based on that (as well as what the user has previously viewed). This is pretty similar to other social platforms, so no shock here.

Here’s something you might not know: YouTube’s algorithm factors in how long users watch videos as an item in the rankings. If a user clicks on an 8 minute video and only watches 40 seconds of it, that sends a weak quality signal compared to if they watched all 8 minutes. This is why making relevant content is so critical here (and, as we said earlier, making sure users watch all of your podcast if it’s on YouTube). The longer you can keep eyeballs on your content, the better it looks to the algorithm.

One final piece that’s worth mentioning when it comes to the algorithm is subscribers to a channel. If you have a channel on YouTube - and really, if you are going to have a presence there, you need one - the algorithm will look at how many subscribers that channel has and align it accordingly with relevancy when users search. It serves, like engagement, as social proof that your content is quality.

So knowing how the algorithm works, what are some things you can do to work with it to make sure your content gets bumped up? Here are some tips:

  • Be cognizant of video length and long endings. It is thought that videos between 7 and 15 minutes tend to perform best on YouTube, so choose your length of video carefully. Also, if important things are crammed towards the end, user fatigue may kick in and they might not make it there (or even skip right to it, missing your other content).

  • Write a full description of your video. This helps the user understand what the video is about even before they watch it. 1-2 paragraphs at most. Be cognizant of what keywords users might be searching for and try to include a few.

  • Upload videos on a consistent basis. Get your consumers conditioned on when your newest content is dropping (similar to how we do at Oak Moon by posting the blog on a specific day and time each week).

  • If you find something that works, stick with it! YouTube tries to surface more of what the audience likes in its algorithm, so if you get good engagement on a piece of content don’t be afraid to replicate it where you can. This isn’t to say don’t experiment, but if you find something that works keep at it.

  • Be mindful of, and clear about, your call to action. Whatever you want your consumer to do - visit your website, subscribe to your channel, like your content - clearly spell it out for them. I recommend doing towards the beginning rather than at the end.

Finally, let’s wrap up with a quick word on paid advertising. As the second largest search engine on the internet, people visit YouTube constantly for a variety of needs. As such, it’s a hotspot for paid advertisements. According to HubSpot, the average cost per click on a YouTube ad is 6 cents. When you think of how many people advertise on that platform, you can see how that adds up quickly.

There are two main types of ads that you’ll see on YouTube, and both are managed through Google Ads. Video discovery ads are ads that appear within the search results, like how you would see ads on a Google search. In stream ads, the ones most of you are probably more familiar with, appear within the video itself. They can either be static (the rectangular ad box that pops up while the video is playing) or dynamic (i.e. after 5 minutes you’ll be exposed to a video ad). The actual mechanics of how to do it well is a topic big enough that it deserves its own post, but this is a great resource to get you started.

Ultimately, you do not need money to get going with YouTube advertising. If you have good content, a clear plan and an understanding of the algorithm, you are well ahead of the game on the platform. While it is but one piece of the puzzle in your content strategy, it is a valuable piece worth considering.

Oak Moon is a consulting agency based out of Columbus, OH that helps companies market their brands, define value propositions and uncover customer insights, among other services. If you are interested in hearing more or have questions or comments about this blog, feel free to reach out to me at

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