There was a time when the YouTube algorithm relied on the number of video views to order its search results.

Today though, the video platform judges the quality of videos differently. It cares about the amount of time people spend watching your videos and the actions they take (like/dislike/comments). And it makes sense – if people find your video interesting, then they will be engrossed in watching instead of walking away.

The metric “watch time” is the amount of time a viewer has spent watching your video. While you can inflate the number of views on your video, this metric is difficult to fake.

So, why should you care about watch time?

  • Well, if people stick around and watch your video, then it sends a strong signal to YouTube that it’s high-quality. The algorithm is more likely to rank it for relevant keywords and promote it across related as well as suggested videos.
  • If you want to make money on YouTube through AdSense by partnering with them, then you need to have least 4,000 public watch hours in the last 12 months.
  • Lastly, here’s some wisdom straight from the horse’s mouth: “If viewers are watching more YouTube, it signals to us that they’re happier with the content they’ve found. It means that creators are attracting more engaged audiences. It also opens up more opportunities to generate revenue for our partners.”

Now that I’ve convinced you to focus on watch time, here are three simple strategies to optimize your videos for it.

Create A Video Series

Netflix has unleashed an era of binge-watching shows. Now, an average internet user craves consuming episodic serialized content. Even if you’re creating educational videos, occasionally you can release a series of videos with an overarching theme.

Are you unsure if you can hold the attention of your audience? Then, limit the duration of every video to about five minutes initially. A survey by Databox found that most brands and marketers are sticking to videos that are under five minutes in duration.

Even Mailchimp on its show’s network produces videos that are bite-sizes (up to 10 minutes). It works well for “on the go” consumption by its audience of busy entrepreneurs.

Now that you have the skinny, here are five tips to make video series work for you.

1. Use cards and end screens: From your video manager, you can add cards throughout the video to direct viewers towards other videos in the series. You can add cards to point the audience to other videos on your channel as I’ve done below for my channel.

Similarly, you can use the Editor to add end screens to re-engage a viewer and get them to continue watching.

2. Create a playlist: Another great way to tie together your videos by themes is by creating a playlist. Indeed, every video on your channel should be a part of two to three lists.

They also rank in search results, so they are great for the discovery of your brand.

3. Create a clickable table of contents: Want a cool tactic to let your viewers dive deep in your video (beyond the beginning)? It’s to start using timestamps in your video descriptions and comments. Consider it as an outline for long non-fiction videos that provides convenience to the viewers.

For many popular channels, audience members can create such deep links in the comments.

However, you should consider adding them yourself. Here’s a quick tutorial on implementing timestamps.

4. Build anticipation with YouTube premiere: If you’re creating a series, then premiering it (much like a movie or TV show premiere) is a great way to create a shareable watch page. It creates a build-up before the release of your videos.

Here are the specific instructions:

5. Engage with your audience through the community tab: YouTube recently launched another tool that you can use to strengthen your relationship with your audience. It’s the community tab. You can conduct polls, offer exclusive behind the scenes videos, and grow excitement around your content so that it fares better than usual.

Analyze Where Your Retention Drops

Even if you’re not fond of analytics, you should track one important metric: the audience retention of your videos. You can find the same under video analytics below the overview section.

While it’s inevitable for your audience to drop consistently throughout the video, there will be certain places with sharp drops. Here’s a video from my channel. Note the two sharp drops in viewership that I’ve marked.

In the above case, we had a 5-second promo that’s clearly boring for the audience. And we had a CTA to subscribe to our channel at the spot of the second drop. It’s such a bummer.

You might find that these peaks and valleys are correlated with your speaking patterns in the videos. Suppose you find that there’s a sharp drop when you utter the word “utility”, then stop using it.

Here are a few ways to hook your audience immediately in the first 15 seconds:

1. Get to the point: If you’re creating tutorials on complex subjects, then people expect the meat of the content immediately. If you beat around the bush, then you’ll turn off your viewers. And it might lead to timestamp comments mocking your presentation like the one below.

