19 min read
YouTube might have begun life as a humble video-sharing service, but it's now the second largest search engine in the world.
People around the world consume over one billion hours of video each day. YouTube hosts a vast library of videos, covering everything from the history of pandemics to fixing your washing machine lid switch (that was me just last week).
For those of you working to build a loyal audience, though, YouTube can sometimes feel like a tough nut to crack.
Making your videos stand out in the endless sea of content isn't easy. Growing an audience on YouTube takes a careful balance of engaging content and discoverability. You need a deep understanding of your audience's struggles, desires, and motivations to create stellar videos they can't help but watch.
The only problem? Collecting those deep insights about your audience and content can often feel overwhelming. Does your audience prefer more descriptive how-to videos and demonstrations? Or are they more interested in being entertained and inspired? Do they stay engaged with long videos to the end or do they lose interest after only a few minutes? And how do they even find your channel, if you only have a handful of subscribers?
Fortunately, YouTube makes this easy by providing a detailed (and free) analytics service.
YouTube Analytics gives you all the data you need to track your audience's behavior, uncover trends and discover what resonates, and build a thriving audience.
I know, I know. I could feel your eyes glazing over as soon as I used the word “analytics.” But you don't need a degree in data science to get started measuring and improving your YouTube channel.
To help start you off on the right foot, I've put together a step-by-step guide on YouTube Analytics. By the end, you'll know how you can use the data to ask relevant questions and gather the most important insights, helping you grow your channel and your audience even faster.
Let's dive in!
YouTube Analytics is a set of tools and data provided by YouTube designed to help you understand your audience and their actions. It's a birds-eye view of what's working (and what's not) with your channel, who's watching your videos, and how your channel is growing.
YouTube Analytics helps you answer a few key questions about your content:
I'll explain more about how to answer these questions in a moment. Just remember that understanding what your viewers want to watch makes creating quality content much easier. When your videos hook viewers and make them want to come back for more, you'll find it much easier to grow a loyal community of viewers and subscribers.
Growing an audience on YouTube also helps your other marketing efforts. Your community of followers will also help promote your content to their own audiences via social media and email marketing, and give you instant feedback on what they like and don't like.
Now you know why YouTube Analytics is so important, let's find out how you can unlock some of this data for your own channel.
Getting started with YouTube Analytics is easy. First, sign into your YouTube account, click on your profile picture, then click on YouTube Studio. You can also click here to jump straight to YouTube Studio.
In the left-hand menu, you should see a link for Analytics:
Click the Analytics link, and you'll be greeted by the default YouTube Analytics dashboard, which should look something like this:
Your numbers might vary from those above, but you should see some basic charts and statistics for how your channel's performing—metrics like Watch Time, Subscribers, and Views (more on these in a moment).
At the top, you'll see different tabs containing more metrics about your Reach, Engagement, and Audience. You can also change the date range—the default graph settings will show you data from the last 28 days, but you can change this to whatever time period you prefer.
There's a lot of information here, so take a few minutes to explore and familiarize yourself with the different menus, charts, and reports. When you're ready, head back here and we'll go through how you can begin pulling valuable insights from your data.
Data can be a magnificent tool. But having access to your YouTube data doesn't help you a lot. Vanity metrics like view counts and subscribers might make you feel great (or terrible) about your progress—but they don't really matter in the big picture.
Getting the most out of YouTube Analytics means knowing which metrics truly matter and asking thoughtful business questions to guide your business decisions and content strategy.
The most important questions you should ask about your audience and channel:
Let's go through each question, and I'll explain how you can answer that question for your own channel using YouTube Analytics data.
Great marketing always starts with knowing your audience. Posting videos of hamsters running mazes might rack up millions of views (most of which are probably coming from my daughter)—but unless you're selling hamster food, it probably won't help grow your business.
Understanding who's watching your videos—their demographics, location, age, and so on—can help you tailor your content and promotional strategies to reach more of those people. On the flip side, if you’re not reaching the audience you want, you can pivot your video strategy and cover topics that would attract them.
To find out more about your audience, head over to the Audience tab, where you'll find a detailed breakdown of who's watching your videos.
