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Complete Guide to the YouTube Algorithm

Ever since its release in 2005, YouTube has become more than just a site to watch, upload or share videos. It has become the second-most popular search engine, right after its parent company, Google. But, now more than ever, YouTube has gained immense popularity with more than 2 billion monthly log-ins

Whether you are a marketer or a content creator, think about the immense possibility YouTube opens for you. But, the question that becomes more relevant here is how to get more YouTube views? Well, for that, you need to get the YouTube algorithm to recommend your videos. But is that simple? 

Well, not exactly. YouTube can provide you with a lot of benefits. But for that, you will need organic YouTube views on your video. So, here’s a guide to the YouTube algorithm in 2021. This blog will help you understand how the YouTube algorithm works and how you can increase your YouTube views. If you are ready, let’s get started. 

Evolution of YouTube Algorithm

YouTube was first introduced in 2005. Even since then, the platform has increased incredibly. People all over the world now watch more than a billion hours of videos on YouTube every day. Well, a billion hours every day isn’t a child’s play. But it took YouTube years of evolution to get where it is today. We can divide its development into the following sections. 

2005 to 2011 – Clicks and Views

During the early stages of YouTube, from 2005 to 2011, YouTube’s algorithm was at the beginner’s level. It was not even 1% as smart as it is today. During those times, the algorithm was used to optimize views and click to recommend videos. It means that the videos with more clicks and views get more recommendations. 

But, it soon became a huge problem. First of all, such recommendations can be a lot more faulty. It can be a simple clickbait leading audiences to poor quality content. Also, it couldn’t determine who should watch what. Hence, often the viewers landed on the wrong types of content. 

So, in short, during the early years, YouTube recommended only the videos having more views and clicks, irrespective of their content type or viewer’s preference. 

2012 to 2015 – Watch Time

After this, YouTube updated its algorithm. It means that your video must be clicked or viewed once but, the viewers had to watch the video at least for some time. So, the algorithm now focused more on watch time along with the views and clicks. YouTube had some interest in it as well.

First of all, back then, YouTube’s primary goal was to engage and retain viewers on the platform for longer hours. So, they started focusing on watch hours. Videos having more watch time were prioritized and recommended on the home page. However, along with the watch hour, the videos also had to have enough views and clicks. 

Secondly, it made the filter a little more strict. It reduced clickbait on the platform since people wouldn’t watch poor-quality content and misleading videos. 

2016- Optimizing for Satisfaction 

In 2015, YouTube started focusing on viewer satisfaction. It started conducting user surveys and received data directly from other metrics, such as likes, comments, shares, watch hours, etc. Based on this, in 2016, YouTube published a white paper depicting how its AI works.

In short, YouTube personalized its approach a lot. It started focusing on a more personal approach. The goal was to provide users with content specially curated for them. Hence, people could watch more personal videos, and it increased audience retention on the platform. 

In 2018, YouTube’s Chief product officer mentioned that 70% of YouTube’s watch hours came from the recommended videos. It speaks well of the success YouTube received because of its advanced AI. 

2016 to Present- Demonetization, brand retention, and Safety, Four Rs

Finally, the modern algorithm that we see working now is a lot more proactive and curated. YouTube at this stage focuses on four Rs. These are: remove, raise up, reward trusted sources, and reduce the spread. YouTube started removing dangerous, misleading, and controversial topics that went against its guidelines. 

Also, YouTube started raising hot topics, trending videos, and breaking news that might interest audiences. Also, the platform started rewarding the trusted source, such as “trusted, eligible creators and artists.” Also, it helped the platform to mitigate fake content or reduce its spread. Finally, it reduced the content going against the YouTube policy. 

The result of spreading such content on the platform may result in severe penalties, both under the law and from YouTube. You may face demonetization or permanent banning of your channel. YouTube’s community guideline helps to sanctify the content available on the channel and provide people with similar interests without promoting violent or fake content. 

How Does YouTube Algorithm Work in 2021

YouTube started its journey on the web with two goals in its mind. The first one was to provide a platform where everyone can have a voice and a window to explore their work and new ideas. Today, it is fair to say that this goal is very much fulfilled, given the platform’s massive number of influencers and users. 

