How does YouTube rate a video as popular?

Search results page on YouTube

Just because a video has lots of views, it doesn’t mean it will be at the top of the search results page on YouTube.

This is because YouTube measures the popularity of a video on the audience retention, and not the number of views. This ‘audience retention’ is the percentage of those that watch much of the video, and is worked out by the clever video analytics that YouTube use to record video statistics.

A graph showing the audience retention on YouTube

Above is how the audience retention is displayed in YouTube analytics.

You could have a 3 minute film with 10,000 views, but most of the viewers switch off in the first 10 seconds. Or you could have a 1 minute film with 500 views that 80% of the audience watch the first 45 seconds. YouTube will prioritise the 2nd film with a smaller audience, as they consider the video to be more relevant as more people watched the video all the way through.

I went to the YouTube Creator Day in November, this is what happened. 

Many of our customers will know we always try and keep a video as short as possible. This is because the shorter the video, the easier it is to keep the audience watching (as there is less to make them switch off!). The longer the audience stick with watching a film on average, the more relevant YouTube considers the video, and it becomes easier for a video to be discovered as it appears at the top of the search results.

Search results page on YouTube

An example above is the search results for ‘printing Stockport’. As the film keeps audience attention it’s considered more relevant for search results.

But why does a video that isn’t very good (or relevant) end up with lots of views? It could be an enticing thumbnail, a clever video title, a really big trending topic, or the video uploader paid for artificial views- all reasons why YouTube don’t trust the popularity on number of views alone, and go off what people are actually watching.

If you are interested to find out the audience retention of your YouTube videos, and how you can improve things even after a video is uploaded, just email me, or call the office on 0161 477 5621. Or use the contact us form.

Some of our most recent videos are in a blog post here.

Author: Jonathan Robinson is the founder of and has been making videos on YouTube since it arrived in the UK in 2006.





Get in touch...

More posts...