Making Sense of YouTube Analytics

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October 17, 2018

Making Sense of YouTube Analytics

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Video marketing is becoming more and more popular and shows no signs of slowing down. Once you’ve begun your journey into video marketing, it’s important to understand the powerful analytics tools behind your content. YouTube Analytics provides an incredible amount of information about how people are viewing and engaging with your content—but there’s a lot of data to look at and it can be difficult to decipher exactly what it all means. Buckle up for a deep dive into YouTube Analytics and help you understand what each of the metrics can tell you.

YouTube Channel Analytics

Under the Build an Audience section in your YouTube Analytics dashboard you can see the number of unique viewers, the average number of views per viewer, and the number of subscribers you have. You can also see how your watch time is distributed among subscribers and non-subscribers and some simple demographics of your viewers including gender, country of origin, and age. If you want to increase your presence on YouTube and the rest of the internet, it’s not enough to just track these metrics. You really need to understand what they are and what they can tell you.

Unique Viewers

This is the broadest metric on the YouTube Analytics dashboard. It really just tells you how many viewers have watched any piece of your content within the date range you choose. You can change the date range in the top right-hand corner of the screen to get a longer-term snapshot of how much your channel is being seen by different users. This metric is good for a super high-level look at how many eyes you’ve gotten in front of. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter whether these viewers are subscribers or not, they’re counted the same way.

Average Views Per Viewer

This is where we start to get into some information on how much your viewers actually like you. To be clear, YouTube is a popularity contest, and if your views per viewer are low, then you’re losing. If this number is high, that means that your viewers liked the first video they found enough to take a look at what else you have on your channel. A lower number means that people aren’t exactly excited about what they saw—or, in some cases, they got exactly what they wanted, then left.


Hopefully, you have a general understanding of what subscribers are, but I’ll give you a detailed breakdown. The more subscribers you have, the more you’re winning the popularity contest. When you’re gaining subscribers, that means that not only do viewers like your content enough to watch more, but they’re actually choosing to have your content show up regularly in their YouTube experiences—on their subscriptions feed and in notifications. Having more subscribers will also send a signal to YouTube’s algorithm letting it know that you’re pretty cool and people seem like you. This will most likely give you a little boost in search results meaning more viewers and more chances to increase your subscriber count…and so the cycle begins.

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Get a Deeper Understanding of Channel Metrics

Tracking Your Subscription Rate
The end goal on YouTube is to increase your subscribers. If your viewers subscribe, that means you have more opportunities to share your content with them, increase their brand knowledge, encourage them to comment and share your videos, and monetize your channel. You can track your subscription rate by dividing the number of new subscribers by the number of unique viewers. Tracking your subscription rate can help you understand if you’re creating content that people appreciate and if you’re targeting the right users with the videos you’re creating.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you went through a ton of YouTube channel ideas and finally decided to focus your channel on gardening. You make videos about gardening for five months, then you have a rough January because it’s cold and your greenhouse was smashed by a snow-covered branch. So in January, you decide to just post a few videos about your pet rat, Doris. Well, you may get a decent number of viewers who are interested in rats, and they may even watch a couple of your other videos about Doris—but upon seeing that your channel is really focused on gardening, they likely won’t subscribe. This will result in a low subscription rate for January and should signal to you that while maybe some people liked seeing Doris in her little sweaters, those people aren’t in your target audience for your channel.

Finding Your Target Market
You may have a good idea of who is in your target market, but you also may be completely off. The good news is that you can get a pretty good understanding of who’s interested in the content your putting out by looking at the demographics of your viewers. Take a look at the top countries of origin, gender,  and age of your viewers for some quick and simple data on your audience. No matter how they’re finding you and whether or not they’re subscribers, these demographics represent the people who are interested in the topics of your videos. Keep in mind that all of your viewers aren’t your subscribers (your most loyal and engaged viewers) they’re a broader subset of people who are simply interested in the topics of one or more of your videos.

Learn How Engaged Your Subscribers Are
It’s important to remember that there’s a reason for every metric that the people behind YouTube decided to include in the analytics dashboard. One of the reasons they may have included watch time broken down by subscribers and non-subscribers is to help you understand how people are finding your content. If most of your watch time comes from non-subscribers, then that means that most of your viewers are likely finding your content via search (on YouTube and Google). Another way that non-subscribers can find your content is through YouTube’s recommendations and users’ shares. A high subscriber watch time, however, indicates that not only do you have enough subscribers for it to matter, but your subscribers are also really engaged with your brand and your content and frequently click on your videos in their feeds or through their notifications. Now, is it better to have more watch time coming from subscribers or non-subscribers? I don’t have all the answers—that’s a good question for you to think about.

YouTube Video Analytics

Channel-level analytics are a great way to get more high-level information and an understanding of how you’re doing overall, but sometimes it helps to dig in to figure out what’s working really well, what’s doing okay, and what might actually be hurting. Video metrics will allow you to determine just that. Under the Interest Viewers section of YouTube Analytics, you can see some of the key metrics for YouTube videos.

View Count

View count and watch time are two of the more popular YouTube video metrics that can help you determine the success of individual videos. View count refers to how many people have clicked on and watched your video. It’s a good metric to look at because it can help you understand how well your video is doing when it comes to being surfaced. YouTube prioritizes videos that have high watch times and flags content that has high view counts but low watch times. This is because a high view count means that lots of people are clicking on the video, but a low watch time means that users aren’t finding what they were looking for. In short, this combo screams “this is low-quality or irrelevant clickbait” to YouTube’s algorithm.

