YouTube is a staple in the global cultural landscape — parents use it to keep their kids occupied, students use it to learn, and millions use it for entertainment, information, and everything in between.
But one thing that is often a mystery is discovery. How does the YouTube algorithm actually work? How do people get the content they do? Why does certain content go viral seemingly overnight?
The platform is essentially a massive search engine, but more often than not, its users are watching YouTube’s recommendations and not much else. The more people watch something, the more it seems to be recommended until it are the lifeblood of social media algorithms. User behavior on the platform offers the most vital indicators of the content that will keep them on the platform. On YouTube, watch time, video views, likes, dislikes, and shares can all have a powerful impact on what kind of content they’ll see more of.
2. Direct feedback
Rather than relying only on behavior cues, YouTube gives users a fair bit of control over their algorithm. Clicking on the three vertical dots just below a video will offer plenty of options for users that will impact the kind of content that appears in their feed.
Choosing options like Add to queue, Save to Watch later, Share, and so on effectively tells the algorithm, “I like this, more, please.” In turn, YouTube will serve them content from more videos from that creator or videos from more channels like theirs.
The options below the line also send strong signals in the opposite direction. For example, I’ve noticed that choosing the Not interested option is so rigorous that I won’t see that creator or that type of content for a long while if I use it.
3. Feedback surveys
Occasionally, YouTube will prompt users to share their thoughts on a video with a quick feedback survey like the one below.
This can impact individual video performance and how much that video is surfaced in other feeds.