YouTube Video Suggestion Ladder – A Fighting Chance For Small YouTubers

(Last Updated On: March 29, 2019)

A Powerful YouTube Playlist Strategy

The YouTuber Struggle Is Real

If you are reading this article you may be a struggling small YouTuber looking for solutions to earn more watch time. Possibly, you’re a larger YouTuber trying to figure out how to drive more views to your new videos. Then you’ve come to the right place.

As I write this article, I’m a small YouTuber, with a gleam of hope in his eye. I want to offer you the same hope, with a process and the results of my recent YouTube experiment.

I understand the frustration with growing a YouTube channel. I found myself after two years with 800 uploads and just over 1000 subscribers wondering, what’s next? Unlike many likely smarter people, who have quit YouTube with much less effort, I’ve not given up.

Let’s just call it stubbornness persistence.

However, having uploaded well over 1000 videos, including videos on client channels, I have some good data to review. This data is helpful to gain insight into what works.

Every YouTuber wonders if there is one more technique which can earn a few more video views, additional watch time or squeeze out a little more revenue.

Well, I’ve found one. This strategy can increase views, watch time and for those who are monetized, add more revenue.

When it comes to growing a YouTube channel, there are many best practices. My technique does not dismiss such activities. However, it can enhance them. Quality videos with great titles, solid click-through rates and viewer retention, which earn watch time, still win the day.

However, this technique gives even the smallest YouTuber with a little traction a fighting chance.

How Videos Win On YouTube

YouTube video Growth

What we do know is if you want to grow on Youtube; YouTube promoting your videos through suggested videos is extremely important. Basically, the suggestion engine (algorithm) is the main way YouTube recommends initial and additional videos for viewers to watch on its platform.

The question is how do we get our videos into suggested videos? It’s important to understand that the set of rules for the YouTube algorithm(s) are always changing and adjusting. Yet, at the time of this writing not every video makes it into suggested videos with any significance, especially if you are a small channel with few views.

What I See

Based on my observations, when you upload a video, YouTube begins testing your video immediately. The platform notifies a percentage of your subscribers that you have published a new video.

Those who clicked the bell notification are alerted, the platform will rank and test your video in relevant searches on YouTube and Google (separate algorithm), and then the platform may recommend the video in browse and other features.

Browse features is similar to suggested videos, however, according to YouTube it’s traffic from the homepage/home screen, the subscription feed.

YouTube measures how quickly people begin watching a video after it’s made public, which is referred to as view velocity. If you have a lot of subscribers, a large email list, or engaged social media on other platforms – you can drive early traffic to your video. This is huge advantage.

The early traffic seems to trigger YouTube to share your video more widely.

Eventually, YouTube has enough data to share your video in suggested videos. YouTube may suggest your videos to more subscribers, people who have watched your previous videos, and those who have liked videos similar to your video. If your video continues to do well, the algorithm keeps expanding your video audience opportunities. The next thing you know, you have a viral hit.

Unfortunately, if you were like me, under the current algorithm configuration, I didn’t see many videos make it to suggested videos. The suggested video algorithm doesn’t have a significant chance to gather enough quality data to suggest my videos to new or current viewers.

Let’s fix that.

What Works To Grow A YouTube Channel

There are many best practices, tips, tricks and strategies to grow a YouTube channel. Fortunately, there are some excellent educators online. Below are some quick resources found on this blog.

To earn space in suggested videos, YouTube needs enough data to place your videos in the most optimal locations. This is one reason why it can take a while for a video to pop. I’ve seen videos take over a year or more to gain traction.

It takes time for YouTube to test and find a good video(s), channel or viewer profile match, to suggest with your video (if ever).

It’s relatively common YouTube knowledge that you should consider the video topic, title, and thumbnail before you start recording. These things help support the important click-through and viewer retention rates.

Yet, there is another powerful viewer action which triggers positive signals that you may not realize is in your control to support.

If someone watches more than one video, YouTube seems to consider this a positive sign that this viewer may enjoy more of your or similar videos. In turn, YouTube suggests more of your videos and similar videos from other channels until the viewer stops watching such videos.

