The Many Ways YouTube Encourages Content Discovery


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YouTube sets the gold standard on creating an experience built from the ground up to strongly encourage content discovery. I’ve been using YouTube for years and I’ve seen it continue to evolve the variety of approaches used throughout it’s site and mobile app and constantly refine them to drive yet more video views.

Given so many of the experiences we create across the web are similarly trying to encourage content discovery (whether it’s videos, music, photos, news, people, restaurants, experts, and so much more), I thought it would be valuable to catalog some of the best practices YouTube leverages for the benefit of other product designers looking to refine their own experiences.

Watch Page Recommendations
The first thing you’ll notice when watching a video on YouTube is the entire right-hand sidebar is additional recommendations of other videos to watch. This set of recommendations is not just classic video-to-video collaborative filtering (ie. people who viewed this video also viewed these other videos), but also takes into account your own behavior to provide personalized video recommendations. You can see that this is the case by logging in with a different account and observing different recommendations on the same video watch page. These recommendations are given prominent real estate right next to the player and more than 20 video recommendations are typically shown on each page.

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Channel Page Recommendations
YouTube recently redesigned their channel pages to more prominently showcase the publisher’s content. In addition to the hero slot prominently featuring their most recent upload or hand-curated feature, they display multiple streams of the publisher’s videos, including popular videos, recent uploads, and individual streams of publisher curated playlists. You’ll notice that YouTube isn’t betting on just one stream of recommended content, but instead showcasing popularity, recency, and hand curated streams to let the user find what content they might enjoy most.

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Homepage Recommendations
YouTube presents very different homepage experiences depending on how engaged of a YouTube user you are. For non-engaged users, they fallback to showcasing the most popular content in a magazine layout sectioned by content categories.

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Yet for an engaged user, the experience transforms to a feed of recommended content based on new content from your subscriptions, recommended content based on watch history, and social activity from your network. You’ll notice that even for an engaged user like me the experience is heavily biased towards recommendations and subscription content instead of social activity, which is certainly a trade-off they’ve learned over time through constant experimentation, since the feed wasn’t always biased this way.

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Weekly Digest Email
In addition to the on-site experience, YouTube sends a weekly digest email of new content from your channel subscriptions to make sure you never miss the latest content and brings you back to YouTube for yet more recommended video views.

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Constant A/B Testing
YouTube constantly A/B tests the layouts of it’s recommended content. For example, I found this current A/B test that they are running for different side-by-side vs. single list view treatments for the recent uploads stream. This ensures that not only the best recommendations are surfaced, but the layout is optimized for maximum video discovery.

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Picture-in-Picture on Mobile
YouTube is constantly innovating on the user experience itself to encourage even more content discovery. Their latest measure was to enable picture-in-picture playback and browsing in their mobile application. What this means is that while a video is currently playing, you can minimize it and browse additional content that you want to play next. It’s executed remarkably well. While a popular technique for music apps, haven’t seen many video apps enable such an experience.

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Content Discovery from the Community
What I love most about the YouTube community is their own passion for enhancing the experience and their creativity in facilitating their own content discovery. I wanted to highlight three techniques that content creators themselves have embraced for furthering content discovery.

The first technique is embedding links to their other videos right at the end of the video leveraging YouTube’s feature to allow you to make parts of your video clickable. Many folks leverage this feature to showcase other recent content that they’ve published.

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Collaborations between YouTube content creators are another extremely common way creators introduce each other to their respective audiences, thus encouraging further subscriptions for both of their channels.

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Some channels exist solely to introduce you to other creator content. These publishers serve as content curators for all the great content already on YouTube and play an important function in hand curating one’s experience on YouTube.

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I hope this highlights some of the ways YouTube strongly encourages content discovery and gives you ideas on how you can leverage these best practices for your own products.
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