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A Beginner’s Guide to SEO Reporting

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A Beginner's Guide to SEO Reporting

How can you prove to your boss, client, or other stakeholders that you’re not wasting your time with your SEO efforts? The best way is to share regular SEO reports with them that track the performance of your SEO campaign.

SEO reporting mixes insights, actions, data, strategy, and communication all into one document. It sounds like a lot to take in—but once you know the basics, you’ll be able to report on SEO in your sleep.

In this beginner’s article, I’ll cover the basics of reporting for SEO and show you what to include in your SEO reports.

So what makes a good SEO report?

In the past ten years, I’ve created and read many reports, and I’ve noticed one thing: the best SEO reports are data-led, actionable, and persuasive.

1. Data-led

Good SEO reports are grounded in high-quality data. You need to get as close to the “truth” as possible. The good news is that you can get all the information you need from three free tools.

2. Actionable

Reports need to lead to useful actions. Put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders—they’ll expect you to provide an action for every insight you discover.

Here are a few common examples:

Observation The question you should ask
Organic traffic is down How can we recover lost traffic?
Lost the number-one ranking for an important keyword How can we get our number-one ranking back?
There’s a technical issue that’s impacted performance this month What can we do to fix it?
Our content is not performing that well this month Can it be improved? Does it need a rewrite?

3. Persuasive

If you want to engage your boss or client in SEO, you must be persuasive in your SEO reporting.

Aristotle probably isn’t the first person you think can help you with SEO reporting, but an Aristotelian triangle is a good reminder of what to consider if you want to make your reports more persuasive. 1708361770 957 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting1708361770 957 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting

Lastly, use high modality language. It sounds complicated, but when you write your report, remember to use higher modality words like “would” and “will” instead of lower modality words like “could” and “might” when you think something is certain or likely.

For example:

1708361770 188 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting1708361770 188 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting
Original image source: https://cdn.teachstarter.com/fileserver/2021/02/Modality.jpg

If you’ve been asked to create a regular SEO report, it’s hard to know what to include if you haven’t made one before.

SEO reports can be presented in different formats: spreadsheets, dashboards, and Word documents, but usually, the most popular format is slides. Choose whatever format you think best suits your client or boss.

To start your report, break it down into sections and determine which parts are the most relevant to the website you’re reporting on.

Here are the most important things you should include in your report:

This is the first section I would have in my report, but it’s also the last one I write (it’s hard to summarize the key points of an entire report if you haven’t yet created it).

Executive summaries are designed for senior stakeholders who don’t have time to flick through a long report. They want to know the most important points. So you need to keep this section easy to understand.

In bullet points, an executive summary summarizes the key points from the entire report.

1708361770 828 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting1708361770 828 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting

Organic traffic and analytics data give a bird’s eye view of a website’s performance over time. This data is often visualized in a graph near the start of many SEO reports.

Most SEO reports visualize performance using GSC, GA, or Ahrefs’ Overview data. This data can be displayed as a screenshot or exported and turned into a chart.

1708361770 458 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting1708361770 458 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting

Here’s an example of comparing Google Search Console (GSC) clicks year over year (YoY). You can use GSC when reporting on a site you own or have access to the GSC profile.

Google-search-console-clicks-year-over-yearGoogle-search-console-clicks-year-over-year

And here’s another example of Site Explorer Overview showing YoY performance:

Year-over-year-organic-search-traffic-via-ahrefs-site-explorerYear-over-year-organic-search-traffic-via-ahrefs-site-explorer

If you can’t get access to GSC or GA, then Ahrefs can show your website’s SEO performance over time. This is useful for tracking competitors’ Organic traffic performance.

Sidenote.

You can access the report for free in AWT by clicking on your project in the Dashboard, scrolling down to Performance, and toggling the Years button.

The key point you want to communicate at this stage is the website’s total performance over time. Is the movement positive, negative, or somewhere in between? And, crucially, what does this mean for the website?

Next to the chart, provide a few lines of commentary on the performance.

For example:

  • Organic traffic is up 5.5% MoM but down 3% YoY
  • Organic traffic was higher than expected this month. This is due to {reason}
  • There was a Google algorithm update at {date} that impacted our organic search traffic

Once you’ve established the state of organic traffic, the next task is to dig into the keyword rankings to understand which keywords are driving the most traffic.

