Watch Time is the most important metric that YouTube uses to promote and drive audience to a video. In a way, it’s the most important metric on any platform. Netflix uses very similar information to decide on the shows it renews, greenlights and licenses. Snapchat, Amazon and Facebook have been known to use a similar engagement metric too. But there’s one secret side of watch time that most creators completely miss.
The “basic” definition of Watch Time is how long people spend watching your video. Cool. It’s not how many people watch your video… it’s how long all of those people watch it for. And this is fine, colloquial way of looking at Watch Time. It’s a proxy for how engaged your audience is with your content. And that’s about all the information YouTube provides you with in the Watch Time section of your Analytics.
But it’s missing one, extremely important distinction. One critical precept of the definition. So many people miss this and it’s fundamental. Watch Time is not about how long people spend watching your video. It’s about how long people spend watching other videos, after they’ve watched yours. That’s right. Your video’s engagement only matters to the extent that it gets people in the mood to watch more content.
Don’t believe me? Read more about when YouTube announced this! It’s also defined in the YouTube Playbook like so:
YouTube optimizes search and discovery for videos that increase watch time on the site.
How could YouTube judge me based on something the users do after they watch my video? It would seem like you have no way of controlling what people do after watching your content. But that’s not true! Think about this from a psychological perspective. Your job is to engage viewers. If you’re successful at that, you should be able to increase watch time on the entire site of YouTube.
How? Firstly, you can just make “binge-worthy” content that hypnotizes people into watching subsequent videos in your series. Make sure you’ve got never-ending “rising conflict” to keep people hooked and subscribed. Or you can make videos that are incredibly effective at framing or promoting other videos that aren’t yours. In that way, you can actually boost watch time by simply being an outrageous curator.
You can also avoid things that are apt to get people out of the content-consuming mood.
- For instance, don’t drive people off YouTube… it’s unlikely that they’ll come back. Don’t tell people to search, donate to your Patreon or go to your own .com.
- And don’t make extremely short videos because it just opens more opportunities for people to get distracted. Short-attention-span content begets short attention spans — flakey users who will leave YouTube.com.
- Another common misstep: pushing commenting and “liking” and sharing at the end of a video. In my experience, those actions are very low weight to the YT algorithm compared to watching more content. Asking people to be contribute in the comments or respond to a prompt will kick them out of consumption mode and into productivity mode.
Of course, there are reasons to break all of these rules in the name of your business model or goals… but you have to be aware of how they’re impacting watch time.
Reframe how you think about engagement and it might inspire you to address watch time in completely new ways. Remember this common misconception and you’ll have a secret edge compared to Creators who have no clue.