What Is Audience Retention And Why It Is So Important

YouTube will never stop growing; it seems. The platform now hosts over 30 million daily visitors, and over five billion videos are generating one billion views every single day. To be more specific, only 10,113 YouTube videos manage to generate more than one billion views individually. With 300 hours of video content uploaded to the platform daily, it’s no surprise.

Another interesting fact is that over half of YouTube video views come from mobile devices. The daily number of mobile video views currently stands on one billion, with an average session duration of more than 40 minutes! Consequently, YouTube videos’ watch-time steadily grows by 60% every year.

What is “Watch-Time”?

Watch Time is the cumulative sum of minutes people spent watching your videos. The equation is quite simple. Take your views and multiply them by the “average view duration” (or audience retention rate) metric in your analytics. The result will give you your watch time rate. Watch Time on YouTube involves two factors:

  1. Video Watch Time: the total amount of minutes people have spent watching a specific video of yours.
  2. General Watch Time: the total amount of minutes people have spent on YouTube as a platform and consumed content (not necessarily yours). 

What Is Audience Retention?

Audience retention refers to the average percentage of a YouTube video that people watch. Videos with high audience retention rates are usually more discoverable on YouTube’s platform. In the platform’s Analytics section for creators, Audience Retention is the Average View Duration.

In other words, when you’re looking at audience retention, you’re looking at the amount of time people spent watching your content. 

Why Is This Important?

Money. As a platform, YouTube’s endgame is to keep you watching content. The longer you stay on the platform in each session, the more money the bigwigs make, thanks to ads.

The platform’s algorithm actively promotes content that keeps people around on the platform. It does so in the suggested and recommended videos sections, as well as in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The goal is to keep you around and to watch more and more content.

What Is Audience Retention
Audience retention is the average percentage of a YouTube video that people watch.

Watch Time Goldilocks: Finding The Sweet Spot

This just in: length matters… At least as far as YouTube goes. As mentioned before, YouTube actively optimizes search and discovery for videos that increase watch times on the site as a whole. In other words, your video needs to be more than just entertaining and compelling to watch – it needs to be of a specific length.

The Problem With Overly Lengthy Videos

Watch time is more than just “what percentage of my video people watched.” It’s more complex, and you can’t “trick” the algorithm by stretching a 2 minutes video into a 30 minutes video. Not only will the viewers not stick around till the end or engage with your content, but they will also most likely leave the site altogether. Ultimately, this will make the algorithm avoid making your videos more discoverable on the platform, and you will achieve absolutely nothing.

The Problem With Extremely Short Videos

Due to what we’ve just talked about, you might think “right, then! I’ll make my videos so short that people will stay watching till the end. This trick will give me a 100% retention rate, and YouTube’s algorithm will love me.”

You are sorely mistaken. As we’ve mentioned multiple times now, the algorithm tends to favour videos that keep people on the platform as a whole, and not just on one video. Therefore, a 2 minutes video length with a 100% retention rate will be harder to rank highly in the SERP, instead of a 6 minutes video with a 50% retention rate. Your 6 minutes video will algorithmically link with other videos on the same topic. So, even if people only watched half of it and moved on to another video, the general session watch time is still high, and YouTube’s algorithm is a happy camper.

Finding Video Length That Is “Just Right”

So 30 minutes was too long, and 2 minutes was too short. We know what you’re asking yourself. “How in tarnation am I supposed to find the right length?”

All you need to do is compare your videos with your competitors (based on your focused keyword, of course). If all of your competitors have an average video length of 10 minutes, a 2 minutes video or a 30 minutes video won’t do the job for you. What you should do is watch what other creators are doing and learn from it.

The “Sweet Spot”

Many researches and studies tried to find that ever-elusive sweet spot. Many of them ultimately failed, but they did come to an important conclusion: the “perfect” average video lengths varied between 4-12 minutes. That’s quite a broad spectrum, we know – but it really depends on your niche and your video’s topic. Our best advice in this regard is to watch what the biggest creators in your niche are doing and take notes as far as their video length goes.

Other Factors Affecting Watch Time and Retention

Video Quality

Good content requires more than a camera, good lighting, and your face. Since humans have a short attention span – more so these days with the amount of instantly streamable content – you’ll need to make sure their eyes keep moving. Ever-changing visual content, with a wide range of scenes and camera angles, perform much better than a “point-and-shoot” static frame. Consider adding Pattern Interrupts, b-rolls, cutscenes, and other visuals.

Audio Quality

Audio is just as important as the visuals. Your video could have the best framerate and quality possible, but if your audio isn’t up to par, people will click out. You don’t need an expensive microphone and pop-filters to have good audio. What you need is to learn how your current mic performs best and edit your sound just as well as your video. Make sure you’re not screaming into the microphone and that your voice isn’t muffled or distorted.


No one likes watching paint dry. Make sure you’re animated and dynamic both in facial expressions and intonations. YouTube’s goal is to entertain and connect people. If you’re dull, no one will want to watch you. You have to become a performer – charismatic and compelling – if you want people to keep watching.


You have about 15 seconds to catch peoples’ attention and make them want to watch your video. Make sure you use those 15 seconds to give a proper introduction to your video. You don’t want people to click away, bored with your video, just because you couldn’t get to the point. Stay on topic and plan your video and script ahead of time.

Avoiding ClickBait
Clickbait is a kind of “false advertising” that’s designed to attract attention and entice users to click on your video, either by having an outrageous thumbnail or title.

Clickbait – Retention’s Biggest Enemy

Simply put, clickbait is a kind of “false advertising” that’s designed to attract attention and entice users to click on your video, either by having an outrageous thumbnail or title. The false advertising aspect comes in when the users find out that your video has absolutely nothing to do with the title and thumbnail.

What’s Wrong With Using Clickbait?

When done correctly? Nothing.

Clickbait could be a powerful marketing tool. When you have something shocking, valuable, or new to share with your audience – use these adjectives in your titles and descriptions, by all means! Clickbait is wrong when you use it to attract clicks and views – but your “bait” is irrelevant to your video. This “baiting” method makes people unbelievably angry. After all, they clicked on your video because they thought it would be relevant to them – only to waste their time watching it and realizing halfway that it’s not.

How To Avoid Clickbait, Then?

Easy – stay relevant and on topic. Don’t use adjectives like “shocking!” and “awesome!” unless necessary or appropriate. Don’t make up fake stories just for attention – people usually see right through it and will call you out for lying so publicly for attention. As we’ve already said: plan your videos ahead of filming. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and “test-run” it by writing a script. If you realize what you’re talking about has nothing to do with what you thought the video would be about – change your keywords and topic accordingly. Adapt and adjust and “keep it real.”

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