The default Audience report dashboard shows you:
You can slice and dice your audience data to help ensure you're reaching the right potential customers for your business. Say you're selling an online course to a worldwide audience—you might not be too bothered by having your audience spread across different countries. But if you're running a local services or coaching business, you might target a local audience by focusing your content on a particular region.
You can also delve deeper into the audience demographics for each individual video in the Advanced Audience reports:
Pro tip: You can use the Audience report to see which device types people are using when they view your videos. For example, say most of your views come from people using their phones—keeping your videos short and snappy might lead to higher view counts and help you grow your audience faster. Experiment and see what work for your audience!
As online creators, we're a busy bunch.
I'm willing to bet most of you don't have the luxury of a team of marketers who can experiment with different channels and strategies. Instead, you have to make the most of your limited time by knowing which channels are worth investing more time in and which you can safely let slide.
Again, YouTube Analytics makes this easy. Head over to the Reach tab, where you'll find an overview of your top traffic sources, and how many people you're reaching through each of those sources.
Beyond the basic view and impression counts, YouTube provides some valuable information about how viewers are finding your content. The Traffic Sources reports let you see all the unique sources of traffic for your videos, along with the total watch time and other key metrics for each source.
Why is it important to understand where your traffic is coming from? Well, the Reach report shows you which traffic sources are the most valuable for your channel and which could use more work.
For example, say you're a coach trying to reach potential clients through search. You can see a list of keywords that people searched for before finding your videos in the YouTube search report and optimize your video description for those keywords.
Another strategy is to reach potential viewers outside of YouTube. You can find the URLs and websites where your videos are hosted in the Externals report—click on See More under Traffic Source: Externals.
Understanding where most of your traffic comes from lets you avoid wasting resources on low-level traffic sources, and double-down on the ones that work well. You might partner up with similar sites that will embed your videos on their blog, driving more traffic to your channel from external sites.
View counts mask a lot of potential content issues. Say you post a great new video which tons of people click on before quickly losing interest. Even though viewers stopped watching after the first few seconds, YouTube still counts that as a “view”—this can lead you to believe your videos are performing much better than they are.
Luckily, YouTube gives you some handy metrics to combat this problem. Head over to the Engagement report—here, you can check how many people are watching your videos, how much time they spend watching, and which videos they find most engaging.
The key metric to focus on here is watch time—the total number of minutes people spend watching your content. You can see the total watch time for your channel in the graph at the top or you can drill down and see the watch time for each individual video by clicking on See More under Top Videos:
Why is watch time so important? It's a clear indicator of how valuable your content is.
Higher watch time for a video (or channel) shows the YouTube algorithm that your content is engaging. In fact, it's one of the main metrics the YouTube algorithm uses when choosing which videos to promote to other users—videos (and channels) with higher watch times are more likely to rank higher in search results.
Low watch time could mean your content needs to be more engaging, or you might need to invest in higher-quality equipment and production to add some extra polish to your channel. Try experimenting with changing up your strategy to maximize watch time, and see if your audience grows more quickly.
Don't forget: YouTube's view counts often lag by a day or two, to remove spammy views from the total. You can measure the reach of your videos early on using the Real-Time Report, which gives you the estimated number of views from the last 60 minutes and the last 48 hours:
Everyone in your audience has a limited attention span. It's important that your content does more than just grab their attention—you also need to hold their attention throughout your videos. After all, why watch videos about online creators and email marketing when you could be watching cute hamsters?
Diving deeper into individual videos, you can see what types of content your audience enjoys watching—and what makes them switch off. The Audience Retention report shows the exact times people stopped watching your videos, letting you diagnose why they might have stopped paying attention.
A retention rate of 100% means viewers are watching all the way through your videos. For every video you share, your goal should be to keep audience retention as close to 100% as you can. Videos with consistently high audience retention and watch time have the potential to show up more frequently in Search and Suggested locations on YouTube.
You can only view retention data for one video at a time, so you'll have to head over to the individual video metrics to find this report. Either click on the Analytics button next to each video in YouTube Studio or click on your top videos from the Overview tab in Channel Analytics. You can also track along with your video at the top, so you can see exactly what viewers were seeing when they leave.