The next and more sublime goal was to engage viewers for extended hours on the videos to increase the ad views. This goal is directly related to attracting the ad payers to the platform and providing better results. It also increases ad interaction. But, if videos do not rank on the platform, neither of these goals get achieved. 

YouTube algorithm depends on three main qualifiers or ranking signals to pick and recommend videos. These ranking signals are Keyword Relevance, Engagement, and Quality. Each of these signals plays a vital role in recommending YouTube videos. Let’s see how:

Ranking Signals

Keyword Relevance: 

YouTube is the second largest search engine on the web. Hence, keywords play a vital role in search queries. 

When someone searches for some topic on the search bar, YouTube’s algorithm runs a quick check. And while checking, it checks your titles, descriptions, meta tags, and content as well. 

Ranking depends on various other factors as well. If your details match with the search query, YouTube’s algorithm may recommend your video. But, without proper use of keywords, one can achieve nothing on the platform. 

However, you have to use relevant keywords only to get such recommendations. Thus, keyword relevance is one of the biggest ranking signals on the platform. 


YouTube algorithm in 2021 values engagements a lot. Video engagement on YouTube means the interaction of viewers with the video. For example, interactions can mean likes, comments, shares, watch time, and frequency of watching the videos again. It decides the fate of your video to some extent. 

Some videos become viral because of their engagement. For example, if the content gets 100% watched and people interact with it frequently, it is more likely to be pushed higher. Thus, when it comes to videos, the recency and watch time play a vital role in getting your content ranked on the SERP. 


Quality means the trustability and authenticity of a channel on YouTube. YouTube values the quality of a channel a lot. If a channel posts quality content, it increases its trust factor. Similarly, interesting content gets more views and interactions. So, in both ways, the content gets some exposure from the YouTube algorithm. 

Apart from these three key ranking signals, the YouTube algorithm also values the watch hour, frequency of upload, velocity of a video, and other important factors before recommending a video on the platform. 

When a video gets recommended by YouTube, it will appear in three main locations. These are the homepage, the search query, and recommendations. 

How Does YouTube Homepage Algorithm Work

Whenever you open YouTube, you get random videos recommended on the homepage. YouTube algorithm recommends these videos thinking they might interest you. YouTube, while choosing these videos, makes certain considerations. 

If it is your first time on the platform, YouTube’s selection of content on the homepage might depend on broader perspectives. It is mainly because YouTube does not yet know what type of video you would watch. So, it gives you a random suggestion from where you can pick one. 

And there starts the journey of your interaction. Right from the first video you watch on the site, YouTube starts noting the type and keeps suggesting similar videos. 

YouTube’s algorithm personalizes your homepage depending on the type of your interaction. YouTube tries to pick user-specific content- the content that might interest you. 

For this, YouTube studies your watch and search history or checks if you have interacted with certain channels or like the content. Thus, the site offers your content specifically based on your interaction type. 

YouTube also suggests the trending topics on the homepage or may share the breaking news and relevant information. One specific example of it is the Pandemic-related news that has been all over its home page ever since it started.

How Does YouTube Search Algorithm Work

YouTube is the second most used search engine all over the world. Just right after Google, the YouTube search engine processes more than 3 billion searches a month. 

And this massive surge of search on YouTube is bigger than Bing,, AOL, and Yahoo combined. So, while people watch mostly the recommended videos, YouTube search still has a lot more relevance on the ground. 

So, how does the YouTube search algorithm work? First of all, YouTube as a search engine depends on values keywords a lot like any other search engine. Hence, to rank on the YouTube SERP, you need to make keyword-rich content. 

When someone searches for anything on YouTube, let’s say: Among Us hacks, the search engine looks for relevant keywords matched to this content. Once understood, the SERP will show you similar content based on the search query. 

Now, performance and engagement also play a key role here. YouTube’s search engine might find the related videos for you, but the SERP Rank depends entirely on the performance of engagement of a certain video. So, here again, it looks for likes, comments, shares, watch-time, frequency, and all other things. 

Once it finds everything satisfactory and the videos match the search query, it ranks the most engaging ones. 

How Does YouTube Suggest Videos

While watching a video, you might have seen YouTube recommending other videos on the right-side panel. This is where the recommendations go. So, how does the YouTube algorithm work for recommending videos? 

