I recently had a zoom meeting with more than 20 content creators from the United Arab Emirates to hear Nuseir Yassin tell "The Story of Nas".
Now Yassin is an Israeli-Arab video blogger who graduated from Harvard University in 2014.
In 2016 he quit his job at a software company and started exploring the world while documenting his travels on video.
He created a Facebook page called Nas Daily (“Nas” in Arabic means “people”) with the intention of making a video every day for 1,000 days.
He has now created more than 5,000 videos on his Nas Daily Facebook pages and YouTube channels in a dozen different countries, which have a total of over 6.3 billion views. (That's a billion with a "b".)
As Yassin told the story of Nas Daily, he shared one of the things that keep him awake at night.
It's the fear of algorithm changes.
And suddenly I realized that if someone asked me when I called Zoom, "Is YouTube about to update its algorithm again?"
Now I know what YouTube told Bloomberg a year ago:
“We make hundreds of changes every year to make it easier for people to find what they want to see on YouTube. We recently made such a change that allows users to find high quality family content. "
How do i know
I read Matt Southern's article, YouTube updated its algorithm in July and upset many creators that was published in the Search Engine Journal last August.
And I read Southern's article, "YouTube changes introduced in November 2020 can impact creators' earnings," published in November 2019.
And I just read Susan Wenograd's article, "YouTube Continues to Test Immersive Product Experience," which was just released on July 11, 2020.
But I still feel like I have a 180 degree view, which happens when I normally have a 360 degree view.
Immediately after completing the zoom call, I tried to find out why I didn't have an answer in case someone asked me if YouTube was planning to change its plural algorithms soon.
And I found out why I was in the dark.
What is going on with YouTube these days?
In 2020, I didn't attend two tent pole events in the industry, YouTube Brandcast and VidCon, which I usually attend every year.
Now I haven't screwed up.
Both major events were canceled because of the global corona virus pandemic, and like most of you, I worked from home.
Yes, I had received an information sheet about the brandcast from the YouTube PR team, which gave me the highlights of the "completely reinterpreted" virtual "event".
And I duly pointed out that YouTube "created a" personal prime time "for each participant based on their passions, and shared how YouTube’s deep connection with people’s lives means better results regardless of a marketer’s goal – from reach and awareness to measures. "
I also considered the potential impact of YouTube Select, a “reinterpretation and unification of solutions like Google Preferred and Prime Packs” on content creators.
It can diversify the number of channels earning six-digit numbers per year on YouTube, but YouTube Select was an announcement of an ad product, not an algorithm change.
And I thought about the importance of new research that was introduced during Brandcast Delivered and found the following:
- YouTube viewers say that it is the number 1 video platform with “best personalized content for me” (compared to TV, OTT, digital).
- Over 85% of users say that YouTube helps them learn new skills or improve skills they are interested in.
- So far, people have been watching videos about recipes and cooking this year at a rate that is over 45% higher than the same period last year.
- Heck, the average daily views of leaven-related videos increased over 400% from March 15 through May 31, compared to the average from January 1 through March 14, 2020.
- YouTube is the most popular platform among sports fans and higher than cable television.
- And 70% of Gen Xers say they use YouTube to distract themselves from the stress.
There are all the interesting facts.
And yes, one of the reasons I've attended YouTube's annual Digital Newfront event over the past few years has been to collect the facts and report on the highlights.
But I had also gathered gossip, scientific guesswork, strategic insights and trends flying under the radar – at breakfast, lunch and dinner with "informed sources" as well as in casual standing line conversations, later in the evening in meetings or at parties get.
So I felt like I only got half of the picture.
So I called right away and called some of the YouTube gurus and video marketing experts I usually hang out with at tent events and asked like Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton, "What would I miss?"
One of these YouTube gurus is Mark Robertson (MR). He is head of product / brand marketing at vidIQ.
The other video marketing expert was Carla Marshall (CM). She is marketing manager at vidIQ.
Now I know both of them since "Watch Time" replaced "View Count" in the YouTube algorithm in October 2012.
Oh, and we all worked together on ReelSEO, which later became Tubular Insights. So it was like bringing the old band back together.
Anyway, I hope you are equally interested in finding out if YouTube is about to update its algorithm again.
I'm assuming that I'm not the only one who wants strategic insight into what YouTube may be working on.
In any case, here are my questions and their answers.
The changing algorithms of YouTube: questions and answers
Greg Jarboe (GJ): I felt a "glitch in power" as if YouTube had tested significant changes to its algorithm that would affect millions of content creators.
You are a YouTube guru. What do you feel or hear from your sources?
MR: In my opinion, YouTube is unlikely to make major changes to its algorithms.
Up to your point, changes to an algorithm would not be rolled out globally without first doing many experiments to validate possible improvements that are central to YouTube's goals.
Aside from major policy updates like Watch Time in 2012, the response to the "Adpocalypse" and the new COPPA / FTC rules for "Made for Kids" content, I think it's fairly rare for them to introduce any significant changes that would affect the majority of creators without first ensuring that these changes benefit the viewer.