It's normal to see a gradual decline in retention throughout your video length, but sharp declines can show something's wrong. Keep your eye out for a sharp drop in viewers within the first 30 seconds or so of a video. It could indicate your video wasn't what viewers expected, and that you should revisit your title and thumbnail to better match your content.
You can also try adding a Card with a CTA right before people drop off, encouraging viewers to watch a different video before you lose them for good.
On the flip side, you can also use retention data to identify what's working. Look for the most engaging sections in each video and see what you can learn that can guide your future content strategy.
For example, when you know what parts viewers like to re-watch, you might consider making new videos with similar content or repeating the same format in future videos to replicate your success.
Subscribers are the lifeblood of every YouTube channel. Subscribers watch twice as much video than non-subscribers, so the more subscribers you have, the more watch time your videos will collect.
Subscribers are important to your channel because YouTube automatically notifies them when you upload new videos, boosting the chances they'll watch your content and share it with others. This also means more people will see your videos in search results and recommended videos.
YouTube used to offer a dedicated Subscribers report, but now subscribers is a metric in the advanced reports. This report gives you a lot more flexibility—you can track which videos, traffic sources, and audience demographics gain and lose subscribers.
Tracking subscriber data tells you what video topics resonate with your subscribers and where might be best to target new subscribers. Say you have a video that generates more new subscribers than other videos on your channel—you can work to promote that video more heavily by embedding it on external websites or your own landing pages or blog. You can also consider adding a recorded pitch asking people to subscribe or embed End Screens and Cards within that video to encourage even more people to subscribe.
YouTube provides the audience—but you still need to provide high-quality content. Growing a thriving YouTube channel means discovering what content people want to watch, consistently sharing high-quality videos, and tracking whether your efforts to get more eyes on your videos are paying off.
Fortunately, YouTube gives you a couple of helpful ways of tracking how your content is performing and finding ways of growing faster. The first, and most important, is a report on the Reach tab titled “Impressions and how they led to watch time.”
This funnel-shaped graph is one of the most valuable reports YouTube provides. It's where you really get to see the whole funnel of how your videos are performing—how many people see your video in search results, how many of those people are clicking on each video, and how much time those people spend watching.
This report also shows what percentage of impressions came from YouTube recommending your content—a higher percentage here shows the video has been picked up by YouTube's algorithm, boosting the chances of it being seen by viewers outside your existing subscriber base.
If you see a large drop off between impressions and views, that could indicate that your thumbnail or video title are turning people off from clicking on your video. Try testing out different combinations of attention-grabbing thumbnails and captivating descriptions and see how each affects your click-through rates.
Similarly, high click rate but low watch time could mean your video content doesn't match what viewers were expecting based on the thumbnail and title. Preparing viewers for what’s coming is crucial because if your title or thumbnail is inaccurate, they’ll feel deceived and lose trust in your brand. Make sure your titles are descriptive and match the content within your videos.
Finally, you'll also want to make sure viewers stick around as long as possible. Watch time and retention aren't the only ways to get more eyes on your content—just like you'd link between posts on your blog, you can also link between videos on your channel using Cards and End Screens.
Cards are little pop-up links that appear over the top of the video while viewers are watching, like this:
End screens are similar—they let you place links to other websites or videos at the end of your videos:
The Card / End Screen report in YouTube shows you how many people click on your embedded Cards and the End Screens you include with each video, along with the click-through rate as a percentage:
Experiment with different Cards and End Screens, and look for those that resonate the most with your viewers. Try placing those in future videos to drive up engagement and send more viewers to your other videos, your website, or your landing pages.
I won't lie: growing a dedicated audience on YouTube won't happen overnight. It takes time, hard work, and a lot of learning and experimentation—even the most successful YouTubers went through the same struggles when they first started out.
Now, though, you have a secret weapon. You need not be a data analyst to take advantage of the insights hidden within your channel and video data. YouTube Insights can help you uncover trends in your data, learn more about your viewers, and grow your audience faster than ever before.
Trying out YouTube Analytics for your channel is a brilliant business decision for growing your audience. Your next brilliant decision? Turning your YouTube subscribers into avid email subscribers with ConvertKit. Grab your free ConvertKit account and start growing your audience today: