How Youtube Ranks Videos (Youtube’s ranking secrets uncovered) 

99.9 percent of people who start a YouTube channel with the goal of making it their primary source of income fail. And why is that? One of the main reasons most YouTubers fail to grow their channel is because they don’t understand how YouTube videos are ranked by the YouTube algorithm. And if your videos don’t rank, they don’t get watched. And if they’re not being watched, you’re not making money.

If you want to be successful, you need to know how YouTube ranks your videos.

In this article, I want to give you an overview of how YouTube ranks videos. I’ll explain the two-part process YouTube uses to decide first if your video is relevant and second, where it’ll rank in search results.

Together, we’ll dive into the YouTube algorithm’s AI mind to discover the surprisingly simple process to determine a video’s position in search results.

After reading this article, you’ll have a concrete understanding of how videos are ranked and how you can improve the placement of your future YouTube videos. 

Let’s get right to the heart of the article and look at the two main components of YouTube ranking videos.

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How YouTube Ranks Your Video 

YouTube uses a two-step process to rank videos. The two steps are:

– Determine video relevance through keywords.

– Ranking Experimentation 

If you want your videos to rank and succeed on YouTube, it’s important to understand how these two steps work individually and together. So let’s take a look at the first step in the ranking process: determining the relevance of the video.

Determining video relevance

In this first section of the process, YouTube first determines if your video is relevant to a particular keyword by matching it to your video.

But how does YouTube do this? 

YouTube matches the keyword used in the search results to the keywords in your video’s thumbnail, title, description, transcription, text, and audio to determine if your video is relevant. 

This is where keyword optimization for YouTube videos comes into play. By placing your keyword in your video’s description, title, transcription, etc., you show YouTube that your video is relevant to your target keyword.

Imagine creating a video for the keyword “How to install an SSD in a PlayStation 5.” You’d do everything you could to tell YouTube that your video is relevant to that keyword. 

You can do that in several ways. I’ll describe those ways in more detail below…

How to show YouTube that your video is relevant through keyword placement.

In this section, I’ll show you where you can place keywords to show YouTube that your video is relevant to the search term you’re looking for. 

Title – You should always try to place your target keyword in the title of your video. Also, you should try to use the keyword as it is. If the keyword is “How to clean a wooden floor,” your video title should contain that exact keyword. For example, “How to clean a wooden floor (the easy way).” You can add more words to your title to convey benefits or emotions by putting them in brackets after the keyword. 

Remember that the title is important to generate clicks. So it needs to be optimized for both humans and the YouTube algorithm. It’s a difficult balancing act, but with practice, you’ll create titles that inform YouTube about your video’s relevance and attract clicks. 

Thumbnail – The thumbnail is incredibly important in attracting viewer clicks, so optimize it for humans first. However, YouTube can also read the text in your thumbnail to determine its relevance for keyword searches. So be sure to include a variation of the search term in the thumbnail’s text. For example, “Wood floors: how to clean them easily.” 

Video description – Your video description is a good place to use your target keyword. At the very least, you should put your target keywords in the first sentence of your description. 

In video audio – Your video’s audio can also be used to communicate relevant keywords for YouTube. This shows both YouTube and your audience that your video is relevant to them. You should use the keyword you’re targeting in at least the first sentence or two when you speak in your video. 

Video Transcription – Your video transcription is the file you use to display subtitles in your video. This transcription file is searched by YouTube for relevant keywords. That’s why it makes sense to use your target keyword in the first sentence of your video. That way, not only will your viewers know they’re watching an irrelevant video, but YouTube will know it’s a relevant video.

Writing in your videos – did you know that YouTube can now search your video for written content? If you include titles in your video, YouTube can read that information and determine if it’s relevant to the keyword. So just like transcribing your video, you should try to include some text popups at the beginning of your video that include your target keyword.

Now that YouTube knows your video is relevant, it’ll move on to the next phase of the ranking process: Experimenting with Ranking.

Ranking experimentation

After YouTube scans your video’s title, description, and other text, it should know that your video is relevant to your target keyword. Now that you’ve gotten past the easy part, it’s time to tackle the second, harder part of YouTube ranking: Ranking Experimentation. 

Once YouTube knows that your video is relevant for certain keywords, it needs to figure out your video’s position on the search results. 

YouTube search results are like a league system. The highest quality videos that viewers voted for appear at the top of the first page of search results. 

But how does YouTube determine which videos appear on the first page of search results? Does YouTube arbitrarily decide which video appears at the top of YouTube search results? 

No. Instead, YouTube conducts experiments with your video using real people to determine your video’s rank in search results. 

