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20 Tips and Best Practices

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20 Tips and Best Practices

Most people choose WordPress as their website’s CMS because it’s easy to use and SEO friendly out of the box. 

Both of these things are true, but it’s important to remember that WordPress is just a content management system (CMS). So the mere fact that you’re using WordPress isn’t enough to rank on search engines.

Luckily, WordPress makes it super easy to implement many SEO best practices.

In this guide, we’ll cover 20 SEO best practices, share tips to help you rank higher, and explain how to implement them on your WordPress website.

Here are the practices that made the list:

  1. Check search engine visibility settings
  2. Set preferred domain
  3. Set up permalinks
  4. Require manual approval for blog comments
  5. Install an SEO-friendly theme
  6. Install an all-in-one SEO plugin
  7. Make sure to generate a sitemap
  8. Exclude low-value content from indexing
  9. Install Ahrefs’ SEO plugin
  10. Write a “clickworthy” title
  11. Set an SEO-friendly URL slug
  12. Use headers to create hierarchy
  13. Internally link to relevant content
  14. Add alt text to images
  15. Write a compelling title tag
  16. Write a compelling meta description
  17. Nest pages in subfolders
  18. Install WP Rocket
  19. Minify code
  20. Install ShortPixel

1. Check your search engine visibility settings

There’s a checkbox in WordPress that, if checked, is effectively an SEO death sentence for your website because it prevents Google from indexing your pages. And if Google can’t index your pages, they can’t rank.

You’ll find this under Settings > Reading > Search engine visibility:

Search engine visibility in WordPress

Make sure this is unchecked if you want to stand any chance of ranking whatsoever.

Google looks at domain.com and www.domain.com separately, so it’s important to choose a preferred version for your site. You can do this under Settings > General. Just set the WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) to your preferred version.

Preferred domain in WordPress

For a new website, it doesn’t really matter which version you choose. But if your pages are accessible at both URL versions, your best bet is to use the version with the most backlinks.

To see which version this is, plug them both into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis tool and check their referring domains.

For us, it’s clearly the non-www version:

Referring domains to preferred domain in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

The beauty of WordPress is it automatically redirects the other version to the preferred version so that search engines and visitors can only access your site at the preferred domain.

WARNING

Changing the preferred version can cause technical issues if your site has already been up and running for a while. If you’ve any concerns, it’s worth enlisting the help of a developer to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Permalinks are basically the URL format for your posts and pages, and the “post name” option tends to be the most SEO-friendly because it helps:

  1. Make it immediately obvious what the page is about.
  2. Keep URLs short, which can prevent them from truncating in the search results.

However, if you’re already using a different permalink structure, then changing it can lead to broken pages. So if you make a change, you’ll want to crawl your website with a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Audit after the fact to check for 4XX errors:

4XX errors in Ahrefs' Site Audit

If there are any, you’ll want to use a WordPress plugin like Redirection to redirect the old URLs to the new ones.

4. Require manual approval for blog comments

Spammy blog comments are unlikely to cause penalties or any drastic SEO issues because they’re pretty much always nofollowed. But according to Google, they can still cause some SEO issues for a few reasons.

Luckily, WordPress makes it really easy to solve this issue once and for all by offering users the option to set all blog comments to require manual approval.

You can do this in Settings > Discussion > Comment must be manually approved:

Blog comment approval in WordPress

5. Install an SEO-friendly theme

Pretty much all WordPress themes are responsive and mobile-friendly these days, so there’s not much to worry about there. What you really need to check when choosing a theme is its performance.

If the theme is bloated with unnecessary code and features, it’ll slow your website down. And that’s not good, given that page speed has been a Google ranking factor for over a decade.

So when choosing a theme, it’s worth reading through the description to see what’s included. If there’s a bunch of features you won’t use, it may not be the best choice for you.

You can also run the theme demo through PageSpeed Insights for a better sense of its performance.

WordPress theme in PageSpeed Insights

If you already have a theme and its performance isn’t great, give tips #18–20 a shot and hire a developer to optimize it if it’s still slow.

6. Install an all-in-one SEO plugin

Extend the SEO functionality of WordPress and make it easier to optimize aspects of your site with an all-in-one SEO plugin. We use Yoast SEO, but there are plenty of other alternatives.

