We’re always focused on huge numbers. Whether you jump back to the era of worldwide multi-platinum hits, stop to ponder all that time you invested getting friends on MySpace, how holy the Like was a couple of years ago, or the current rush to get followers on Instagram, there’s always a huge focus on numbers.
However, akin to how a Facebook Like is a deceptive measure of one’s popularity, it’s important which number you focus on. On Facebook, the more important number is essentially how many people are talking about your page. Similarly, on YouTube, the views aren’t the most important number either; that honour goes to stats such as Average Percentage Viewed and Average View Duration. These stats embody that often-amorphous term “engagement.”
Viewer engagement is the key area which affects recommendations on YouTube and has a significant impact on your search ranking. How can you take advantage of this? One of the best ways is to “program the session.” This set of tactics helps you reach the strategic goal of gaining more engaged viewers and thence to growing your overall audience.
The first tactic in this group is to never link to a video watch page when promoting a video if you can help it. Always link to that video in a playlist. This keeps your primary goal intact — watch my important video — while helping along your greater goal of more viewer engagement. Playlists can be based on anything. If you’re a label, you might naturally playlist other videos from that artist. Or you may choose to playlist videos from similar artists (even those not your own). Really the goal here is to think about who will be watching the initial video and think about what they might wish to watch next. Even programming videos that don’t belong to you helps your engagement metrics.
Of course viewers are not always coming to videos at your direction. In fact, most videos on YouTube are still found via search, sharing, and recommendations. How do you program those sessions? Again, think about how people might be getting to your video. One way you can figure this out is to look in your video’s analytics and see where your viewers are coming from. If you find out a lot of them came from a link from a popular blog, for instance, on which you had another video featured, you could add an annotation linking to that other video. It’s likely viewers coming from there have seen or will be interested in it too. Of course, after they’ve watched that, you need to figure out what they might be interested in watching next!
Apart from these broad tactics, it’s also possible to use the new Welcome Video feature on YouTube’s One Channel to program the session. These videos are prime real estate to introduce viewers to your channel. Be it a mission statement, a list of artists, or more of a commercial spot, this video should show potential viewers what you’re about and what they can expect to find on your channel. This is also a great opportunity to drive them to that other content. Point out key playlists, artists, or videos and link through to them with annotations. Of course, don’t forget that the key goal of the Welcome Video is to get users to subscribe!
Another feature of the One Channel Welcome Video section is that once subscribed, a viewer will get personalized recommendations of what to watch next on your channel. You have some, though not a lot, of control over this experience and part of that control is an effort to… program the session! YouTube has engineered this section to take advantage of video metadata combined with the viewer’s habits watching your channel. For instance, this works great with episodic content. If a video is obviously part four of a series and a viewer watches it, the next time they come to your channel they will likely be suggested part five of that series. One way to translate this to music videos is to number them in chronological order in some area of the metadata (most likely the tags). If Artist X has 12 videos and you’ve tagged those as “video 1, video 2″ and so on, it’s likely that if they watch one in the series, the next will be recommended.
There are heaps more tactics and ways to think about increasing a viewer’s watch time, of which programming the session is merely one. My hope is that this broad overview with a specific example will help you discover your own effective tactics. If you have any to share, please do so in comments!