Clients or stakeholders rarely want to see all of the tracked keyword rankings for their site.

Usually, they want to see:

  • Winner and loser keywords from the time period – which keywords improved and which declined?
  • A keyword position spread – for example, XX keywords rank in positions 1-5, XX position rank in positions 6-10)

You can use various keyword tracking tools to do this, but you’ll need a tool like Rank Tracker to regularly track your keyword rankings.

Let’s see how we can include these elements in our report using Rank Tracker.

To find keywords that have improved:

  • Head to Position
  • Select Improved
Position-improved-keywords-via-ahrefs-rank-trackerPosition-improved-keywords-via-ahrefs-rank-tracker

To view loser keywords, repeat the process but select Declined.

Position-declined-keywords-via-ahrefs-rank-trackerPosition-declined-keywords-via-ahrefs-rank-tracker

Once you have exported the keywords, you can present them in a simple table and add a bullet point commentary. 1708361771 935 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting1708361771 935 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting

To see a keyword position spread, select a time period, then click on the Positions tab, and it will show how many keywords rank in each position.

Rank-tracker-dashboard-overviewRank-tracker-dashboard-overview

You can visualize this in a chart over time like below, or you can take a screenshot from Ahrefs and include it in your report. 1708361771 220 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting1708361771 220 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting

On the same dashboard, you can get the headline metrics like share of voice, average position, and SERP features.

If you’ve dabbled in SEO, you’ll know that links are a fairly big deal for SEO. So, how do you report on them in an SEO report?

SEO clients and stakeholders usually want to know two things:

  • The number of external links you acquired during the time period
  • The quality of those links

Luckily, Ahrefs’ Site Explorer can help you report on both elements.

But before we dive too much into the details, let’s see how we can get an overview of the last calendar month.

To do this:

  • Head to Calendar on the sidebar
  • Click on the Referring domains tab
  • Check Dofollow
  • Best links: Only
Overview-of-referring-domains-via-ahrefs-calendarOverview-of-referring-domains-via-ahrefs-calendar

You could include a screenshot of this heatmap in your report to provide a general overview of the last time period.

To find the number of links acquired from the last calendar period, do the following in Site Explorer:

  • Select Dofollow
  • Select New
  • Set the time period (I’ve used the last 30 days, but you can use a custom range to get the exact dates for the previous month)
Quantity-of-do-follow-links-via-ahrefs-site-explorerQuantity-of-do-follow-links-via-ahrefs-site-explorer

Once you’ve added these settings, you can see we’ve acquired 3,446 domains during this period.

If we want to highlight the quality of any of the links, we can do this in the report as well. Just scroll down to see all the domains.

Here’s an example of a high-quality link Ahrefs.com acquired during this period. It has a domain rating (DR) of 93. This is the type of link that would be worth sharing in an SEO report.

Example-of-high-authority-website-with-dr-93Example-of-high-authority-website-with-dr-93

Once we’ve shown this is an important link, the first question stakeholders might ask is, what is the Washington Post linking to on Ahrefs?

If we click on that link, we see they’re linking to our SEO basics article.

Showing-target-URL-via-ahrefs-site-explorerShowing-target-URL-via-ahrefs-site-explorer

This would be a valuable insight to share in the SEO report because it shows that this type of content is capable of earning high-quality links.

Business cases for creating new content can be hard at the best of times. By highlighting high-quality links in your SEO report, the value of content becomes more obvious to stakeholders, and they’ll be more inclined to increase investment in SEO.

As well as reporting on links you’ve acquired, it’s worthwhile to report on links you’ve lost.

Sometimes, you can lose links accidentally by making site changes. You can report on this using Ahrefs’ Broken backlinks report.

Filter-to-find-broken-backlinks-via-ahrefs-site-explorerFilter-to-find-broken-backlinks-via-ahrefs-site-explorer

We can see that Ahrefs has a broken backlink from Neil Patel… alas.

Broken-link-example-via-Ahrefs-site-explorerBroken-link-example-via-Ahrefs-site-explorer

Reporting on technical SEO is often harder than it looks. For SEOs, it’s easy to get lost in the details, but most stakeholders aren’t as interested in the details as you are and just want to know one thing: is their site in good technical health?

To answer this question, you can run a Site Audit crawl and check the website health score.

Tip

If you have access to Google Search Console, you can run a Site Audit for free on your website. Click here to get started.