To install it, go to Plugins > Add New > Search for “Yoast SEO” > Click Activate > Click Install:

Installing Yoast SEO for WordPress

Most of the settings will be good out of the box, but we’ll adjust a few of them as we go.

7. Make sure to generate a sitemap

Sitemaps list the important posts and pages on your site to help search engines discover them. Yoast SEO creates a sitemap for you, but you need to make sure the option is turned on.

To do that, go to SEO > General > Features > Toggle “XML sitemaps” on:

XML sitemaps toggle in Yoast SEO

8. Exclude low-value content from indexing

You should only allow Google to index pages that offer value to searchers. Tag pages and format-based archives rarely fall into this category, so it’s generally best practice to exclude them from indexing.

To do that, go to SEO > Search Appearance > Taxonomies > Toggle “Show Tags in search results?” off:

Excluding tag pages from indexing in WordPress using Yoast SEO

Do the same for format-based archives too.

9. Install Ahrefs’ SEO plugin

Our free WordPress SEO plugin audits and monitors content performance and gives recommendations on how to improve it.

For example, if the plugin spots that one of your pages is no longer ranking in the top three for its target keyword, it’ll tag it as “No longer well-performing” and give a personalized recommendation on how to improve based on your settings:

Ahrefs' SEO Plugin

Here, it recommends that we update a post that no longer ranks. If we hit the suggestion caret, it gives advice on how to do that:

Content recommendations in Ahrefs' SEO WordPress plugin

Recommendation

The next eight tips are content-related. Keep them in mind when adding posts and pages to your WordPress website.

10. Write a “clickworthy” title

Every page and post in WordPress needs a title, which you set here:

Clickworthy title in WordPress

This title usually gets shown elsewhere on your WordPress website. For example, the title for this post shows up on our blog archive page:

Example of a blog post title

For that reason, it’s important that your title entices visitors to click through to your page while accurately describing what the page is about. In other words, the title should be clickworthy but not clickbait.

If you’re struggling to write something that fits the bill, take inspiration from the SERP titles of the top-ranking pages for your target keyword, as these are often the same or similar to the page title. You can do that in Google, but it’s better to use our free SERP checker for more accurate, non-personalized results:

Ahrefs' free SERP checker

For example, you can see above that many of the pages ranking for “SEO tips” talk about boosting traffic or rankings in their SERP titles. So this is probably a good angle for a clickworthy title for this topic.

11. Set an SEO-friendly URL slug

By default, WordPress sets the URL to the full title of the post or page. This is rarely ideal because it’s usually long, and long URLs tend to get truncated in the search results.

For a more SEO-friendly URL, click “Edit,” enter your primary keyword (or a close variation), and replace the spaces with dashes.

URL slug in WordPress

12. Use headers to create hierarchy

Headers create structure and help visitors and search engines to better understand the hierarchy of your content.

In WordPress, you can use the WYSIWYG editor to quickly and easily add relevant headers. Just hit the “Paragraph” dropdown, and you’ll see six header options:

Heading tags in WordPress

Sidenote.

If you’re using WordPress’ block editor, things will look slightly different. You’ll need to click to add a “Heading” block instead. 

As most WordPress themes use the post title as the first header (H1), it’s best practice to use H2-H6 in the content itself.

13. Internally link to relevant content

Internal links point to other pages and posts on your website. They’re important for SEO because they help:

  1. Keep visitors on your site.
  2. Boost the “authority” of your other content and rank the content higher.

You can add internal links to posts and pages in WordPress using the WYSIWYG editor. Just highlight the text you want to use as the anchor, hit the “Insert/edit link” button, and paste in the URL of another page or post on your website.

Adding internal link in WordPress

Sidenote.

Again, things may look a bit different if you’re using the block editor, but the process is pretty much the same. 

If you’re not sure if and where to add internal links, sign up for a free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) account, run a crawl in Site Audit, then go to the Link opportunities report to see relevant internal link suggestions:

Internal link suggestions in Ahrefs' Site Audit

For example, you can see above that it recommends we internally link the phrase “link building tactics” in our guide to bad links to our list of link building strategies.

14. Add alt text to images

Alt text is important because it:

  1. Tells Google what images are about, which may help them rank higher on Google Images.
  2. Improves accessibility for visually impaired visitors using screen readers.
  3. Replaces the broken image on the page if the image breaks.