Watch Time

Let’s assume that everything YouTube does is intentional. If that’s the case, then watch time is the KPI to watch. Okay but seriously, watch time is brought up on three out of four of the YouTube Analytics dashboard sections, it’s the first thing you see in your overview, and it’s how YouTube determines your Top Videos on your dashboard. You better believe that your watch time is a factor in the YouTube algo. If you’re not sure what it means, it’s the number of minutes viewers spent watching your videos. Both in the Interest Viewers and Overview sections of the analytics dash you can see your channel’s total watch time (and how it compares to the previous period) as well as each of your videos’ watch time. So why does YouTube care about watch time and how can you use it to alter your YouTube strategy?

You get a “view” if someone watches any portion of your video, so while view count isn’t entirely worthless, it doesn’t help you (or YouTube) understand if viewers actually liked your video enough to watch all or most of it. Now, if you regularly make short videos that explain something in a simple, short, and sweet way or you only post short videos of cats failing, then your watch time might not be very high. Don’t worry, the smart people at YouTube are smart enough to factor that into their algorithm. That being said, YouTube wants to keep people on its site for as long as possible, so generally speaking the higher your watch time, the higher your chances are of showing up for relevant searches.

Audience Retention

Watch time is important, but it’s definitely not the only thing you should be looking at. Audience retention metrics take a little digging to find, but it’s extremely useful to help you optimize each of your videos. To find a video’s audience retention, find one of the Top Videos sections either on the Overview or Interest Viewers sections. Hover over the space next to a video’s title, and click the analytics symbol. You can also find it for any video by clicking on the Top Videos section then once again hovering over the space next to the video’s title and clicking the analytics symbol. Now that you know how to get to a video’s analytics, let’s talk about why audience retention matters. For each video you can see where users are dropping off—both with the percentage in and minutes in. By looking at where most viewers are dropping off, you can determine parts of your videos are most popular and which parts see a drop in viewers. Click on the audience retention card in the video analytics dashboard to actually watch the video and see where the drop-off points are. If the drop-off reasons don’t seem clear, take a look at multiple videos to see if there’s a pattern. This can help you figure out what not to do in order to keep your viewers engaged.

Traffic and Click-Through Rates

It took me a while to land on the traffic and CTR information for an individual video. To get there, you go through the same process you did to find audience retention. Find one of the Top Videos sections, click on it, and you’ll see a dashboard with all of your videos listed. Here, you can actually see the impressions and CTRs for each of your videos, but if you click through to an individual video’s analytics page by hovering over the space next to a video’s title, and clicking on the analytics icon, you’ll find (just like above) the video’s overview. From here, click the Reach Viewers tab at the top. On this dash, you’ll be able to see where your traffic is coming from. You can also click on the Traffic Source Types card to get the impression and CTR data for that that video—broken down by traffic source.

Take Action to Improve Video Metrics

Improve Your Click-Through Rates
If your click-through rate is low for YouTube search or suggested videos, then you should step up your thumbnail and titles. You can create custom thumbnails that entice viewers to click on your video when they see it in search results or in the suggested videos section. Do some research on what others in your industry are using for their thumbnails, take a look at the top results for the phrases you’re showing up for (you can find these on the Reach Viewers dash on the Traffic Source: YouTube search card), and create thumbnails that not only match your brand, but also stand out. Altering titles can be a little trickier than swapping out your thumbnails because a different title may affect what keywords you’re showing up for. Do some competitive research before you write your titles to see what’s doing well for the search phrases you’re aiming to rank for and make sure your titles are descriptive with a call to action so users are more likely to choose your video.

Keep Viewers Engaged
If your views are high, but watch time and retention are low, then you’ll want to focus on finding a way to keep viewers more engaged with your videos. There are tons of techniques for increasing watch time. Here are a few of my favorite suggestions:

  • Hook them with an outline of what you’ll cover in the video at the beginning to keep your audience interested throughout
  • Save your most valuable point for last to get them to watch the whole video
  • Use a good mic for voiceover and add music and sound effects to increase video quality

Expand Your Reach
One of the best ways to expand your reach is to expand our traffic sources. Are you relying solely on YouTube search to be seen? Consider optimizing your videos for Google search or doing some outreach to publishers to get your video embedded in their articles. Take a look at where your traffic is coming from and find a way to increase your weaker sources. More traffic (no matter where it’s from) will help you increase your view count and watch time and show off your video’s ability to the YouTube algo. YouTube SEO is one of the best things to learn about if you want to expand your reach. It can be daunting, but it’s worth it.

Keep Exploring Analytics

These metrics are some of the more important and easier to understand, but there’s more to discover. For example, I didn’t even get into the Earn Revenue section of YouTube’s Analytics. Over time, as you spend more and more time digging into your analytics, you may find some other metrics that matter more to you. It’s a learning process, and there are a lot of metrics to learn about. Take it slow, and one day you’ll realize you can explain the meaning and significance of metrics without even trying. Once you’re there, you’ll be able to optimize your videos and increase your YouTube revenue stream with ease.

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Jordan McElwain

SEO Specialist

Jordan is our in-house SEO and keywording nerd. She loves diving into data to find relevant topics that our readers might be searching for. You’ll find that most of her pieces are short, sweet, and to the point.