How do you actually grow on YouTube?

YouTube employees and strategists throw the idea of "audience satisfaction" around all the time, but... What does it mean? Why should you care? How do you measure it?
How do you actually grow on YouTube?
In: Strategy

People complaining about YouTube growth today make me feel the way ​Louis C.K. feels about flying​.

Gone are the days of having to join a network to get a shoutout to then maybe convert a couple of viewers to your channel.

There's a whole automated recommendation engine running.

But, how does this growth happen?

YouTube employees and strategists throw the idea of "audience satisfaction" around all the time, but...

What does it mean?
Why should you care?
How do you measure it?

Gather around 🔥

The Why + What of Audience Satisfaction

Take a step back. Forget your channel and videos for just a sec.

YouTube is a pirate ship (stay with me..)

AI is too much fun lol

Their goal is to find treasure. To find the proverbial "X" on the map. (Elon will be thrilled)

But how do they reach this treasure? What's going to guide them?

A compass. Audience Satisfaction is that compass.

Not a fan of metaphors? You're weird. But here's a more literal explanation:

Their goal as a business is to make money. How does that happen?

By keeping eyeballs on the platform for as long as possible.

A social platform is only as relevant as it's "stickiness". If eyes don't stay, revenue doesn't, either. (shoutout Quibi)

YouTube knows that only truly "satisfied" viewers will stay and, more importantly, come back for more.

But how is audience satisfaction determined?
What signals should YouTube (and you) be looking for?

How Audience Satisfaction Works on YouTube

Let's go back to the compass:

Cardinal Factors

There are four primary factors that contribute to audience satisfaction. I know they're in big red letters above, but here's a bulleted list for SEO purposes (and your enjoyment, of course)

  • Topic
  • Format
  • Relevance
  • Expectation

Let's take a quick stroll through each of these:


This is your north star as a creator and trumps all other factors.

If you're going to spend more time in pre-production, spend it here.

Topic informs everything about a video from packaging to story structure.


This is how you present your topic to the audience.

Lets take the topic of terrariums as an example. Here's a fraction of the formats we could try:

  • 7 Terrarium Mistakes even Experts Make
  • What to Know Before Building Your First Terrarium
  • I Built a Self-Sustaining Terrarium and this happened after 100 Days

Each of these hits a slightly different audience.

As you read each title, I bet your brain starts thinking of what the video might contain.

Said another way, the format creates an...


What is a viewer hoping to get from your content?

Knowing this will allow you to deliver exactly what they need with your content.

But where do these expectations come from?

A few options could be:

  • Format
  • Packaging
  • Video Intro
  • Viewer Intent
  • Suggested Content

Satisfaction only occurs when an expectation is met or exceeded.

Empty clickbait or unfulfilled promises don't last.


This is how connected your content is to your viewers.

How much does this resonate with them?

Before expectations are set, how much does your viewer care about your content topic?

If you have an interesting topic and packaging that sets a clear expectation, relevance is the final hurdle.

This largely determines how wide or narrow your potential viewer pool may be.

Its crucial to note that these Cardinal Factors don't have a clear data point associated with them. But, for YouTube to determine which videos are or aren't "satisfying", there needs to be something, right?

Ordinal Indicators

Definitely didn't have to look up compass terminology to find "ordinal"...

Like our factors, there are four indicators of audience satisfaction.

  • CTR
  • Retention
  • New Viewers
  • Returning Viewers

Word of Caution: Do not optimize for numbers alone. Targeting more clicks can lead to sensationalism and pure focus on retention can turn into soulless slippery slope content. Remember that your Studio data represents actual humans :)

Click Through Rate (CTR)

This is how often viewers click on your video when its presented anywhere on YouTube.

It can be a great indicator of audience interest in a topic or format.

CTR should always be taken in context of views and impressions on your videos.

It naturally decreases as your video reaches wider and wider audiences.

Don't be alarmed if a 1/10 video for you also has a slightly lower CTR as it ages.

However, CTR can't stand on its own as an indicator of audience satisfaction. It's incomplete.

Viewer Retention

Once viewers click, retention is how long they watch.

There are two ways to view this:

Average View Duration (AVD) - this will be a time amount

Average Percentage Viewed (APV) - this will be a percentage

Example video (math warning):

  • Assume a 10 minute video duration
  • If viewers watch 5 mins on average, that's 5:00 AVD and 50% APV

Obviously more = better for both of these, but it is important to view them separately.

With the recent push to longer videos, we see the APV dropping in exchange for much higher AVD. Does this mean that AVD is king and should be looked at exclusively? Not at all.

Watchtime Hours are king (and have been). But ultimately, they are a function of how many people click (CTR) and how long they watch (retention).

Do longer videos work? They can for sure.

They're working right now because most people have been making shorter (10-20 min) content. Longer videos may "look" better with regards to watchtime compared to channel's current average. However, once the market saturates and everyone's videos are being compared apples-to-apples with their longer videos, we'll be back where we started.

By all means, try out making a longer video if you can fill the time with valuable content.

Should you make a 45-minute video if you only have 13 minutes worth of stuff to say? Please don't.

New Viewers

If you aren't reaching new people, you aren't growing.

It's really that simple.

Need help reaching new viewers? You may like this article on virality.

While new viewers are crucial, sustainability comes from converting them into...

Returning Viewers

If new viewers are your growth engine, returning viewers are your foundation.

Once you have viewers coming back for more, you're able to test and iterate much quicker.

Don't forget to continue serving your returning viewers in your quest for growth.

A strong, loyal base is what separates the grounded creator from the algorithm surfer.

Keep in Mind...

Use a Lens

All videos are NOT created equal.

Can I get you 10M views on a video? Sure.

But if your goal is leads, 9.75M 12-year-olds probably won't help out.

Know your video’s job to be done, and use that lens accordingly.

Said another way: define what success is for your content.

Trust and Verify

In a world full of information, it's crucial to listen to trusted sources.

Seek advice from experienced creators and industry experts who understand the nuances of viewer satisfaction. (oh hey, that includes me 💁‍♂️)

However, always verify their insights with your data.

External expertise + your unique audience insights = winning strategy

Happy trails,

Ready for more?

1. Work with me 1-on-1
2. Say hi on Twitter or LinkedIn 👋
3. Reply anytime with a question! 📢

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