To add alt text in WordPress, fill in the “alt text” field when uploading an image:

Adding alt text to images in WordPress

Sidenote.

Once again, things may look slightly different in the block editor, but there’s still an “alt text” field. 

Just try to keep it short and sweet while being descriptive.

Recommended reading: Alt Text for SEO: How to Optimize Your Images

15. Write a compelling title tag

Google usually uses your title tag for the snippet in the search results.

Yoast sets your title tag to your post or page title by default. This is often fine, as you should have already crafted an enticing post title. But sometimes it’s too long, so it’s worth pasting in the full title manually to make sure it’s not likely to truncate.

If it gets highlighted green, you’re all set. If it gets highlighted red, it’s too long.

Adding title tag in WordPress using Yoast SEO

You can usually solve the issue of a lengthy title tag by removing any superfluous information. Easy ways to do this include:

  • Removing information in brackets.
  • Removing unnecessary words.
  • Rephrasing.

16. Write a compelling meta description

Meta descriptions aren’t a direct Google ranking factor, but Google often uses them for the search result snippet.

For that reason, it’s important to write a compelling meta description that supports your title and further entices people to click.

Here are a few tips for doing that:

  • Double down on search intent
  • Use an active voice
  • Keep it under 120 characters

Recommended reading: How to Write the Perfect Meta Description

17. Nest pages in subfolders

Assuming that you set your permalink structure to post name, your page and post URLs will look like this:

domain.com/post-name
domain.com/page-name

But with pages, you can create them with different levels using subfolders.

For example, let’s say you’re a digital marketing agency offering three different services: SEO, PPC, and social media marketing.

Here’s the best way to structure that:

  1. Create a “Services” landing page that lists the services you provide
  2. Create individual pages for each service you offer
  3. Link to each service page from your “Services” page

Here’s what your URL structure will look like by default:

domain.com/services/
domain.com/seo/
domain.com/ppc/
domain.com/social-media-marketing/

That looks OK. But it is better to nest the individual service pages under the “/services/” subfolder like this:

domain.com/services/
domain.com/services/seo/
domain.com/services/ppc/
domain.com/services/social-media-marketing/

That’s easy to do in WordPress. Just use the “Parent” dropdown on the page editor and choose the “Services” page.

Nesting pages in WordPress

Recommendation

The next three tactics are about page speed. Use these to speed up your website and improve its performance. Note that we haven’t covered every optimization you can make here, as page speed is a complex topic. So if you want to delve deeper into this side of things, read our full guide to speeding up your WordPress website.

WP Rocket describes itself as a web performance plugin that boosts your page speed. The beauty of the plugin is that it makes a bunch of useful optimizations out of the box, including browser and server caching.

Here’s what caching does in a nutshell:

  • Browser caching – Saves common files on visitors’ hard drives so they don’t have to keep re-downloading them on repeat visits.
  • Server caching – Saves static versions of your webpages on your server so they’re ready and waiting whenever a visitor requests them.

This is not a free plugin but, in my opinion, it’s well worth the $49 price tag if you have the budget. If you’re looking for a free plugin that does something similar in terms of caching, try one of the many other caching plugins available.

Minification removes unnecessary white space from your code to reduce file sizes.

Minified vs un-minified code

It’s simple enough to enable minification if you’re using WP Rocket. Just head to the File Optimization settings and check the options to “Minify CSS files” and “Minify JavaScript files.”

Minification in WP Rocket

If you’re not using WP Rocket, give Autoptimize a shot (it’s free).

warning

Enabling minification can lead to features breaking in some instances. So it’s always best to test how this affects your website in a staging environment before deploying live.

ShortPixel automatically compresses and optimizes the images you upload to WordPress. This makes the image files smaller, reduces strain on your server, and makes things load faster for your visitors.

To get started, install the plugin, activate it, then enter your API key in the settings.

Note that ShortPixel is a freemium plugin. So if you’re compressing more than 100 images per month, you’ll need to buy some credits or sign up for a paid plan. This only costs a few dollars and is well worth the money, in my opinion.

If you do have the budget for a paid plan, it’s also worth hitting the option to bulk optimize the images already uploaded to WordPress.