I look at viewers in stages. A stage 1 viewer is someone who has watched one of your videos. Often, they find you in search, embedded on a blog and move on. Stage 2 viewers are those who enjoy your videos enough to watch more than one. Stage 3 are viewers who subscribe to your channel. A Stage 4 viewer clicks the bell icon to be notified of future uploads and stage five are your core fans. These viewers keep showing up to support you and your channel.

Your Job

This means your first priority is to make an awesome video which your audience enjoys through to the end. Your second priority is to sell the next video or playlist. It’s helpful to have a good end card strategy.

There are many good playlist strategies which get people to keep watching multiple videos. However, these strategies often require a high percentage of your viewers to make it to the end of each video.

For example, if 1000 people watch your video and 50% make it to the end, that is 500 people who have the opportunity to click on a video or playlist card at the end of your video.

If 10% click on the end card, that is 50 people who watch another video. These are 50 people made it to stage 2. YouTube, with the support of other signals, is now likely to show more of your videos to the viewer over a period time, such as a week, month or few months.

The chain of views can continue down your playlist increasing the strength of this positive signal. These viewers like your videos. Unfortunately, if you only have a small number of viewers, such strategies are extremely limited. The math rarely works beyond the second video.

Yet, there is a powerful playlist approach for small YouTubers.

This Is What Both YouTube and The YouTuber Need

A big disadvantage for small YouTubers is a lack of data, both for the YouTuber and YouTube. Additional data about your videos can help YouTube find viewers who may like your videos faster.

More data about your videos will help you make better choices about future videos. I’ve certainly struggled with a lack of data. This is especially true when I only receive a small number of views during the following days after I publish a video.

The goal is to not have our videos die as quickly. The question is, how can we give YouTube the data it needs to continue to surface our videos. My answer is the Video Suggestion Ladder (VSL).

Video Suggestion Ladder

The Video Suggestion Ladder (VSL) uses a series of playlists to encourage YouTube to suggest your videos more often. This doesn’t mean we are tricking YouTube.

Honestly, YouTube algorithms are amazing engineering and very powerful. Yet, they are still kinda dumb. The VSL helps to guide the suggestion algorithm find what it’s looking for in your videos — people who want to watch your videos.

All of the rules of success on YouTube are still in play. However, we are taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity YouTube gives us to offer a recommendation, increase views and possibly revenue.

To use a baseball analogy, you have a pitcher video (video A) and a catcher video (your new video or video B). The pitcher video throws views to the catcher video. As the coach, you are matching up the pitcher and the catcher videos in a playlist.

The VSL Process

The first step is to identify your top performing videos related to your current channel theme. In other words, which of your videos drive daily traffic on their own. In some cases, videos earn daily traffic through YouTube and Google search, embeds, while others are suggested by YouTube recommendations.

Depending on how many videos you have in your library, you may wish to identify your top five or ten videos. The most important video is your video which drives the most views for your channel.

If your channel is new, this process is limited, however, once you have a few videos with some traction, you can employ a limited version of this strategy, which may give you a leg up over time.

Next, create a playlist and place your top video in that playlist. Title the playlist anything you wish related to your channel and videos. At the end of the title add than A and the total number of views your video receives over a day, week or month.

For example: My best day ever A – 3000 (example below)

Smaller channels may wish to focus on a week or month, larger channels may consider per day. Since I have small channel, I like to use a monthly view number.

Next, create playlists for each of your next most successful videos. Title each playlist generically ending with the next letter in the alphabet and view volume. Such as (Title) B – 2500, (Title) C – 1000, (Title) D 700.

Within each playlist check the box making it an official series.

YouTube - Set as official series for this playlist

Note: A video may only be in one official series playlist. This may mean you will have to uncheck the official series box on other established playlists. However, this does not mean you need to remove your video from any of your current playlists.

The letters make it easier for you to find the proper playlist and the numbers help you do some quick math when making placement decisions and VSL adjustments.

