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YouTube Watch Time Requires Delicate Balance

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YouTube watch time

YouTube watch time is a critical measure in getting the best performance for search rankings and suggested videos.

Watch time is a measure in minutes for both individual videos and the video channel. YouTube favors high watch time numbers because it keeps visitors on the site longer. Visitors who are on the site longer view more ads.

YouTube makes money from that increase in viewership for both the videos and the ads that appear in them (and around them).

A YouTube publisher might feel tempted to take advantage of these facts and produce the longest videos possible to maximize total viewing minutes. In theory, it would maximize the revenut potential.

But that approach comes with a downside. At some point, many viewers leave the video before the end of it. The labor of producing the video is a cost. The payback or return on investment is critical.

YouTube analytics has a measure called “retention rate” that is a percentage of the total viewing time to the length of the video.

For example, if visitors watched on average two minutes of a video that is four minutes long, the retention rate is 50 percent. That’s two minutes divided by four minutes.

A 50 percent retention rate is a strong number. But it doesn’t mean a video publisher should produce only four-minute videos with the hope of always getting a 50 percent retention rate.

It makes more sense for a publisher to produce the highest-quality video over the maximum amount of time that is consistent with high quality.


Back to Total Viewing Time

Now it’s back to total viewing time. A publisher may next try to produce a video that is 10 minutes long for the sake of increasing revenue (if they qualify for YouTube’s restrictive ad program) and total viewing time.

Imagine the retention rate on this video is only 30 percent compared to the previous videos at 50 percent. But total viewing time for this new video is an average of three minutes rather than two (three minutes divided by 10 minutes).

YouTube likely responds with more favor to this new video because it keeps visitors on the site more and creates more opportunities to display ads.

A delighted publisher then creates a 30-minute video. The retention rate declines to 10 percent or an average of three minutes — the same as the 10-minute video.

The labor that went into producing an extra 20 minutes on this next video is wasted. It didn’t increase total viewing time. More than likely, it didn’t increase revenue either.

A producer who creates a series of videos in similar topics will eventually discover that sweet spot among labor, retention rate and total viewing minutes.

Metrics will lead the way. Practice makes perfect.

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