Resizing images using ShortPixel

Final thoughts

WordPress is flexible, easy to use, and provides a good base for SEO. But it can only get you so far because it’s just a CMS. If you’re serious about ranking on Google, there are a few more things you’ll need to do.

Ready for better rankings? Read our step-by-step guide to ranking high on Google.

Got questions about WordPress SEO? Ping me on Twitter.




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Google’s Web Crawler Fakes Being “Idle” To Render JavaScript

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Google's Web Crawler Fakes Being "Idle" To Render JavaScript

In a recent episode of the Search Off The Record podcast, it was revealed that Google’s rendering system now pretends to be “idle” to trigger certain JavaScript events and improve webpage rendering.

The podcast features Zoe Clifford from Google’s rendering team, who discussed how the company’s web crawlers deal with JavaScript-based sites.

This revelation is insightful for web developers who use such methods to defer content loading.

Google’s “Idle” Trick

Googlebot simulates “idle” states during rendering, which triggers JavaScript events like requestIdleCallback.

Developers use this function to defer loading less critical content until the browser is free from other tasks.

Before this change, Google’s rendering process was so efficient that the browser was always active, causing some websites to fail to load important content.

Clifford explained:

“There was a certain popular video website which I won’t name…which deferred loading any of the page contents until after requestIdleCallback was fired.”

Since the browser was never idle, this event wouldn’t fire, preventing much of the page from loading properly.

Faking Idle Time To Improve Rendering

Google implemented a system where the browser pretends to be idle periodically, even when it’s busy rendering pages.

This tweak ensures that idle callbacks are triggered correctly, allowing pages to fully load their content for indexing.

Importance Of Error Handling

Clifford emphasized the importance of developers implementing graceful error handling in their JavaScript code.

Unhandled errors can lead to blank pages, redirects, or missing content, negatively impacting indexing.

She advised:

“If there is an error, I just try and handle it as gracefully as possible…web development is hard stuff.”

What Does This Mean?

Implications For Web Developers

  • Graceful Error Handling: Implementing graceful error handling ensures pages load as intended, even if certain code elements fail.
  • Cautious Use of Idle Callbacks: While Google has adapted to handle idle callbacks, be wary of over-relying on these functions.

Implications For SEO Professionals

  • Monitoring & Testing: Implement regular website monitoring and testing to identify rendering issues that may impact search visibility.
  • Developer Collaboration: Collaborate with your development team to create user-friendly and search engine-friendly websites.
  • Continuous Learning: Stay updated with the latest developments and best practices in how search engines handle JavaScript, render web pages, and evaluate content.

See also: Google Renders All Pages For Search, Including JavaScript-Heavy Sites

Other Rendering-Related Topics Discussed

The discussion also touched on other rendering-related topics, such as the challenges posed by user agent detection and the handling of JavaScript redirects.

The whole podcast provides valuable insights into web rendering and the steps Google takes to assess pages accurately.

See also: Google Renders All Pages For Search, Including JavaScript-Heavy Sites


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Google’s Indifference To Site Publishers Explained

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Google inadvertently reveals reasons that explain their seeming indifference to publishers hurt by algorithm updates

A publisher named Brandon Saltalamacchia interviewed Google’s SearchLiaison in which he offered hope that quality sites hit by Google’s algorithms may soon see their traffic levels bounce back. But that interview and a recent Google podcast reveal deeper issues that may explain why Google seems indifferent to publishers with every update.

Google Search Relations

Google has a team whose job is to communicate how site owners can do well on Google. So it’s not that Googlers themselves are indifferent to site publishers and creatives. Google provides a lot of feedback to publishers, especially through Google Search Console. The area in which Google is indifferent to publishers is directly in search at its most fundamental level.

Google’s algorithms are built on the premise that it has to provide a good user experience and is internally evaluated to that standard. This creates the situation where from Google’s perspective the algorithm is working the way it should. But from the perspective of website publishers Google’s ranking algorithms are failing. Putting a finger on why that’s happening is what this article is about.

Publishers Are Not Even An Afterthought To Google

The interview by Brandon Saltalamacchia comes against the background of many websites having lost traffic due to Google’s recent algorithm updates. From Google’s point of view their algorithms are working fine for users. But the steady feedback from website publishers is no, it’s not working. Google’s response for the past month is that they’re investigating how to improve.