To determine if your YouTube video is the best content for a particular keyword, YouTube now runs experiments with your video. 

This process is actually quite simple. YouTube shows people your video and then uses certain metrics to determine whether or not they liked it. The video gets bumped up in the search results if people like it. If people didn’t like it, the video is demoted in the search results. 

Let’s take a look at an example…

Once YouTube knows your video is relevant to a search term, it experiments with the search results. For every 1000 searches for your target keyword, YouTube will experiment by ranking your video 3rd in the search results, just high enough to get a few views and collect data on viewer statistics. 

That 3rd spot might earn the video ten views. But those ten views are important because they help YouTube determine if your video is high quality. YouTube determines the quality of your video by checking two important statistics: 

– Average viewing time percentage 

– Engagement (button clicks such as like/subscribe, comments, link clicks).

Average Percent Viewing Time is a measure average amount of time a video is watched compared to the total length of the video, expressed as a percentage. So if a video is 10 minutes long and is viewed for an average of 9 minutes, the percentage of average viewing time for that video is 90%. On YouTube, the higher the percentage of average viewing time, the higher the perceived quality of the video. This makes sense if you think about it. Imagine going to the theatre and watching a movie where most people left after watching only 50% of it. Most people would take that as a sign that the movie was really bad! It’s the same with YouTube: If viewers only see a small portion of the video, YouTube classifies it as low-quality. 

Second, engagement is a strong indicator of quality. Suppose a viewer watches your video and gets so much use out of it that they like it, subscribe, or leave a comment. In that case, that’s a strong indication to YouTube that the video is of high quality. 

If YouTube sees a high percentage of view time and some engagement, that’s a strong indicator that the video should be ranked higher. 

YouTube will then experiment with your video until it’s convinced that it’s the best video for that keyword. 

So the key to ranking well is that you create videos that generate a lot of engagement and watch for a large portion of their total length. But how do you do that?

How to increase your YouTube video’s average watch duration percentage and engagement.

Increasing the average watch duration percentage and engagement for your YouTube videos is surprisingly easy. Most YouTube gurus just want you to believe that it’s very complicated. Yet it’s not that hard to get people to watch your video for a long time and engage with it, whether through likes, subscribing to the video, or commenting.

You have to create good videos that serve the people who entered the search term.

That’s why it’s important to aim for quality of information, not quantity of videos produced: Basically, real people have the final say on whether or not your video will rank. And if it’s not high quality, if it doesn’t add the value they want, they won’t watch it, won’t click on it, and won’t comment on it. 

Strive to create high-quality videos relevant to the keyword and add as much value as possible to answer everything real people want from your video. 

High quality doesn’t mean Hollywood-level production values. In this case, high quality means you’re providing the people who watch your video with all the information they need to take action.

You should also ask for engagement in every video. You’ve probably noticed this with many YouTube videos. When a YouTuber asks someone to like and subscribe to their video, they ask for engagement. Also, in each of your videos, you should ask viewers a question to answer in the comments section. When you ask them to answer a question, many people feel obligated to answer it as best they can as if they were entering a contest. By doing this, you’re putting the content-creation ball in their court.

As a reminder, create high-quality videos that contain all the information your viewers need and ask for engagement in the form of likes, subscriptions, and comments. If you create high-quality videos and get engagement, your videos will rise in YouTube’s rankings.


It wouldn’t be a Nick Sinclair article if I didn’t write a summary at the end to remind you of the key points I wrote about. So here’s your summary:

  • YouTube rates videos in a two-step process:
    • Step 1: Determine the relevance of the video.
    • Step 2: Ranking experimentation.
  • Relevance is determined by matching your video to the keyword your video is targeting.
  • YouTube reads the keywords you’ve placed in your video’s title, description, and thumbnail to determine your video’s relevance.
  • YouTube conducts ranking experiments to determine how high up in the search rankings your video should be placed. 
  • The higher the perceived quality of your video, the higher it’ll be placed in the ranking. 
  • Quality is determined primarily by two factors.
    • The average watch duration percentage. 
    • The level of engagement the video receives. 
  • If you Increase the average watch duration percentage and engagement, the ranking of your video will improve. 
  • The average watch duration percentage can be improved by creating high-quality videos. 
  • You can increase engagement by asking for likes, subs, and comments.


Nick Sinclair

Nick Sinclair, a gaming aficionado since the Commodore 64 era, studied Creative Computer Games Design in university before founding his own gaming company. Discovering a passion for content creation, Nick now helps gamers squeeze every drop of fun out of their favorite gaming hardware

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