Your First VSL Video

YouTube video card

The next time you publish a video, place the new video in Playlist A as the second video (catcher video). You can keep this video in playlist A until you publish your next video. After you publish a new video, move your last video to Playlist B and down the ladder you go with each published video.

Each playlist down the ladder gives YouTube more data to compare and contrast the viewers (stage 2 viewers) who watch the second video in the playlist. This supports YouTube to find themes and develop a viewer profile for the video.

The Math

For example, I can place my newly published video in VSL playlist A, which as a pitcher video that receives 3000 views a month. I could earn 150 additional views with a five percent (5%) click-through rate. Of course, this assumes that my video will hold up against the competition and YouTube continues to suggest the catcher video after the pitcher video.

If I place my video in playlist A for three days, I could drive an additional 15 views at a 5% CTR. After I publish a new video, I place my last video in playlist B until my next video is published. Playlist B has a 2000 monthly view pitcher video. At a 5% CTR the video could earn another 10 views through suggested videos.

Down the ladder your video goes after you publish each new video. Your VSL playlist videos continue to have the opportunity to earn new suggested views, and gather data. This is much better than dying on the vine early.

What are we trying to accomplish?

Again, the goal is not to trick YouTube. Rather we take the opportunity YouTube gives us to recommend videos which YouTube can suggest. The YouTube algorithm is still in control. However, this method gives YouTube more data to surface your videos and YouTube more information to make better choices about how to create future videos.

The goals of VSL:

  • Get your videos in the suggested videos sooner
  • Increase early views for new videos
  • Increases positive signals about your channel
  • Increase the number stage two viewers to see future suggestions
  • Increase revenue from new videos

VSL Adjustments

It is common for a video on a channel to blow up even if it has little to do with the current channel theme. In such cases, it’s important to consider if the person watching the first (pitcher) video will really care about the second (catcher video).

If there is any connection, I would test it, because it might work together. However, your best performing video related to your channel theme and planned future videos is the best selection for Playlist A.

Poor performance

The fact is VSL does not make bad videos go viral. With that said, I do see an increase in CTR and traditionally suggested viewers are good viewers, often second to subscribers.

It’s important to remember that your catcher video is is still competing with other suggested videos. Although VSL gives your video a shot, if the video doesn’t measure up, it will not receive as many pitches.

When videos don’t get a good click-through rate and the viewer retention is lower than average, YouTube may stop or slow down the suggestion of your video. Even if it’s in a VSL playlist.

How quickly a slow down happens (if at all) depends on the view velocity of your pitcher video and quality of the catcher video.

VSL can help drive suggested traffic to catcher videos in most cases for a period of time. However, the best results have to do with the relevance of the pitcher video to the catcher video. If a catcher video performs poorly, I’ll pull the video from continuing down the ladder.

If you pull a video from the Video Suggestion Ladder add your next new video in its place. You then have the option leave the other videos as is if they are doing well.

You can also create video ladders for related themes. I have a playlist with a pitcher video that I only use for specific types of videos. You could have a few rungs on your ladder for specific needs. The combinations are endless.

For small channels

The VSL technique is best for channels which have a little momentum. Such a channel might have at least one video earning over 50-100 views per day.

My best recommendation as it relates to boosting VSL opportunities is to create some related tutorial videos. Even if you have a family vlogging channel, create a tutorial related to something your family likes or does. The goal is to earn search traffic over time. This search traffic can be turned in to suggested traffic through the VSL down the road.

Look for other opportunities such as embedding your video on your blog, especially if it gets a lot of traffic. If you don’t have a blog, you can pitch your video to relevant bloggers.

Even if your best video only earns 20 views daily, make that your playlist A pitcher video. However, you might want to keep your most promising catcher videos in playlist A longer for better results. Over time the process will still help YouTube suggest your videos and gather some badly needed data as it moves down the ladder.

Plus, if you earn a few stage 2 viewers, which is a positive signal to YouTube, it can give you more opportunity down the road.