I think YouTube is consistently experimenting with different aspects of its algorithm (and when I say algorithm, I'm talking about several algorithms, of course), and most of them would be small enough not to affect the entire ecosystem.
Regarding the disorders, I would say that personally, I believe that there have been some notable experiments (and possibly changes) in the past few months.
There are some things that I have observed and confirmed with colleagues (especially Carlos Pacheco from Video Insiders) across large and small channels.
In particular, we suspect that there may have been some “disruptions” in mid-May that are related to the homepage and the proposed / recommended discovery.
We believe that these potential changes may be associated with increasing the visibility of content coming from channels that are more likely to attract and retain viewers regardless of subscriber activity (and vice versa).
What we think we see seems to agree very well with what we've been hearing from YouTube for more than a year.
New "disturbances" of the algorithm would only reinforce this goal – to satisfy the viewer. I took note of this for the first time when "Watch Time" was called Quality Watch Time in April last year.
More recently, they have emphasized "viewer satisfaction," and there is a great, up-to-date video from YouTube's Creator Insider show that speaks it.
If you've seen anything on the platform in the past few months, you may have been asked to do a quick video content survey on your homepage, or if you're happy with the video you're watching.
YouTube wouldn't ask these questions if they didn't want answers.
As long as YouTube is online, people will and will try to play the system.
YouTube has evolved to counter this approach with a more holistic approach.
I think they go beyond what we understand as "observation time" to do this with newer metrics like acquired viewers, retained viewers, and occasional viewers (or emigrants), as well as click-through rate, engagement, relevance, and others to say the real thing to balance history of the effects of a video.
What use is YouTube if a viewer watches 5 hours of video in one session just to have a negative experience and not return to YouTube for weeks or months?
It is important to remember that any change YouTube makes to the algorithm is not for punishing creators.
As viewers become more sophisticated in their viewing habits, YouTube faces the challenge of keeping them up to date and / or entertaining them with content that is personalized, meets their intentions, and satisfies them with their experiences.
Satisfying the viewer (against the creator) is a win-win-win situation.
Any improvements aimed at increasing the number of viewers on the platform offer the entire developer ecosystem a chance.
I think this is a unique opportunity for smaller, authentic channels to break through the noise of more established content factories, and it offers developers of all sizes a level playing field with videos of different lengths.
GJ: The current YouTube algorithm contains various elements, including time, relevance, upload date and ratings.
Even the time contains several sub-elements. What element or sub-element is YouTube most likely to change?
MR: As mentioned before, I believe that one of the biggest changes, "Quality Watch Time", has already taken place without the big fanfare that we would normally expect.
This is an extremely important indicator of viewer satisfaction and one in which I think YouTube is heavily invested.
I believe that "Quality Watch Time" focuses on the viewing experience, far beyond the usual signals like subscribing to a channel or clicking through a video based on its thumbnail or title.
A channel can have 2 million subscribers, but if the content "dissatisfies" viewers (regardless of subscribers), the platform can make the content of that channel less visible, despite what we traditionally have in terms of good "watch time" understand.
I believe that one way that this is measured internally on YouTube is related to a newer metric for audience retention across a channel. (For example, did a viewer watch content from a particular channel more than once in a given month?)
This is related to the overall content creator rather than video retention.
Video audience engagement is still a very trend-setting report that creators should be familiar with and a good indicator of the relevance of a particular video to the viewer.
I am confident that YouTube will present more information in YouTube Analytics and Creator Studio to help content creators duplicate content that “satisfies”.
Just last week, Assaf Reifer (Product Manager at YouTube / Google) posted the following tweet announcing a new report showing the creators and other videos their audience saw on YouTube.
Hey YouTube developers, if you want to get to know your audience better, see which topics and formats are most popular, which thumbnails and titles work best, and find new ways to collaborate … 1/2 #YouTubeStudio #YouTube # YouTubers
– Assaf Reifer (@AssafReifer) July 1, 2020
In my opinion, this is very important directionally and I look forward to seeing it in the coming weeks.
GJ: The novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted the normal back-to-school season, which usually begins in early July and culminates in early August.
This year, YouTube search’s interest in the term “back to school” is still as flat as a pancake, according to Google Trends.
How do you think such trends will affect the YouTube algorithm?
CM: The overall goal of YouTube is to provide or suggest content that will keep viewers up to date or entertained so that they stay on the platform as long as possible.
While some trend topics (such as the start of school) have lost relevance this year, many others have peaked and ensure great views and commitment for the creators behind them.
YouTube itself has confirmed that views for cooking videos have increased 45% since last year.
Now, whether that's because Lockdown has increased organic interest in all things home-made during the pandemic (and Google Trends for YouTube certainly points to an increase in certain food trends in the past few months), or whether the YouTube algorithm is up Content Front and Center predicted and expressed this in suggested and recommended videos, who knows.
While trends like do-it-yourself, cooking, crafting, and other tutorial-type content have always been popular, it's not too difficult to say that YouTube is making the most of the increased interest in a locked world that is stuck at home and finding things it does want to make, learn or repair.
All screenshots from the author, July 2020