Well, while recommending videos to you, the YouTube algorithm considers certain factors. Mostly, it looks at your watch history at large. It scans the type of content you have been dealing with for quite a while. It is the primary factor that works while suggesting videos on YouTube. 

YouTube also recommends the videos you have watched in part. For example, if you have been listening to some songs quite frequently, it might keep suggesting you the same tracks one after another. 

Tips to Improve Your YouTube Organic Reach

Now that you have known almost everything about the YouTube algorithm, let’s learn how to improve your YouTube organic reach. By using the right tactics, you can boost your YouTube organic reach to an incredible extent. And these approaches are very basic. 

If you look at the 9 richest YouTubers in the world, you will find them following the same tricks to improve their organic growth. Here we have mentioned some of the most effective tips to increase your YouTube views and engagement. 

Do Extensive Keyword Research

First of all, YouTube holds a lot of titles in its name. It is the second most popular social site after Facebook and the second most used search engine in the world, ranking right after Google. The huge amount of searches run on YouTube is almost around 3 billion/month. 

Hence, if you want your video to rank on YouTube, you have to consider the SEO part. Run detailed research of relevant keywords and include those into your titles, descriptions, and metadata. When YouTube scans content for a search query, it might start pushing your content if your data is relevant enough. 

Build Attractive Thumbnail

You have six-second to grab someone’s attention. And 70% of YouTube views comes from the YouTube recommendations on the homepage. Since YouTube is a visual platform, people give less importance to what is written at all. And when it is on the homepage, thumbnails attract everyone the most. 

If your thumbnail is not attractive enough, people might keep scrolling down without even looking at your content. So, apart from making rich and quality content, you need to design an attractive thumbnail for Youtube. Once it catches a viewer’s attention, the person might be interested to see more about the content. 

Pro tip: For thumbnail design, try to include faces more than words. People’s faces tend to attract more than just mere words. Also, keep the thumbnail clean and clear. Don’t stuff it too much with information or anything. You can use free thumbnail maker apps for YouTube thumbnail making. 

Translate Your Videos

You never know when your video goes viral. So, it’s a good idea to add translations to your content. It does not mean you have to translate the voice-over as well. You can just add captions instead, which will help others to see your content even though they are not familiar with your language. 

Captions can also serve SEO purposes. Well, for that, you need to upload the caption separately. If it has related keywords in it, YouTube will scan it somehow. However, auto-generated captions can not serve the SEO purpose. 

Sound Confident

Confidence carries a lot of value to the viewers. If you sound confident in your video, you will also sound convincing, making people watch the entire content. The best way to sound convincing is to gather foolproof knowledge. 

Don’t speak about something you clearly have no idea about, but run proper content research. That way, you can have more insights and convey your message properly. 

Include a CTA

Always keep a CTA or call to action button while concluding your videos. It plays various purposes on YouTube. For example, you can ask your viewers to subscribe to your channel. The more subscribers you get, the more spotlight you get on yourself and your channel. 

You can also ask your viewers to see other videos on your channel. You can put the related content card in the end, redirecting them to other related content on your channel. CTA buttons might also be used for marketing purposes to generate leads. 

Put Optimized and Relevant Description

Since YouTube is a visual platform, many creators like to focus on creating a quality video only. However, the video description matters as much as the video itself. YouTube prefers long and descriptive details. Also, you can add relevant tags and keywords into your description to make the content SEO friendly. 

You can include all relevant information, links, and timestamps in the description panel. Sometimes, people find this useful, which builds the trust factor. However, the first two lines of your YouTube description have to be attractive enough to make people click on that “show more” button. 


Have you ever wondered how much you can make from a million views? Well, the goal might seem a lot right now, but it’s not impossible. If good quality and well-researched content were the only things to get your video rank, there would have been many more influencers. But, it does not work like that. 

But once you understand the YouTube algorithm and how it works, you have got the most part in your hand. Follow the tips that we have mentioned, and you will see the growth in no time. But, content quality is one primary factor. And that is all about a guide to the YouTube algorithm in 2021. We hope you had a good time learning. 

Article by

Diptesh Das
Diptesh is an expert Content Marketer with more than 5 years of experience up his sleeves. When he isn't marketing, he likes to play soccer, or head out for a long bike trip. Linkedin

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