Site Audit scores your website from 0-100 after the crawl based on its technical SEO health status. If the score is low, it means there are some technical issues to be fixed.

Ahrefs-site-audit-overviewAhrefs-site-audit-overview

As well as running a Site Audit crawl, you can check in GSC to see if there are any technical issues with page indexing or page experience (like core web vitals or HTTPs).

Usually, if everything is fine, there isn’t any need to report on it. Unless your stakeholder or client is technically focused, keeping the technical part of your report as concise as possible is best.

If you create content regularly, assessing its performance in your SEO reporting is important—otherwise, you won’t know whether you are wasting your time.

In my experience, when it comes to content, stakeholders want to know:

  • What the best-performing content was during the time period
  • What organic traffic it drives
  • What opportunities exist in the content space

For smaller content projects that have less than 1000 URLs, you can use Portfolios to track these keywords.

I use Portfolios myself to track the performance of my articles in Ahrefs.

Portfolios-overview-chris-haines-articles-ahrefsPortfolios-overview-chris-haines-articles-ahrefs

Once you’ve set up your Portfolio, head to the Top pages report and click on Compare pages. On this page, you can get a good visual screenshot to share in your report of content performance, or if you want, you can Export the data and chart it yourself in a spreadsheet.

content-top-pages-via-ahrefs-portfoliocontent-top-pages-via-ahrefs-portfolio

7. Competitors’ performance

In addition to reporting on your site’s performance, it can also help to report on your competitor’s performance.

This gives stakeholders a better understanding of the digital landscape they are operating in: who they’ll compete with in SERPs, and who they should look to for inspiration.

You can do this in 30 seconds by heading to Site Explorer and typing in your competitor in the search bar.

Then click on the Organic competitors report, and you’ll get an overview of the top competitors in your space.

Organic-competitors-via-ahrefs-site-explorerOrganic-competitors-via-ahrefs-site-explorer

If you want to add specific competitors, you can do so using the Custom tab.

Adding-a-custom-competitor-via-ahrefs-site-explorerAdding-a-custom-competitor-via-ahrefs-site-explorer

This report is helpful as it gives you a client-friendly visual representation of your competitors’ performance. But more importantly, it shows your competitors’ keywords and their overlap with your own site, helping you to make strategic SEO decisions to outrank them.

In the SEO report, I would screenshot the top half to include in my report and then export the data from the bottom half of the table to filter out the more detailed information that would interest the stakeholders.

Ahrefs makes it easy to find things to improve in its Opportunities report. This report can identify content, links, and technical opportunities in a single click.

Here’s an example of the content opportunities it can find:

Opportunities-report-overview-via-ahrefsOpportunities-report-overview-via-ahrefs
  • Low-hanging fruit keywords: shows keywords between positions 4-15 in Site Explorer that could be easy to rank for.
  • Featured snippets: shows keywords between positions 2-8 in Site Explorer where the target doesn’t rank for a featured snippet
  • Top suggestions from Content gap: shows keywords that the target’s top 10 competitors rank for, but the target doesn’t
  • Content with declining traffic: shows pages with declining traffic in the last six months that could do with an update
  • Pages only published once: shows old pages that have low traffic that might need an update

If you work through this report, it’s easy to spot opportunities for the website you’re reporting on that you can share with stakeholders.

Lastly, most SEO reports will share an update on the progress of their SEO campaign: the work that’s been completed so far, the next stages of the process, and the milestones you aim to hit.

The best way to do this is to share progress through an SEO roadmap Gantt chart showing your total SEO campaign.

Rather than messing around with a spreadsheet, I usually head to Canva and use one of their premade templates.

But if you want to go down the spreadsheet route, you can use our Google Sheets template.

1708361772 231 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting1708361772 231 A Beginners Guide to SEO Reporting

You can quickly adapt these templates for your purposes, giving stakeholders a good idea of what work has been done on the account and what is coming next.

Final thoughts

SEO reports are important as they act as your virtual paper trail, documenting your progress to the top of Google. Without them, it can be hard to prove all the work you’ve put in to get to the number one spot.

But for many clients, SEO is just one small ingredient in the marketing mix. They aren’t as interested in the minutiae of SEO as you are. So, if you want to win your clients over on the value of SEO, show them the opportunity, appeal to their emotions, and ground your decisions in industry-trusted data—like Ahrefs.

Got more questions? Ping me on X. 🙂



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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

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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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