What all of this reveals is that there is a real disconnect between how Google measures how their algorithms are working and how website publishers experience it in the real world. It may surprise most people to learn that that this disconnect begins with Google’s mission statement to make information “universally accessible and useful”  and ends with the rollout of an algorithm that is tested for metrics that take into account how users experience it but is 100% blind to how publishers experience it.

Some of the complaints about Google’s algorithms:

  • Ranking algorithms for reviews, travel and other topics are favoring big brands over smaller publishers.
  • Google’s decision to firehose traffic at Reddit contributes to the dismantling of the website publishing ecosystem.
  • AI Overviews summarizes web pages and deprives websites of search traffic.

The stated goal for Google’s algorithm decisions is to increase user satisfaction but the problem with that approach is that website publishers are left out of that equation.  Consider this: Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines says nothing about checking if big brands are dominating the search results. Zero.

Website publishers aren’t even an afterthought for Google. Publishers are not not considered at any stage of the creation, testing and rollout of ranking algorithms.

Google Historically Doesn’t Focus On Publishers

A remark by Gary Illyes in a recent Search Off The Record indicated that in Gary’s opinion Google is all about the user experience because if search is good for the user then that’ll trickle down to the publishers and will be good for them too.

In the context of Gary explaining whether Google will announce that something is broken in search, Gary emphasized that search relations is focused on the search users and not the publishers who may be suffering from whatever is broken.

John Mueller asked:

“So, is the focus more on what users would see or what site owners would see? Because, as a Search Relations team, we would focus more on site owners. But it sounds like you’re saying, for these issues, we would look at what users would experience.”

Gary Illyes answered:

“So it’s Search Relations, not Site Owners Relations, from Search perspective.”

Google’s Indifference To Publishers

Google’s focus on satisfying search users can in practice turn into indifference toward publishers.  If you read all the Google patents and research papers related to information retrieval (search technology) the one thing that becomes apparent is that the measure of success is always about the users. The impact to site publishers are consistently ignored. That’s why Google Search is perceived as indifferent to site publishers, because publishers have never been a part of the search satisfaction equation.

This is something that publishers and Google may not have wrapped their minds around just yet.

Later on, in the Search Off The Record  podcast, the Googlers specifically discuss how an update is deemed to be working well regardless if a (relatively) small amount of publishers are complaining that Google Search is broken, because what matters is if Google perceives that they are doing the right thing from Google’s perspective.

John said:

“…Sometimes we get feedback after big ranking updates, like core updates, where people are like, “Oh, everything is broken.”

At the 12:06 minute mark of the podcast Gary made light of that kind of feedback:

“Do we? We get feedback like that?”

Mueller responded:

“Well, yeah.”

Then Mueller completed his thought:

“I feel bad for them. I kind of understand that. I think those are the kind of situations where we would look at the examples and be like, “Oh, I see some sites are unhappy with this, but overall we’re doing the right thing from our perspective.”

And Gary responded:

“Right.”

And John asks:

“And then we wouldn’t see it as an issue, right?”

Gary affirmed that Google wouldn’t see it as an issue if a legit publisher loses traffic when overall the algorithm is working as they feel it should.

“Yeah.”

It is precisely that shrugging indifference that a website publisher, Brandon Saltalamacchia, is concerned about and discussed with SearchLiaison in a recent blog post.

Lots of Questions

SearchLiaison asked many questions about how Google could better support content creators, which is notable because Google has a long history of focusing on their user experience but seemingly not also considering what the impact on businesses with an online presence.

That’s a good sign from SearchLiaison but not entirely a surprise because unlike most Googlers, SearchLiaison (aka Danny Sullivan) has decades of experience as a publisher so he knows what it’s like on our side of the search box.

It will be interesting if SearchLiaison’s concern for publishers makes it back to Google in a more profound way so that there’s a better understanding that the Search Ecosystem is greater than Google’s users and encompasses website publishers, too. Algorithm updates should be about more than how they impact users, the updates should also be about how they impact publishers.

Hope For Sites That Lost Traffic

Perhaps the most important news from the interview is that SearchLiaison expressed that there may be changes coming over the next few months that will benefit the publishers who have lost rankings over the past few months of updates.

Brandon wrote:

“One main take away from my conversation with Danny is that he did say to hang on, to keep doing what we are doing and that he’s hopeful that those of us building great websites will see some signs of recovery over the coming months.”

