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YouTube recently revealed new ways to see what search queries are leading viewers to videos, including both videos on your own channel and across the wider YouTube audience through an experimental new feature called Search Insights.

Additionally, Search Insights can help creators identify content gaps where users aren’t finding content ideal for their searches, to plan your future content around.

What Is YouTube Search Insights?

As detailed on the YouTube Creator’s Insider channel last week, YouTube Search Insights allows users to explore search data across the platform from the past 28 days, provided there is enough data.

The feature is split across two tabs. The first tab focuses on your channel and how users find your content, while the second shows keyword data from thousands of topics on the platform.

Along with the expected query data, such as search volume and high volume search topics, YouTube is also experimenting with identifying “content gaps”. This is when a viewer can’t find the content they were looking for with a query.

Do You Have Access?

As an ongoing test, YouTube has not opened these new features to all users. 

To see if you have access to Search Insights, first, log into YouTube Studio and select “Analytics” from the menu on the left.

Within the Analytics tab, look for a section called “Research”. If you have access to Search Insights, you will then see three tabs: “Your viewers’ searches”, “searchers across YouTube”, and “saved searches.”

While the new feature is in its early stages, YouTube says it will have more information in the future when it expands access to more users or you can watch the full announcement below:

In the past, YouTube and its parent company, Google, have played very coy when it comes to its search and recommendation algorithms. Instead of explaining how it choose which videos to suggest, the video platform has preferred to simply offer tips for increasing a channel’s visibility.

Now, the company’s VP of Engineering is opening up, with what is likely the most in-depth explanation of how the company chooses and ranks which videos appear on users’ home screens. 

In a blog post and corresponding video Q&A,  Cristos Goodrow aims to provide specific answers about what signals matter, which don’t, and how the YouTube recommendation system works under the hood:

“We want these systems to be publicly understood, so let me explain how they work, how they’ve evolved, and why we’ve made delivering responsible recommendations our top priority.”

The Goal of YouTube Recommendations

First and foremost, Cristos lays out that the company recognizes the immense influence of its recommendation algorithm and works intensely to deliver videos that will make each viewer satisfied across their huge range of tastes and interests.

As Goodrow says, “there’s an audience for almost every video, and the job of our recommendation system is to find that audience.”

How Watchtime and Retention Affect Recommendations

Both overall video watchtime and retention rates are widely believed to factor into how likely a channel’s videos are to be included in users’ recommendations. What is much less clear, is whether raw viewing times or retention rates matter more. 

Unfortunately, Goodrow can’t provide much clarification here because the answer varies on a case-by-case basis. 

He explains that YouTube’s data generally shows that viewers who stick around for a greater percentage of a video are more likely to be satisfied. However, this is not the case for every type of video. 

For example, some types of videos tend to have lower retention rates but are still able to provide viewers with the information they are seeking. 

Additionally, the algorithm considers users’ viewing habits when deciding how to rank videos. How much weight it puts into a video’s watchtime and retention varies entirely based on which factor the algorithm believes is most important to each user.

Why Getting Recommended Takes Time

Newer creators often express frustration regarding how difficult it can seem to be to make it into recommendations. In many cases, it can take months before any of a channel’s videos start getting recommended. Even worse, the videos that get recommended may be months old at this point, making them potentially outdated or irrelevant. 

According to Goodrow, though, this is not intended to occur. YouTube’s recommendation system ideally will start surfacing videos immediately after they are uploaded to ensure the best performance. 

Where this breaks down is in trying to understand and recommend videos from new channels.

Without signals from users, YouTube doesn’t always understand exactly who a channel or video is relevant for. In this case, it may take longer for the system to start recommending the channel’s videos while it gathers more information.

Why Big Channels Dominate The Recommended Feed

Another point of contention for many YouTube users is that the recommended feed seems to favor larger, more established creators who are already well known. Instead, many say they want to see more content from new channels they have never heard of before.

Unfortunately, this problem is a result of the same issues driving the problem detailed above. 

Without information from users about the quality or value of a channel’s videos, it is hard for YouTube to accurately recommend the channel and its content for users. 

Because of this, driving user engagement through likes, subscribes, and comments is crucial for helping smaller channels be included in the recommendations. 


The full blog post and video from Cristos Goodrow go into much, much more detail about YouTube’s recommendation systems and how it selects which videos to highlight. If your brand is using the platform to connect with new audiences, build a loyal following, or drive sales, I strongly encourage checking them out for more when you have the time.

