Rank #1 in 2024: improve audience retention on YouTube

Rank #1 in 2024: improve audience retention on YouTube
Written by: Dexxter Clark
Next to Watch Time Audience Retention is the other HUGE in ranking #1 on YouTube.
But viewers on YouTube have a small attention span.
How can you improve your audience retention?
Here are 17 extremely useful tips.

1. Jump cuts

A jump cut is a video editing cut that jumps forward in time.
Basically, you trim out the parts where nothing exciting is happening to speed up the flow of your video.
In regular movies and tv shows a jump cut is considered amateurish and you won’t see it.
To disguise a jump cut, movies and tv-shows use b-roll, so the viewer won’t notice the small change.
Also video clips use a lot of jump cuts.

The world of YouTube made the jump cut famous.
The jump cut is ideal to edit out annoying “uhm”-s, long pauses in a conversation or a recording take that went wrong.
The other advantage of the jump jut is a little change in the image, so the viewer is constantly fed a change to keep the attention of the viewer.

An example of a jump cut:
In a vlog you follow someone who takes the escalator.
With 4 jump cuts that person is in 2 seconds at the top, but in reality it takes 30 seconds.
Showing all 30 seconds adds nothing to the story of the video.
Viewers understand that it took 30 seconds, but are glad that they do not have to watch every single second.
Those 4 jump cuts speed up the pace of the vlog tremendously.

Creators that are just starting out use the jump cut far too little or too often, and I had my fair share of that too.
Some (experienced) creators, mostly targeting younger audiences, use the jump cut far too often for my taste.
If a viewer doesn’t pay attention for 5 seconds, the viewer loses the story/anecdote or joke, which is kind of the purpose to keep viewers hooked.

With a jump cut you can change the camera angle a bit, so the image information on the screen changes to keep it “fresh”.
I use jump cuts mainly between parts of recording and reading the script.
I read a part of the script, record my lines, read the script, record my lines, read, record etc.

Every separate recording I use the optical zoom of the camera or change the position of the camera.
Zooming in or out you can do in the edit, but you lose a bit of image quality by zooming in or have too little screen estate to zoom out, so I try to avoid that.

Use a jump cut at the end of a sentence, not in the middle, that feels very weird.
The exception for a jump cut mid-sentence is to emphasize something you say.

For example:
I say: “that was a huge building”.
I can choose the emphasize the word “huge” by using a jump cut to do a close up of my face right before I say “huge”, and after the word “huge” do a jump cut back to the original size of the image.

You have to record the sentence twice, one zoomed-in and the other zoomed-out.
Changing between the zoomed-in and zoomed-out version you do in your video editing program, it’s impossible to operate the camera while you are talking.

2. B-roll

Looking at an talking head for 20 minutes is boring (=A-roll).
Therefore we use A-roll combined with B-roll footage to keep viewers and the YouTube algorithm hooked.
YouTube’s algorithms may determine the topic of your video better if you use a lot of relevant b-roll.

Using only B-roll in a video can feel impersonal for the viewer, because you don’t see the person who is talking.
In a lot of documentaries you never see the host.
To prevent documentaries from getting boring, a lot of film producers choose to mix the B-roll with interviews where you see the interviewed person (A-roll).

In one of my videos I showed a photo of a girl in the shower (it fit the video).
The audience retention graph showed a spike at the point that the photo was in the video.
In other words: people scroll through your timeline to see if something interesting happens.
When you use this technique, don’t overdo it and the b-roll has to fit the video.

There has to be a good balance between talking and showing.
Only showing is not good, only talking is also not good.

3. Picture in picture

An extension of the B-roll: picture in picture.
When you are talking about a topic you can show the subject in the topic of the screen.
This can be a graph, photo or moving images.
The viewer has something to see besides a (boring) talking head.

4. Music

Music is a good way to hook viewers if it fits the tone of the video.
Finding the right music for your video is time consuming, and the viewer doesn’t even notice if it fits.

But nothings feels weirder for the viewer than music not fitting a video.
Aggressive music in a serious photo editing tutorial does not fit.
Quiet smooth jazz on background music does fit a tutorial.

Make sure the volume level of music doesn’t distract from the information in the video.
A volume level or -36 dB is generally a good level for background music.

5. Sound FX

Sound effects can be a good and fun way to keep viewers hooked.
You can emphasize an action or a joke.
Cartoon (like) sound effect can increase the hilarity factor of a video.
Two guys fist bumping with a 60’s-cowboy-movie-face-punch as a sound effect is funny.

6. Sound volume

Changes is sound volume can help you to achieve a certain effect: casual, aggressive, funny or scary.
In horror movies they use this trick in abundance:

A girl hears a noise in the basement.
It’s dark, she walks down the stars with a flashlight.
The music is soft, but eerie.
At the bottom of the stars she looks left, total silence, she looks right:
First the total silence, then the extremely loud sound effect.
This combination of silence and loudness is part the formula of every scary movie.

You may not produce scary videos, but it can emphasize jokes for example.
Make sure the sound does not clip, digital sound can not exceed the threshold of 0 dB.

7. Visual effects

Temporary visual effects can also help to improve audience retention.
It can be a text graphic (for example to highlight certain words in the video) or a color change (for example a black and white).
But also an on-screen animation, like an mouse pointer that clicks the subscribe button.

8. Movement

Make sure there is always some kind of movement in your video.
It can be the talking head, an animation or someone walking by in the background.
YouTube is video platform, not photo platform.