Yet despite those promises from Danny, Brandon didn’t come away with hope.

Brandon wrote:

“I got the sense things won’t change fast, nor anytime soon. “

Read the entire interview:

A Brief Meeting With Google After The Apocalypse

Listen to the Search Off The Record Podcast

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

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20 Confirmed Facts About YouTube’s Algorithm

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20 Confirmed Facts About YouTube's Algorithm

Instead of counting the number of clicks or views a video gets, YouTube’s algorithms focus on ensuring viewers are happy with what they watch.

This article examines how YouTube’s algorithms work to help users find videos they like and keep them watching for longer.

We’ll explain how YouTube selects videos for different parts of its site, such as the home page and the “up next” suggestions.

We’ll also discuss what makes some videos appear more than others and how YouTube matches videos to each person’s interests.

By breaking this down, we hope to help marketers and YouTubers understand how to work better with YouTube’s system.

A summary of all facts is listed at the end.

Prioritizing Viewer Satisfaction

Early on, YouTube ranked videos based on watch time data, assuming longer view durations correlated with audience satisfaction.

However, they realized that total watch time alone was an incomplete measure, as viewers could still be left unsatisfied.

So, beginning in the early 2010s, YouTube prioritized viewer satisfaction metrics for ranking content across the site.

The algorithms consider signals like:

  • Survey responses directly asking viewers about their satisfaction with recommended videos.
  • Clicks on the “like,” “dislike,” or “not interested” buttons which indicate satisfaction.
  • Overall audience retention metrics like the percentage of videos viewed.
  • User behavior metrics, including what users have watched before (watch history) and what they watch after a video (watch next).

The recommendation algorithms continuously learn from user behavior patterns and explicit satisfaction inputs to identify the best videos to recommend.

How Videos Rank On The Homepage

The YouTube homepage curates and ranks a selection of videos a viewer will most likely watch.

The ranking factors include:

Performance Data

This covers metrics like click-through rates from impressions and average view duration. When shown on its homepages, YouTube uses these traditional viewer behavioral signals to gauge how compelling a video is for other viewers.

Personalized Relevance

Besides performance data, YouTube relies heavily on personalized relevance to customize the homepage feed for each viewer’s unique interests. This personalization is based on insights from their viewing history, subscriptions, and engagement patterns with specific topics or creators.

How YouTube Ranks Suggested Video Recommendations

The suggested videos column is designed to keep viewers engaged by identifying other videos relevant to what they’re currently watching and aligned with their interests.

The ranking factors include:

Video Co-Viewing

YouTube analyzes viewing patterns to understand which videos are frequently watched together or sequentially by the same audience segments. This allows them to recommend related content the viewer will likely watch next.

Topic/Category Matching

The algorithm looks for videos covering topics or categories similar to the video being watched currently to provide tightly relevant suggestions.

Personal Watch History

A viewer’s viewing patterns and history are a strong signal for suggesting videos they’ll likely want to watch again.

Channel Subscriptions

Videos from channels that viewers frequently watch and engage with are prioritized as suggestions to keep them connected to favored creators.

External Ranking Variables

YouTube has acknowledged the following external variables can impact video performance:

  • The overall popularity and competition level for different topics and content categories.
  • Shifting viewer behavior patterns and interest trends in what content they consume.
  • Seasonal effects can influence what types of videos people watch during different times of the year.

Being a small or emerging creator can also be a positive factor, as YouTube tries to get them discovered through recommendations.

The company says it closely monitors success rates for new creators and is working on further advancements like:

  • Leveraging advanced AI language models to better understand content topics and viewer interests.
  • Optimizing the discovery experience with improved layouts and content pathways to reduce “choice paralysis.”

Strategies For Creators

With viewer satisfaction as the overarching goal, this is how creators can maximize the potential of having their videos recommended:

  • Focus on creating content that drives high viewer satisfaction through strong audience retention, positive survey responses, likes/engagement, and low abandon rates.
  • Develop consistent series or sequel videos to increase chances of being suggested for related/sequence views.
  • Utilize playlists, end screens, and linked video prompts to connect your content for extended viewing sessions.
  • Explore creating content in newer formats, such as Shorts, live streams, or podcasts, that may align with changing viewer interests.
  • Monitor performance overall, specifically from your existing subscriber base as a baseline.
  • Don’t get discouraged by initial metrics. YouTube allows videos to continuously find relevant audience segments over time.
  • Pay attention to seasonality trends, competition, and evolving viewer interests, which can all impact recommendations.

