YouTube Shifts Focus For Suggested Videos From Views To Time Spent On Site

By Megan O'Neill 

Over the past few months you may have noticed a change in the types of videos that are showing up in the suggested videos in YouTube’s sidebar.  Flashy thumbnails and videos with mucho views have been replaced with content that has been proven to engage and keep viewers around.  In a recent post on the YouTube Creator blog, head of creator marketing communications at YouTube, Eric Meyerson, talks about why YouTube now focuses on watch time.

Now, it may seem obvious why YouTube would focus on view time and engagement—these are both good indicators that viewers are drawn in and enjoying the content and good content is what YouTube strives for (which is why they’ve recently invested hundreds of millions in professionally-created content channels).

However, many YouTubers have complained that since the algorithm changed their views have dropped and they are none too pleased.  (Side note: This is ironic because a big reason YouTube changed their algorithm in the first place is that the very same YouTubers that are now complaining about declining views were complaining that the “Reply Girls,” a group of girls racking up views for showing cleavage, were taking over the suggested videos.)

Reply Girls aside, Meyerson responds to all the YouTubers asking why YouTube has switched its algorithm focus from views to watch time:

“Over the past few months we have made some changes to YouTube to encourage people to spend more time watching, interacting, and sharing with the community.

“To support this, we’ve updated what we call video discovery features, meaning how our viewers find videos to watch via search and suggested videos.  These changes better surface the videos that viewers actually watch, over those that they click and then abandon.

“Why this shift?  Our video discovery features were previously designed to drive views.  This rewarded videos that were successful at attracting clicks, rather than the videos that actually kept viewers engaged.  (Cleavage thumbnails, anyone?)

“Now when we suggest videos, we focus on those that increase the amount of time the viewer will spend watching videos on YouTube, not only the next view, but also successive views thereafter.”

Meyerson confirms that the change is working well for YouTube.  “We saw the amount of time viewers spend watching videos across the site increase immediately, and this positive trend has continued as we’ve made additional tweaks to our suggestions.”

So what does Meyerson have to say to the creators wondering how to get their view counts back up?  “The best thing creators can do to be successful on YouTube,” he said, “is make videos that people want to watch.  Simple, isn’t it?”  He explains how trying to game the system may be backfiring for certain creators:

“We’ve heard from some creators who intentionally made their videos shorter in an attempt to get a higher retention rate.  Unfortunately, this won’t help.  While high retention on your videos is a good inclination of engagement, we are actually optimizing for how a video contributes to a longer viewing session on YouTube.  So your video isn’t more likely to be seen just because it’s shorter.

“Conversely, we’ve also heard from some creators who intentionally made their videos longer, assuming that longer videos lead to more watch time.  This also isn’t necessarily true, because it can be more challenging to keep viewers engaged through a longer video.  (Think of a comedy sketch that drags on… just… a little… too long.)

“As a result, our primary recommendation is to simply continue making the great videos your audience loves, and stay away from questionable optimization strategies.”

As a creator, what is your take on the new algorithm and how have your views been affected?  As a viewer, have you noticed an increase in good videos in your suggestions?

Image credit: katykin via

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.