9. Don’t say goodbye

When viewers get the whiff of a video being finished, they leave the video.
Don’t drop hints that the video is over, so viewers keep watching until the end.
In other words: this benefits your audience retention.

What indicates that your video is over?
  • Any CTA, end screen
  • “that’s it guys”
  • “I hope you liked it”
  • “more information about X you can find Y”
  • “the best comment of last week"
  •  “thank you for watching”
  • “I want to thank X for doing Y”
  • “it was fun researching this video”
  • “you can find me on Patreon”
  • “if you want to sponsor the channel”

Just end video without saying goodbye.
The same goes for YouTube end screens for the sake of having an end screen.
If you use end screens, make sure there is relevant information till the end of the video and the end screen is displayed on top of that.

Sometimes I sacrifice a CTA for a commercial benefit or do a hand-off to the next video: tell viewers what they should watch next to increase session watch time.
If you do a CTA, make sure that the end screen is displayed first, so when the viewer wants to click away, at least he has a suggestion on what to watch next.

10. A good hook

Tell the viewer in the beginning of the video what they can expect, preferably with footage about what is coming up.
It sets the expectation for the viewer that they clicked on the right video.
People asses in the first 5 seconds if they want to watch the video or not.
If you can convince them to watch, the chance is bigger that they watch it until the end.

This technique is used in television a lot.
For example:
At the beginning of a makeover show they say “in this episode: Brian who thinks he still lives in the middle ages and Karen who’s left far too few to the imagination”.
Before the commercial break: “up next: Brian has got ridden of his sword, but is his ego still intact?”
After the commercial break: “Brian has trouble living without his sword” (and you see Brian cry).

11. Audio quality

The funny thing is, that people are pretty forgiving when it comes to video quality, but are relentless regarding audio quality.

On-board microphones of a camera are terrible and combined with non-treated rooms, the effect is even worse.
Most cameras have sound compressors which amplifies the noise in quiet parts.
With my music production background, I cringe when I hear overactive compressors.
I simply can’t watch the video, it’s so amateurish.

A simple lavalier lapel mic costs 80 dollars, which fixes 80% of the sound problem.
I say, 80 dollars hardly worth the chance that a viewer to drops off and watches somebody else’s video.

12. Top 10

List videos do really well in search and discovery, because it keeps viewers hooked till the end.
When you make a top 5 (top 10, top 20 or whatever) of the best …. the most … the wildest ... the deadliest ...
Start with the last number and build up to the first at the end of the video.
Viewers want to know what is better than the previous item in the list.

13. Tell a compelling story

If you tell a compelling story, viewers want to watch until the end to see what happens.
This increases watch time, the most important promotion metric for YouTube.

Telling a compelling story is applies to tutorials, promotions, commercials, vlogs and every Hollywood film script.

In my article: How to get more views on Youtube: tell the perfect story I tell you step-by-step how to write a compelling story for your YouTube video.

14. Study your audience retention data

Your YouTube analytics data tell you a lot about the performance of your videos.
Understanding why people drop off is a valuable lesson to learn.
Use the knowledge you gather to your advantage in your next video.
Maybe it’s something you said or did, that makes people want to click away.

How to see audience retention?
  • Go to YouTube Studio
  • Click on “Videos” at the left side of the screen
  • Hover over a video and click “Analytics”
  • On the tab “Overview” is a card that says: “Audience Retention”, click on “See More”
  • In this screen you see a graph that shows where viewers are leaving the video 

My audience retention graph showed me that many people were dropping off when my bumper played.
So I shortened my bumper.
By looking at my audience retention graph I could see that that did the trick, I didn’t see as many drop offs.

15. Table of contents

For longer videos with sub topics, put a table of contents in the video description.
If people are bored they can easily skip to the next section.
I prefer viewer skipping to other parts over viewers leaving.

I made the mistake in one of my videos to say in my introduction: “at the end of the video I’ll tell you my advice, the timestamp is in the description”.
In my eyes there was nothing wrong with that.
But my audience retention graph showed that almost everyone skipped to the end of the video.

In an updated video about the same topic, I put a table of contents in the description (including the advice) and the audience retention was drastically improved.
I only said: “table of content is in the description”.

I took me by surprise at first why people would skip to the end in one scenario and not in the other, while 95% of the video content was the same.
Later I realized that I implicitly said: “the first part of the video is not interesting, skip to the end”.

A table of contents has the additional benefit: you list topic of the video in your description.
This helps the algorithm with search keywords to rank in YouTube search.

16. Bonus tips / “watch till the end”

You can extend viewers watch time by delivering value after you hinted that the video might be over, this is the point that most viewers drop off.
This increases responses to your Call To Action (CTA) you do at the end and it keeps viewers watching.
That value could be a super important bonus tip or a discount code.

For example:
“Make sure you watch till the end, because I have two bonus tips for you that can save you a lot of money”.

17. Cards before drop off points

This item is about improving your session watch time, rather than audience retention on one video.

If you see clear drop off points in your audience retention graph, you could place cards with a relevant video 2 seconds before a drop off point.
Viewers that are dropping off anyway, could be enticed to watch another of your videos, which increases your session watch time.

With an increased session watch time viewers stay longer on the platform and YouTube rewards you for that in the rankings.
When you are serious about YouTube and want to take it to the next level, take a look at my video training program: Viral Strategy.
The program takes you step-by-step through the process of getting views, subscribers and going viral.

For new creators I included a module that guides you step-by-step through the process of starting, creating and setting up a YouTube channel.

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