In Summary – 20 Key Facts About YouTube’s Algorithm

  1. YouTube has multiple algorithms for different sections (homepage, suggested videos, search, etc.).
  2. The recommendation system powers the homepage and suggested video sections.
  3. The system pulls in videos that are relevant for each viewer.
  4. Maximizing viewer satisfaction is the top priority for rankings.
  5. YouTube uses survey responses, likes, dislikes, and “not interested” clicks to measure satisfaction.
  6. High audience retention percentages signal positive satisfaction.
  7. Homepage rankings combine performance data and personalized relevance.
  8. Performance is based on click-through rates and average view duration.
  9. Personalized relevance factors include watch history, interests, and subscriptions.
  10. Suggested videos prioritize content that is co-viewed by the same audiences.
  11. Videos from subscribed channels are prioritized for suggestions.
  12. Consistent series and sequential videos increase suggestions for related viewing.
  13. Playlists, end screens, and linked videos can extend viewing sessions.
  14. Creating engaging, satisfying content is the core strategy for recommendations.
  15. External factors like competition, trends, and seasonality impact recommendations.
  16. YouTube aims to help new/smaller creators get discovered through recommendations.
  17. AI language models are improving content understanding and personalization.
  18. YouTube optimizes the discovery experience to reduce “choice paralysis.”
  19. Videos can find audiences over time, even if initial metrics are discouraging.
  20. The algorithm focuses on delivering long-term, satisfying experiences for viewer retention.

Insight From Industry Experts

While putting together this article, I reached out to industry experts to ask about their take on YouTube’s algorithms and what’s currently working for them.

Greg Jarboe, the president and co-founder of SEO-PR and author of YouTube and Video Marketing, says:

“The goals of YouTube’s search and discovery system are twofold: to help viewers find the videos they want to watch, and to maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction. So, to optimize your videos for discovery, you should write optimized titles, tags, and descriptions. This has been true since July 2011, when the YouTube Creator Playbook became available to the public for the first time.

However, YouTube changed its algorithm in October 2012 – replacing ‘view count’ with ‘watch time.’ That’s why you need to go beyond optimizing your video’s metadata. You also need to keep viewers watching with a variety of techniques. For starters, you need to create a compelling opening to your videos and then use effective editing techniques to maintain and build interest through the video.

There are other ranking factors, of course, but these are the two most important ones. I’ve used these video SEO best practices to help the Travel Magazine channel increase from just 1,510 to 8.7 million views. And these video SEO techniques help the SonoSite channel grow from 99,529 views to 22.7 million views.

The biggest recent trend is the advent of YouTube Shorts, which is discoverable on the YouTube homepage (in the new Shorts shelf), as well as across other parts of the app. For more details, read “Can YouTube Shorts Be Monetized? Spoiler Alert: Some Already Are!

Brie E. Anderson, an SEO and digital marketing consultant, says:

“In my experience, there are a few things that are really critical when it comes to optimizing for YouTube, most of which won’t be much of a surprise. The first is obviously the keyword you choose to target. It’s really hard to beat out really large and high authority channels, much like it is on Google. That being said, using tools like TubeBuddy can help you get a sense of the keywords you can compete for.

Another big thing is focusing on the SERP for YouTube Search. Your thumbnail has to be attention-grabbing – this is honestly what we test the most and one of the most impactful tests we run. More times than not, you’re looking at a large face, and max four words. But the amount of contrast happening in the thumbnail and how well it explains the topic of the video is the main concern.

Also, adding the ‘chapters’ timestamps can be really helpful. YouTube actually shows these in the SERP, as mentioned in this article.

Lastly, providing your own .srt file with captions can really help YouTube understand what your video is about.

Aside from actual on-video optimizations, I usually encourage people to write blog posts and embed their videos or, at the very least, link to them. This just helps with indexing and building some authority. It also increases the chance that the video will help YOUR SITE rank (as opposed to YouTube).”

Sources: YouTube’s Creator Insider Channel (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), How YouTube Works

More resources: 


Featured Image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

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