YouTube Audience retention - less important than you think

YouTube Audience retention - less important than you think play video
Written by: Dexxter Clark

What is audience retention on YouTube and what does it mean?

Audience retention tells the story of how interested viewers are in a video.
This is important because audience retention is a key factor in YouTube promoting videos on YouTube.

YouTube looks at 3 things
  •  how many viewers click
  •  how many viewers watch a video all the way (audience retention)
  •  how many viewers watch multiple videos

There are 2 metrics used to express audience retention:
  •  Average Percentage Viewed (APV) – expressed in a percentage
  •  Average View Duration (AVD) – expressed in minutes and seconds
When a video is 10 minutes long and viewers watch on average 5 minutes of the video, the Average View Duration is 5 minutes.
Viewers watch on average half of the video.
This means that the video has an Average Percentage Viewed of 50%,

Audience retention doesn’t scale linearly

Logically when the length of the video increases, viewers keep watching longer.
So both Average Percentage Viewed and Average View Duration increase.

But APV and AVD don’t scale linearly with the length of the video.
If a 5 minute video has an APV of 50% (= AVD 2,5 min),
a 10 minute video probably has an APV of 30% (=AVD 3 min).

In contrast to popular belief, you can’t say that an Average Percentage Viewed of 50% is always good.
It depends on your competition and length of the video if 50% is good or not.
For a 2 minute video 50% is bad, for a 20 minute video it very good.
For a YouTube short, 50% is extremely bad.

In the same way you can’t say that an Average View Duration of 4 minutes is always good: for a 5 minute video it is good, for a 20 minute video it is bad.

What is more important Click Through Rate or Average View Duration?

Besides that CTR is not a reliable metric to measure a video’s performance (read my article on YouTube’s biggest lie: CTR to find out why), making viewers click outweighs a good audience retention by a long shot.

However, be aware that if your audience retention sucks beyond belief, YouTube won’t promote the video either.

To prove that viewers-clicking is more important than watch time, I’ve uploaded the same video with the same title and thumbnail to 2 different channels at the same time:
  • a small channel with 130 videos
  • a brand new channel with 5 videos.

The Click Through Rate on both channels:
  • small channel: 8.4% CTR for 550 views
  • new channel: 5.2% CTR for 750 views
So, the video with a lower CTR is promoted more.

Average View Duration:
  • small channel: 3:12min for 550 views
  • new channel: 1:49min for 750 views
For context, the video is 5:46min long.

The conclusion:
The video with less watch time is promoted more.
In other words, watch time doesn`t mean nearly as much as viewers clicking on thumbnails.

Why the brand new channel performs better has to do with the audience that YouTube promotes the video to (which I don’t want to go into in the article).
The CTR being lower (while more people click) and still being promoted corroborates my statements about the uselessness of Click Through Rate as metric in my article on the misinformation regarding YouTube Click Through Rate.

What is a good, average and bad Average Percentage Viewed on YouTube?

Here is a table with the averages across YouTube, released by YouTube themselves:
Video length 3 min 6 min 10 min 15 min 30 min
Top 10 of videos 82% 71% 61% 54% 49%
Median 62% 50% 44% 37% 31%

What a good average audience retention is, depends on your niche, competition and length of the video.

Just like with everything on YouTube, it is always compared to the competition to determine a baseline.

Based on the baseline YouTube can determine what whether videos are perceived well (or not) by the audience and therefore if it should promote the video or not.

Audience retention at 30 seconds

The easiest way to increase your audience retention is to increase your Average Percentage Viewed at 30 seconds.
This tells you how many viewers make it passed the beginning of the video.
The more viewers you keep in the beginning of the video, the more will reach the end.

How to interpret APV at 30 seconds:
80+ Very good
70-80 Good
70 Room for improvement

If you have lower than 70% APV at 30 seconds, you lose almost half of your viewers, which is alarming.

You need to ask yourself why this is.

Often this has the following causes:
    • the video is not what viewers expect:
        ◦ you don’t deliver upon the promise of title+thumbnail in the first few seconds
        ◦ you don’t link the title+thumbnail to the content of your video in the firstfew seconds
        ◦ viewers think you can’t give them the answer they are looking for (especially with educational content)
    • viewers think you are wasting their time:
        ◦ you have a bumper
        ◦ your intro is too long, shorten it to 10 seconds or ditch your intro altogether

How do you calculate Average Percentage Viewed on YouTube?

The formula to calculate average percentage viewed is:
APV = time viewers watched / video length * 100
Check the table above to see it the result is good or not.

The easiest way is to calculate APV is in seconds.
For example:
If a video is 10 minutes long (=600 secs) and viewers watch on average 5 minutes (=300 secs), the formula is as follows:

APV = 300 / 600 * 100 = 50%

What is a good average percentage viewed on YouTube shorts?

Your Average Percentage Viewed must be around 80% - 90% for Shorts.
But just like with APV for long-form content, what is good depends on the competition and the length of the Short.

In other words: make sure that you get to the point quickly and there are no dull moments in your video.
It works best to have “no end” to the video, the video ends abruptly.

Even better is a video that is a loop that can be watched multiple times.

Why is my average view duration so low

Generalizing: viewers are not into the video.
This can have a couple causes, the most important ones:
  • You have a low APV at 30 seconds (see the tips above)
  • Viewers got the value they came for and click away after that
  • Hinting that the video is over
  • Saying or showing something that repels viewers
The trick is to find out what is happening by looking at the peaks and dips in your audience retention graph.
When you look at the audience retention of multiple videos, try to spot patterns.

Read my article on increasing YouTube audience retention for tangible tips.

How can Average Percentage Viewed be over 100% in YouTube Analytics?

Viewers are watching (parts of) your video multiple times.
Common reasons for this:
  • Viewers can’t understand what you are saying
  • Something funny, crazy or weird happened that they want to watch again
  • Something important is too short to properly process
  • viewers watched the video at slower than 100% playback speed

How to read the YouTube audience retention graph?

You audience retention graph tells you the truth about what viewers really think of your video.

How to interpret the audience retention graph?
  • flat as a pancake: you keep viewers in the video, very good!
  • Sudden decline: that is bad. Figure out what happened
  • Spike: people either skip in the video to the next part (often happens with video chapters) or viewers rewind that part of the video.
  • Dip: viewers skip parts of your video. Try to minimize this.
  • Gradual decline: that is pretty normal

Relative vs absolute audience retention

The absolute audience retention is what we mean when we say audience retention: how are viewers behaving in your video.

Relative audience retention tells you how viewers behave compared to all other videos on YouTube of the same length.
Relative audience retention is a tricky metric, because some niches just have better audience retentions than others.

A channel for a younger (impatient audience) tends to have worse relative audience retention than the yoga niche for example.
In the yoga niche viewers generally finish the yoga session, and thus audience retention is higher.
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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