VSL for large Channels

There is opportunity for larger channels too. Sure larger channels seem to have an advantage, however, many large YouTubers share some of the same challenges driving viewers to their new videos.

The number of views compared to subscribers is referred to as the viewer to subscriber ratio. Traditionally a good viewer to subscriber ratio is about 5% or above. So, if you have 10,000 subscribers, you may see about 500 views on your average video. Yet, there are many larger channels that earn well less than 1%.

The video suggestion ladder can drive viewers to your new videos increasing your view velocity and viewer to subscriber ratio. As with smaller YouTubers, this give the suggestion engine more data points as to the type of viewer that may enjoy your new video.

More important for many YouTubers, even a small increase in views to new videos can mean an increase in AdSense revenue.

Results

It’s important to note that this experiment is in it’s early stages. I’m sure I’m not the first to create something like this, yet, I’ve not found any information or data from other YouTubers. However, I’m looking forward to hearing from those who have created similar systems, experiments or tests.

As for my results, I’m thrilled. I know success is relative for my small 1400 subscriber channel, yet the new activity gives me hope to grow my channel a little faster.

Below are typical examples of before and after VSL using about the same amount of data (500-600 impressions)

Example A: Traditional looking traffic sources and funnel for my channel before VSL
Example B: A typical looking traffic sources and funnel after VSL

There are a few things to note. In example A, the pre VSL video, the time it took to get 500 impressions was much longer for this specific video. There are no suggested videos. For videos which do earn suggested video views, the percentage is often below 20%. Before VSL my videos received a 2-3% average click through rates.

Example B is a different story. The video went through the video suggestion ladder (VSL). Typically the percent of impressions from YouTube recommending VSL video content is over 50%. The click-through rate is much higher. It’s not uncommon for the CTR to be 6-9%+, especially with highly relevant pitcher/catcher video matches. In this comparison, the VSL video got 50% more views in less time.

It’s also worth noting that the views from impressions doesn’t represent all the views the video has received.

My VSL Results:

  • New videos doubled the average Click Through Rate (CTR). It’s common for me to see 6-9% CTR with VSL compared to 2-3% on previous new videos.
  • YouTube recommended video percentage (top of the funnel) has increased from 25% or less to 50-60%+ on new videos.
  • Anecdotally, pitcher videos also see increased activity. I assume it’s because more of my channel videos are seen in the next video viewed (speculation).
  • VSL doubled, tripled, quadrupled views from average new video views.
  • With additional views and watch time, more of my videos continue to earn views outside of VSL.
  • Increase to my average viewer to subscriber ratio on many new videos.
  • My assumption – an increase in stage two viewers.
  • I’m not monetized (taken away last year), however, the results for new video monetization would be positive.

Negatives

Are there any negatives? So far I’ve seen few negatives. My average viewer retention has gone down with additional views on some videos. In the past, my average retention is 40-60%. So, low retention for my videos was 40%, now some new videos are down to 30%.

However, this is to be expected with more views and accidental suggestedup next plays. The benefit is I’m receiving more accurate data as to where I need to improve my videos, this is empowering.

Moving forward

I will continue to test this process and try different combinations. Even more important, I want to hear about your successes and failures. I have a lot of testing and questions which still need to be answered. Your thoughts and results could benefit many YouTube creators of all sizes.

Questions:

  • When does the VSL become practical for a creator to implement?
  • When does VSL become impractical for a creator to implement?
  • Does this strategy become less effective over time?
  • Specifically, how and when do playlists become less effective over time?
  • What can make this strategy more effective?
  • Do most creators see an increase in CTR?
  • Do accidental next up views hurt overall retention?
  • Is the value of the increased CTR more important than retention loss?
  • What signs indicate YouTube will slow down suggestions.
  • When is the most optimal time or indicator to adjust the ladder?
  • How much more revenue do YouTubers making with this technique.
  • Do creators find this method shortens the timeline needed to earn video watch time to pop a video?
  • What are some new best practices for VSL.

What questions to you have about the Video Suggestion Ladder?

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