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Kiera Abbamonte on June 19, 2019 (last modified on July 8, 2019) • 14 minute read
YouTube has its own set of analytics and KPIs that differ from other digital marketing channels. That can make it harder to get started with (and continuously improve) a solid video marketing strategy.
To help remedy that, we talked to 42 marketers about the YouTube KPIs they consider must-track metrics.
When we asked them to rank YouTube KPIs from most to least important, the responses skewed definitively toward engagement-type metrics like watch time and average percentage viewed.
But those aren’t the only metrics we heard about—marketers also highlighted several other lesser-known KPIs they use to measure YouTube performance. Without further ado, here are the 17 YouTube analytics our respondents say you should be tracking, too.
There was a definite consensus among the marketers we spoke to that Watch Time is a must-track KPI on YouTube—for a myriad of reasons.
Venkatesh C.R. of Dot Com Infoway explained one of those reasons: “There’s no denying that Views are an important metric but Views alone won’t give you enough information to make significant improvements to your YouTube videos.”
“You can have millions of views,” added Digital Brew’s Michael Cardwell, “but if your watch time doesn’t reflect the length of the video, you know that people aren’t engaging the way they should be.”
When it comes to gauging success, Alex Cascio of Vibrant Media Productions gave it to us straight, noting, “If you’re consistently putting out videos that have very low watch times, you need to do something different.” To combat low watch times, Rio Rocket of Rio Rocket SEO Services recommends taking a more story-based approach to your videos, explaining, “Storytelling and episodic structure is extremely important because it leads the viewer to the next video and encourages them to watch your videos in their entirety.”
The other key reason to monitor watch time had to do with YouTube’s algorithm. “If you have a higher watch time,” Mallory Bar of SyncShow concluded, “YouTube will elevate your video in the search results and recommendations section.”
“It’s one of the major ranking factors for Youtube SEO,” said Oz Chowdhury of Powerphrase. “It’s similar to Google’s SEO, where bounce rate and dwell time are determining factors for your organic rankings.”
Editor’s note: Need a better way to visualize YouTube video watch time and how it interacts with other key metrics? Download this free YouTube Watch Time Performance dashboard to view watch time over time, across devices, and more.
But wait: aren’t views more important than watch time? Sadi Khan of Run Repeat told us that isn’t the case. “Views are important,” Khan said, “but YouTube’s algorithm doesn’t give it much weight because it’s easy to get views with clickbait tactics. Watch time is a better indicator of the quality.”
Nivo Digital’s Aimee-Leigh Prince looks at it like a win-win. “The YouTube algorithm favors watch time over total views and you can identify areas of your video where your audience begins to lose interest.” At the end of the day, watch time is a valuable metric on all sides.
Morgan Bachemin of Online Optimism shared this tip to close out our discussion of watch time: “Since your watch time report provides the cumulative watch time of your videos, you can make that data work for you by grouping videos by their themes, lengths, and styles to see how this relates to their watch times.”
Seth Kravitz of PHLEARN commands a YouTube channel with 1.7 million subscribers, so we were anxious to hear Kravitz’s take on the most important KPI on the channel.
“Just looking at overall subscriber gains and losses, isn’t useful. That ends up being a vanity metric with little helpful data in it,” Kravitz told us. “You need to know what videos are bringing new subscribers in and then try to break down the reasons why that video worked.”
Similar to search engines and keywords, YouTube’s algorithm ranks videos based on tags, and as Kristeen Romero of Oxygen puts it, “Countless brand videos suffer from bad tagging, and they can’t take advantage of lucrative long-tail queries on YouTube as a result.”
As for how to track your video rankings, Romero recommends using a handful of tools in conjunction: “Tracking your rankings via TubeBuddy or VidIQ, pairing that with their keyword research tools, and using YouTube’s own Creator Studio will give you a better picture of how things work.”
“If users bail out of a video mid-play,” said Shawn DeWolfe of Shawn DeWolfe Consulting, “it speaks to the value of the video being so-so.” That’s information marketers definitely want access to.
“Tracking this metric,” explained McCall Robison of Best Company, “allows you to see if your videos are holding your audience’s attention and, if not, where they’re dropping off and losing interest. That can help you improve your videos and identify the problem areas.”
Gray Gannaway of Quarterlab noted, “We all know the importance of watch time, but audience retention is how you get there. If you can keep viewers locked in for the majority of your video, you’re better positioned to extend their overall watch time and viewing session duration.”
Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray told us that average percentage viewed is a more illuminating metric to gauge individual video quality than overall views. “It can be interesting to track the number of views your videos get, but that shows you the quality of the marketing behind your video—not the quality of your videos.” Average percentage viewed, on the other hand, enables you to judge whether “your targeting is right and if your audience is engaged and interested by the videos you post.”
“Traffic source is a goldmine of data,” said Zoogly Media’s Andrew Holland. “And you can use that data to increase other metrics like views and subscribers.”
“By simply adding the right tags and having keyword variations in your description you stand a far better chance of increasing your views,” Holland explained. And the way to make sure you’re using the right tags and keywords is to identify those you’re already ranking for in the traffic source report.
“That allows you to make some changes to add those keywords into your description and add tags for those search terms—which helps your video to rank higher and have a greater chance of being a ‘suggested video’ for those search terms.”
“The actions the viewer takes after viewing your video, like tapping the link in your end card or clicking your CTA button, will show you the true impact your videos are having,” Erickson said.
Ruditser talked about the lack of depth offered by more commonly tracked metrics like views, lamenting the vital engagement and buying intent data that falls through the cracks. “One way to keep track of this is to provide a call to action at the end of your video,” Ruditser said. “If users aren’t interacting with this call to action, then you know.”
Max Brudvig of Chicago Film Scene took a straight-forward approach to our central question about which metrics are really the most important, choosing average view duration “because it’s the most important metric when it comes to YouTube’s algorithm. YouTube wants people on their website longer,” Brudvig explained, “so everything else should grow once your viewers are sticking around.”
“This metric alone can give you invaluable feedback on how your videos are performing,” said Pest Rank’s Dan Christensen. “If you see that a certain part of the video causes a major drop-off, you need to include a cutaway, visual aid, or rearrange the order of the info you’re sharing.”
“You could have all the views in the world,” Lauren Irwin of Abstrakt added, “but a viewer might only be engaging with the video for the first 3 seconds.”
Lizzie Dunn of Fundera shared that conclusion, noting that average view duration, on the other hand, “measures how effective your content is at engaging viewers, offering insights about the quality of your content and helping you identify videos that aren’t serving viewers.”
If your video can’t engage the people watching,” Dunn explained, “they’ll bounce quickly from your video.”
David Larivière of Willow & Hive shared one YouTube KPI that we didn’t hear a lot about—but it’s definitely an important one: audience retention. After all, most brands are creating videos and cultivating an audience on YouTube in order to build up a community of engaged fans.
As Larivière put it, “Audience retention offers a deeper understanding of the health of the channel over time. That understanding tells marketers when to invest more and when to surf the wave and prepare for the next big move.”
Jed Skrzypczyk of BluBluStudios.com noted, “What’s even more crucial than views, likes, or shares is the knowledge of the user’s engagement. With audience retention data, you can see how viewers behave, when they skip some parts, when they rewatch other fragments, and more. That makes it easy to know what works in the video and what doesn’t.”
“We want everyone to watch every second of our video work,” said David Wells of Tank Design. “But that doesn’t always happen.”
“Knowing when, and importantly, where in our stories viewers drop off can offer tons of insights—including helpful hints about what type of content to produce next, based on where people are most engaged.”
“YouTube elevates videos with higher retention in their search rankings,” Signature Video Group’s Chris Stasiuk explained, “because higher retention tells the algorithm that this video is valuable to the audience.”
“New business equals a new audience,” said Jessie Suriano of Muddy Trails Film Co. “So YouTube marketers should be focusing their efforts on reaching a new demographic.”
Suriano also noted that focusing on subscriber growth can yield better results nearly across the board of video performance. “Subscriber growth can increase all forms of interaction for marketers—more views, user engagement, and watch time.”
Views-to-engagement ratio is, in a nutshell, how YouTube determines the relevance and quality of every video. That makes it one of the most important metrics to track according to Eric Tyler of Innovate House Buyers.
Tyler explained, “YouTube’s algorithm ranks videos higher when a user watches a video and then Likes or comments. Comments hold more weight than likes and the combination of both provides a video with maximum power.” That’s why, in addition to how many comments and likes a video has, it’s vital to understand that engagement as a function of the total number of views, too.
Editor’s note: Looking for a better way to figure out which videos are driving results? Download this free YouTube Top Videos dashboard to get a deeper look at successful videos—so you can create more just like them.
Graeme McLaughlin of Explainify agrees with many of the other marketers we heard from that watch time is an important KPI to monitor. But, as McLaughlin pointed out, “before you can get them to watch it all, they need to be inspired to click play.”
“YouTube is a highly competitive space, so brands need to stand out from the get-go,” said Alex Dunn of Big Sea.
“Impression Click-Through Rate stands as a strong indicator of how well you connect with new audiences—more so than views or engagement alone. When paired with Average Percentage Viewed,” Dunn added, “uploaders should have a clear picture of what’s resonating well with audiences and what kind of content is keeping them involved.”
From new subscribers to likes, comments, shares, and more, several marketers we spoke with told us engagement metrics are what it’s all about on YouTube.
“Engagement is a prime directive of YouTube’s algorithm, as this indicates if people find your content interesting and worth interacting with,” explained Alex Schult of Designrr. “We found that our views skyrocketed after we optimized our existing content for engagement.”
Eric Melillo said COFORGE used to focus their YouTube KPIs on watch time, but lately, they’ve migrated toward engagement metrics. “I consider engagement a more qualitative metric. It helps me gauge the videos’ emotional impact based on how users are interacting through commenting, sharing, liking, and even disliking. It also helps fuel future content ideas.”
Mediaguru’s Christina O’Connor said they focus on engagement metrics by way of click-throughs, as O’Connor put it, “Because without understanding your CTA’s success rates you can’t do more of what works.”
“One statistic to watch is impressions,” said John Locke of Lockedown Design & SEO. “And specifically, the percentage of impressions you’re getting from YouTube recommending your content.”
“If your impression percentage from the YouTube algorithm recommending your content is flat, you may need to make adjustments to the routine and structure of your videos,” Locke explained. “If the impression percentage is going up, that means your videos—and audience engagement with them—has led YouTube to recommend them to an increasingly larger audience.”
For the subset of brands that aim to use YouTube for more direct sales and marketing, tracking leads generated is a no-brainer. “Video is no longer just about branding,” said Heather Baker of TopLine Film. “It’s an active lead gen tool, and your videos should be designed for that.”
In addition to tracking lead generation across the board, it’s also beneficial to drill down and gain a better understanding of things like:
“Click-through rate helps marketers better understand customer behavior,” said Hima Pujara of Your Team in India. “Higher CTR means your audience is more engaged, while a lower CTR can offer ideas for how to improve your CTAs and cards.”
“When users are on YouTube,” explained DIY Digital Strategy’s Ben Lund, “they’re unlikely to disrupt their video and click off to another site. They don’t want to be interrupted—and that’s a key difference between Google searches (where users are looking to click somewhere else to uncover information) and video.”
“If you’re able to get clicks out of the program,” Lund added, “that shows that your video really resonates with your audience.”
“Tracking the popularity of your video is great,” Lance Kopp of WebTek said. “Tracking the effectiveness of the video is even better.” For many marketers, that’s a vital and nuanced distinction.
Kopp advises YouTube marketers to “target the viewer, not the view.” In other words, how does the video encourage your audience to take action? How does your YouTube content move viewers through the funnel toward a purchase?
“Find out how many viewers your video converts into potential customers or fans by tracking the ‘clicks per end screen element,’” Kopp suggests. “This shows you whether the viewer clicked to subscribe, to watch another video you suggested, or to your external link.”
Simply put, “If you want your videos to appear on the front page of Youtube and possibly go viral, an important metric is View Velocity,” said Pulkit Gera of IMobsession. View velocity is a measurement of the relationship between time and the number of views a video receives, spread over the video’s entire lifetime.
“For established publishers with a strong following, this number is usually greatest in the beginning, when the video goes public,” Gera explained. :For less established publishers, the view velocity of their videos will increase as people start discovering their content and begin browsing the channel’s videos for more related content.”
Gera told us that channels that achieve consistently high view velocity have a better chance of getting new video featured on YouTube’s homepage.
Marketing on YouTube comes with its own set of unique terms and analytics. But at the end of the day, success on YouTube comes down to the same elements as success on any other digital marketing platform:
Tracking the 17 YouTube KPIs our friends highlighted empowers your team with the data you need to make those two things happen—and drive business success with video.
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