2. Cut that intro music: If you take over 5 seconds to request your viewers to “press the bell icon”, it will lead to a sharp drop like the one I showed you for my channel. They might abandon your channel and not return at all. A better way is to give people a preview of what you’re talking about as Jorden Roper from Creative Revolt does in her tutorials.

3. Create accurate thumbnails and video titles: Does the content of your video immediately deliver on the promises you made in the thumbnail and the title? If not, then you’re going to annoy your viewers.

Instead of clickbaiting people, you can evoke curiosity by teasing the climax of your video’s narrative. The goal is to hold the attention of your audience rather than just grabbing it once.

Storytelling Is Where It’s At!

Research by a group of neuroscientists at Princeton University found that “…during successful communication, speakers’ and listeners’ brains exhibit joint, temporally coupled, response patterns.” In simpler terms, it means that the brain of a listener places them inside a well-told story as if they are experiencing it themselves.

So, if you want to build a deep connection with your audience, then telling engaging stories is key. Here are a few tips for executing captivating narratives in your YouTube videos:

1. Use this classic drama ingredient in your videos: Ask any prolific screenwriter on the secret sauce of holding the attention of the audience for multiple hours, and they will tell you it boils down to creating a conflict.


Well, every story has major characters, and they want to achieve certain goals. Conflict is the challenge they face in reaching there. So how do you know if you have got a genuine story idea? Renowned Hollywood writer, Aaron Sorkin, describes his “but, then, except” technique below that you can use for performing a litmus test.

If you’re creating a fictional web series for your channel (a great strategy to increase your watch time), then having a strong conflict will hook and sustain your audience’s attention.

However, there’s another way to incorporate stories for the YouTube creators that are primarily interested in educating their audience.

2. Make your videos authentic and personal: A major distinction between cable TV and YouTube is the realness of creators. So stay away from trying to create fake conflicts (like stating you’re poor) just to create drama and hooking your audience. You might get called out for your pretentiousness.

To build deep emotional relationships with your audience, you need to stay authentic and show your personal life. Many YouTube creators create a second channel where they film casually and talk unscripted.

For example, Derek Muller, the creator of popular science and education channel, Veritasium, created 2veritasium. On this channel, he publishes unedited videos, behind the scenes footage, and shows his personal side with vlog style videos like “Anti Social Media.”

Derek’s “My Life Story” video is another great example of personal storytelling that you should check out.

Pro Tip: If you’re vulnerable in your videos occasionally, then your audience will create a much deeper connection with you. And the engagement will be through the roof. In the video below, rising Indian YouTube creator, Sonia, shared her flaws, and it attracted lots of positive comments.

3. Aim To Appeal To A Niche Audience: Most new brands commit a classic business mistake of trying to please “everyone”, and hence fail.

This is even more relevant for content creators like you.

Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine, coined a theory for creative entrepreneurs that you can fall back on. It’s called “1000 true fans.” The idea is that engaging with a niche audience deeply can sustain your creative entrepreneurship project for life, rather than appealing to everyone.

Author and podcaster, Tim Ferriss, relied on the strategy and believes it’s the way to create content that sustains a career.

Jennelle Eliana rose to over a million YouTube subscribers with two videos in under a month on the subject of “van life.” She’s authentic, genuine, and didn’t try appealing to everyone. The result is a sticky video that you can’t help but watch till the end.

Pro Tip: If you can pull off humor without being disrespectful, then it’s a great vehicle that works for most kinds of audiences. For instance, Poojan Sahil, an Indian musician, is rising to prominence in India through his satirical socio-political songs.


YouTube is a terrific platform to build a deep emotional connection with your prospective customers. And assimilating watch time will not only deliver more views and subscribers but also improve the affinity that your audience has for your brand.

In the article, you saw three simple ways to increase your watch time. These strategies are a mix of filmmaking, drama, human behavior, and YouTube tools, and proven to work. Hope you can leverage them to take your audience on a memorable journey.

Are there any other strategies that you have used to increase your video watch time? Let me know in the comments below.

This article originally appeared at Social Marketing Writing.