Here’s the familiar pre-roll, “in-stream” ad we see all the time on YouTube. But the core video that is playing in the pre-roll is just a normal YouTube video that’s being amplified with paid views. If you discovered this video via YouTube search rather than as a pre-roll, its view count would include both paid and organic views; but you, the viewer, would not know how many of those views were paid.
You don’t know how much of the video is being watched
A common misconception of YouTube views, whether paid or organic, is that someone has watched all or most of a video. Not true. On YouTube, someone has to watch >30 seconds to be counted a view. For videos longer than 30 seconds, advertisers are only charged when someone watches for 30 seconds or more (or clicks on the advertiser link in the lower left).
But, in truth, the amount of time watched to count as a view shouldn’t really matter, unless you are using view count as your primary metric of success, which you should not.
There are better things to track
Much more important than the YouTube view count is the targeting of that video as an ad, or the organic viewership’s level of engagement with that same video. If those views are creating awareness among the right audience, or if the video is creating sales, that’s great. But views for view’s sake are just a vanity metric.
Other than just trying to look respectable, the implicit idea behind having lots of views on an ad is that
- You’ll sell more stuff (or)
- You’ll get ranked higher in YouTube search (or higher in suggested videos, which appear in the right column of video watch pages).
But neither of these goals can be accomplished with views alone.
Selling more stuff
For the goal of selling more stuff, views only matter if you’re targeting the right audiences, and if your ad is effective. These are basic principles of advertising. But often targeting is sacrificed with the goal of getting more views, no matter the results.
Trying to get ranked higher on YouTube by getting more views
The YouTube algorithm stopped ranking videos mostly by view counts several years ago. Instead, today videos are ranked by an algorithm based on “Watch Time,” which is a shortcut description for a number of factors that YouTube doesn’t exactly spell out. YouTube says the longer people watch your videos organically, or the longer they watch your videos as part of an overall YouTube-watching session that includes videos by other channels, they will rank your videos higher.
How much does it cost to buy 1 million views?
If a company were just looking for views without any targeting, they could get a million views for less than $10,000. And while $10,000 is a notable price for a small business to spend on a vanity metric of a million views, for a large company that just spent, say, $100,000 or so shooting a TV commercial that’s going to be repurposed to go on YouTube, it’s not that much.
The lowest possible price possible per view is one cent. So $.01 x 1,000,000 equals $10,000, a reasonable price to get a million views. Technically, you could get this for a lower price, because on some pre-roll ads you will get views counted toward your videos without the viewers watching long enough to be billed within the ad system.
But who would we target in this sample YouTube ad? Well, if you didn’t care who the ad targeted, or where or when, you could do it cheap, but it wouldn’t be very effective. You could run the ad in a foreign country where views were cheaper (and where you might not even do business). You could decline to target by age range, or gender, or interest… or anything.
The YouTube TrueView/AdWords for video system would be happy to sell you those views. But what would this accomplish? It will simply get you a big number to show your boss. That is fine as long as he doesn’t ask any pesky questions about who watched the video or why it’s not getting any results other than views.
Is the ad effective because it reached a million views? Only if it’s well targeted in both the distribution and the way the video communicates its message, and eventually leads to brand lift and sales.
Here are some better metrics
There are some metrics to measure the effectiveness of a video. These numbers are harder to find, and a little more difficult to describe – and none, sadly, are as sexy as the YouTube view count.
It’s pretty hard to reverse-engineer the YouTube algorithm, but here are several apples-to-apples metrics that will help you infer how a video is doing that you can compare with your other videos.
1) Organic Audience Retention
YouTube “Audience Retention” is a heat map that shows what percentage of viewers are watching at any given second during a video. This is a pretty awesome metric. It breaks out retention by paid and organic views. Basically, you’re trying to figure out how long people are watching on average. One way to look at is at what time 50% of the audience has left the video. If it’s after just a few seconds, the video isn’t very compelling to the audience you’re currently reaching. Note, this doesn’t mean the video is bad – it might work very well for television, for instance. But for the YouTube audience you’re currently targeting, the message is not currently resonating.