YouTube has created an entirely new type of search results which makes it easier to find videos when browsing using hashtags. 

This isn’t YouTube’s first take at using hashtags to find new videos. The company introduced the feature way over two years ago and has been trying to integrate the feature into its main feed. 

Unfortunately, the result has always been pretty hit or miss because the search results would also include videos which didn’t include the hashtag. 

Now, YouTube has updated the feature with dedicated search results pages for hashtags, which only contain media tagged with those specific hashtags. 

For example, here’s a version of the #SEO search results captured by Matt Southern over at Search Engine Journal:

Along with directly typing the hashtag into search results, users can also click hashtags included in videos to continue browsing the related topic. 

Use Hashtags To Find Your Niche

One aspect of this which can be very helpful to businesses and marketers is the prominent count of how often a particular hashtag has been used. Along with the total number of videos including the hashtag, you can also see how many channels have published videos on that topic. 

That means you can easily gauge how competitive a hashtag’s search results might be and scope out tags which haven’t been overdone. 

This means you can cut out the competition and become the prime source for discussion, news, and products or services related to your niche.

Why Does YouTube Use Hashtags?

Since their introduction, hashtags have been a bit of a curiosity on YouTube. On other social networks, hashtags are typically used to find the latest content relating to popular or trending topics. The nature of YouTube content, however, makes this a harder sell.

With this in mind, YouTube is still struggling to cement exactly why users should opt for using hashtags over more defined search terms when searching the site. 

Still, the revamped search results pages are a step in the right direction, creating a more central hub for videos on the topics you are interested in.

Search engine algorithms are tightly protected, with most of what we know pieced together through data. Google, YouTube, Bing, and Facebook prefer to keep as little publicly known as possible, to prevent people from “gaming” the algorithm to leapfrog to the top of the results. 

This week, however, YouTube revealed quite a bit about its video recommendation algorithm in a Q&A, including how a few signals directly impact rankings. 

Below, we’ve collected a few of the best questions asked in the Q&A, as well as the responses from YouTube’s team responsible for maintaining the YouTube recommendation algorithm.

Underperforming Videos

Many believe that having even one or two underperforming videos can hurt your channel overall. Is it true that a few poor videos can affect your future videos’ performance?

YouTube recognizes that not every video is going to be a smash hit. In fact, they regularly see that some channels have videos that perform very well, while others fail to hit the mark. 

This is why YouTube focuses more on how people are responding to a given video, rather than past video performance. 

As the team says, the recommendation algorithm will always “follow the audience”.

Too Many Uploads

Is there a point where a creator can be uploading too many videos? Can having a large number of uploads in a day hurt your chances of being recommended?

The simple answer here is no. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm does not directly punish channels for uploading too many videos in a day. 

In fact, there are channels which benefit from uploading numerous videos in a series at once. 

What it comes down to is how many videos your viewers are willing to watch at once. 

The recommendation algorithm will continue to recommend your videos to viewers so long as they continue to watch. 

However, if you begin to lose viewers with each successive upload, it may be a sign that your audience is at their limit. 

While there is no limit to how many videos YouTube will recommend from your channel, there is a limit to how many notifications viewers will receive in a given day. Viewers can receive up to three notifications for new videos from a single channel in a 24 hour period. 

Inactive Subscribers

After a few years, channels can develop a significant number of inactive subscribers. Can these hurt your channel, and would it be beneficial to start a new channel to reduce these numbers?

YouTube knows that there are many reasons subscribers can become inactive. Because of this, they do not factor in inactive subscribers when recommending videos. 

With this in mind, there is no real value to starting a new channel to reduce inactive subscribers or reconnect with lost viewers. 

The only reason you should consider starting a new channel is if you decide to go in a different direction with your content.

External Traffic

Does external traffic help your channel?

External traffic is absolutely a factor that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm considers and can help your videos get recommended. 

However, there are limits.

While external traffic will help your video get recommended to viewers, it has to continue to perform well to continue being shown. 

To continue being recommended, viewers have to not only click on your video but respond well to the content. 

Does this mean it will hurt my video if I’m getting lots of traffic from external websites and it is dragging down my click-through-rates and average view durations?

This is actually a common phenomenon so YouTube will not punish your video if the average view duration drops when receiving large amounts of external traffic. 

What really matters is how people respond after clicking on your video in their recommendations.

To hear the YouTube recommendation team answer these questions in more detail, watch the full video below: