5 ways to improve YouTube watch time

Here at Fullscreen, we’re always on the lookout for tips and tricks to help our creators grow video views and income. One thing we’ve spent a lot of time exploring is watch time—the amount of time viewers actually spend watching your videos. Here are a few ways to boost it.

Why watch time is important

The importance of watch time—or audience retention, as it’s called in your YouTube analytics—is already well known. Videos that keep viewers watching up until the very end tend to rank better in YouTube search results, and result in higher CPMs.

But with YouTube’s newly announced YouTube Red subscription service just around the corner, watch time is more important than ever—since income from YouTube Red will be divided up among creators based on watch time, not views.

According to YouTube’s FAQs, creators’ income from ad-free playback of videos will be determined by watch time. The longer (percentage-wise) a viewer watches your videos, the more revenue you’ll earn.

Five ways to improve watch time

Now the big question: how can you increase your watch time on YouTube? Let’s look at a few tips to help you out.

  1. Don’t trick your viewers. We live in a world of clickbait: glorified titles that trick viewers into clicking on articles or videos only to leave them disappointed that the content isn’t what they expected. Trying to trick your viewers with clickbait-style video titles and thumbnails will only harm your watch time and income. Make sure all your metadata—titles, tags, descriptions, and thumbnails—describes the content of your videos accurately.
  2. Spark excitement immediately. The first few seconds of your videos are critical, since they often determine whether a viewer stays or leaves to watch something else. If you have a motion intro, limit it to five seconds or less—we’ve found that intros longer than 15 seconds often cost you viewers. And when greeting and talking to your viewers, keep that energy up throughout the video. One reason a creator like PewDiePie has such high audience retention is because of his fast-paced, energetic presentation style.
  3. Tell your viewers to stay. This point may sound silly, but telling your viewers to stick around actually works! If you’re plan to cover multiple topics in a video, let viewers know what’s coming up. And if you’re saving something exciting for the end of the video, either tell your viewers what to expect or give them a few hints.
  4. Annotate older videos. We once ran a test to see whether annotations could increase watch time on older videos. When we placed annotations on videos that had low retention, we tended to see about a 10% increase in watch time. The annotations that worked best were placed right before the points in the video when viewers tended to drop off, and they contained short blurbs about what content was coming up.
  5. Create high-quality, original content. Being truly original is difficult, but makes a big difference not only for your watch time but for your entire channel. Viewers are more likely to keep watching videos that were feature high-quality video and audio. And the more original the content is, the more likely viewers will enjoy it and share it.

Focus your efforts on watch time

First it was SEO optimization, then engagement, and now watch time. YouTube always tweaks the way it ranks videos, but it seems that watch time is here to stay—at least for the foreseeable future. Good luck with your videos!