Lets begin by defining what "watch time" actually is. According to YouTube, watch time is: "The amount of time that a viewer has watched a video. This gives you a sense of what content viewers actually watch (as opposed to videos that they click on and then abandon)." Now why is watch time so important? Because YouTube uses it as part of its algorithm for suggesting videos (in terms of rankings).
According to Margin Media, in the past, the algorithm YouTube used for ranking videos in search results was based off how many views a video had. However, that is no longer the case. YouTube now gives priority to videos that will lead to longer watch times, versus videos that get more clicks. So what does this mean for you? It is imperative you now optimize your videos for watch time to increase your chances of ranking well, and this is how you can achieve that:
Create Quality Content
This is a no-brainer, but it still needs to be said. YouTube is full of average content. Don't produce content that adds to that never-ending library. This stat is pretty mind blowing - every minute, there are 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube. That tells you how fierce the competition is for watch time, so if you aren't producing quality content, scratch that, EPIC content, why bother at all? The old adage, "content is king", doesn't just apply to written content, such as blogs or articles, it applies to videos, too. So your goal when producing content for YouTube should be to put yourself in the shoes of your viewers and think "what would make me want to stick around and watch this entire video?"
It doesn't matter what your interests are - it matters what the interests of your target audience are, so always design your content for them, and ensure they will find it both relevant and engaging, otherwise your watch time is going to suffer dearly. If you aren't delivering value to your viewers on YouTube, your time is best spent on other marketing activities that are going to produce better results. You want content that is going to teach your viewers something, content that is so great they won't think twice about wanting to share it with their friends and family. The kind of content that stands out from the crowd that is going to boost your watch time and ultimately help boost your rankings in whatever niche you're targeting.
Maximize On The First 15 Seconds
If you don't capture your viewers attention right off the bat, they are going to lose interest in what you have to say pretty quickly. High bounce rates are bad for business, and will drive your watch time down big time. According to Your Social Voice, on average, the first 30% of videos do a subpar job at capturing the attention of viewers, and that is not a statistic you want your video to fall into. The first 15 seconds of your video need to be engaging, interesting, to the point, and inform your viewers of what they can expect from the rest of your video.
This isn't the time for long-winded introductions (short and sweet is the best rule of thumb to follow), to talk about yourself, all of your accomplishments, or your business in detail (keep the branding at the end of the video if it's going to be more than a few seconds long). Remember this video is for your viewers, and if it doesn't provide value to them, they will have zero interest in it, so you need to stick with that mindset with every video you make. All of your videos should maintain the same overall message and tone of your channel for consistency. If you can hook your audience within the first 15 seconds, your watch time is going to benefit.
Have Relevant Titles & Thumbnails That Aren't Misleading
When people are searching for videos on YouTube, the first thing they are going to see for any video is the title and thumbnail. So it is critical both are relevant and compelling, otherwise what reason do people have to click on your video, versus all of your extremely fierce competition? You need something that is going to entice them, something that is going to pull them in, but also something that isn't misleading at the same time. The absolute worst thing you can do is trick people into watching your YouTube videos. A high click rate means nothing if you also have a high bounce rate to go with it, especially considering you are likely to be reported by the viewer for misleading content.
Consider this fact - there are 1 billion mobile video views on YouTube every single day, with the average time per mobile session spanning a whopping 40 minutes. So the thumbnail you choose for your video should be responsive on both desktop and mobile devices to ensure you're capturing as much of that mobile traffic as possible. In addition to having a relevant and compelling title and an engaging thumbnail, don't forget to write a description, which will be displayed directly underneath your video in search results. Here is a good example from Margin Media of titles and thumbnails that match up perfectly with the actual content of the videos:
Keep A Close Eye On Your Analytics
You need to keep a close eye on the Audience Retention report for every video you upload to your YouTube channel. This will enable you to see if there are any trends as to what point of time your audience is dropping off from the videos you are uploading so you can make adjustments as necessary, versus operating in the blind, so to speak. You can access the Audience Retention report by logging into your YouTube account, selecting your account in the top right and clicking on Creator Studio, then on the left selecting Analytics then Audience Retention. To view the Audience Retention report for individual videos you have uploaded, simply click on the name of the video then play the video to see how different parts are performing. For more information on this report, visit: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/1715160?hl=en.
In the below example of an Audience Retention report from Vidooly, you can see most of the audience is dropping off between 0 and 45 seconds and at around the 3 minute 44 second mark.
So what does all of this mean? As discussed above, if you have a misleading title and/or thumbnail, you are going to have a high bounce rate, and that appears to be exactly what is happening with this video. People click on this video expecting one thing, find out the video has nothing to do with that topic, and quickly leave the video. That is why it is absolutely critical you do not mislead your viewers. The second issue is people are losing interest in the video as it goes on. It is good that people are sticking around and watching the video, but with the goal here being to extend your watch time, Vidooly suggests adding an annotation to a related video or another playlist of your channel.
Use Long-Tail Keywords To Help You Create Content
One way to help drive more traffic to your videos (and increase your watch time if you are putting the other tips into action at the same time) instead of your competitors is by targeting long-tail YouTube keywords. While there are many possible avenues for identifying long-tail keywords to use for your content, one of the rather easy ways is to use YouTube itself. In the below example, we typed "facebook marketing" into the search bar, and got some valuable long-tail keyword ideas from YouTube we could use for content. This enables us to create more targeted content, as opposed to simply creating content with the keyword "facebook marketing", which is going to have much more competition, and reduce our chances of coming up in the search rankings.
Keep in mind you are not just getting random suggestions on long-tail keywords from YouTube. These are video topics based on what viewers are actually interested in, and will assist with your videos being found and seen. In addition to creating content based off long-tail keywords as a means of increasing your watch time, you can also check out what kind of content your competition is producing, and mainly what keywords they are using, to use in the future for your own content.