In this post (and in the video above), we're going to guide you through what it takes to get 4000 hours of Watch Time on YouTube.
We're all adults here, so I'm not going to insult your intelligence and ask you why you want to get 4000 hours of Watch Time. It's obvious - it's the only way you're going to be able to monetize your content on the platform. 4000 hours of Watch Time was never a milestone for any creator until YouTube introduced it as a rule for applying for the YouTube Partner Program. Now that YouTube has set that unique benchmark, let's find out what Watch Time is all about.
What Does 4000 hours of YouTube Watch Time Actually Mean?
In order for the 4000 hours of Watch Time to count, your videos have to be public. So that means you can't do a live stream, and then set it to unlisted. You also can't make videos and then six months down the line, delete them or set them to private. They have to remain public to count.
Also, you have to achieve that 4000 hours in 12 consecutive months. So, from today's date, going back 365 days. The videos don't need to have been published in the last 12 months, but they need to have been watched on your channel in the last 52 weeks.
But we have covered the 4000 hours topic to within an inch of its life on this video so please take time to watch if you want more details.
How to Keep track of 4000 Hours of YouTube Watch Time
If you want to keep track of your Watch Time hours, YouTube Studio has a dedicated page in the left-hand navigation panel called ‘Monetization’. This will show you both subscriber and Watch Time progress.
Alternatively, if you want to keep tabs on your Watch Time, subscribe account, and other channel stats, anywhere on YouTube, download VidIQ, and you'll get this awesome realtime stats bar. No need to worry about the price either, this one's on us, completely free.
Why 4000 Hours of YouTube Watch Time is a Major Creator Goal
With that all being said, let's get into mindset. This is something I frequently talk about with creators who have these types of goals in mind. If you start a YouTube channel with the sole intention of getting 4000 hours of Watch Time, and 1000 subscribers, and then monetizing your content, then I'm afraid to say, the majority of you are never going to make it.
First of all, you're thinking far too much about yourself, as opposed to your audience. Second of all, it's too big a goal to achieve when you first start out on YouTube.
4000 hours of Watch Time is a lot. It's 240,000 minutes or to put it in another way, it's a single person watching your content continuously for 166.6 days.
If you publish your first video on YouTube, and you get just an hour of Watch Time out of it, over the first week, I would be pretty satisfied with that. Not going to lie - 4000 hours of Watch Time is hard for a reason.
YouTube wants as much data as possible out of your content so that it can trust you with their advertising partners. Remember, it's not YouTube who's paying you directly, it's those advertisers. YouTube essentially is a middleman in this case, and it needs to make sure that the content it broadcasts on its platform doesn't create controversy. There has been a whole ton of that in the last decade.
And this is where we've ended up, 1000 subscribers, 4000 hours of Watch Time.
Now, some people may disagree with this but I believe YouTube doesn't owe you anything. They allow you to broadcast your content to a global audience for free. When you are, over time, able to prove yourself to your audience and YouTube, then yes, let's start making some money together. But don't see monetization as an entitlement, see it as a privilege. Work for it, earn it, respect it.
Why Evergreen Content is the Key to Watch Time Success
Take a look at these stats. They are real-time view counts for some of our best performing videos on the vidIQ YouTube channel. Notice anything in particular? Take a look at the publish date:
Almost all of these videos were published more than six months ago, and yet today they still bring in thousands of daily views for us. These videos work for the channel days, weeks, months, even years after I've published them.
You've probably heard of these types of videos before. They are evergreen content, and we've done a very detailed case study into how we implemented that strategy into our channel:
To get discovered on YouTube can be quite difficult. One of the ways to do that is for your content to appear in the search results. If you can answer questions, provide valuable information on topics people are searching for, especially if those topics are recent, for example, the latest software update on a game, new beauty products, the latest tech, etc, you can establish yourself in the search for those topics.
And depending on the shelf life of that topic, your videos can last longer in terms of getting views, and Watch Time. It may not be as sexy as viral content that gets you lots of views in a very short space of time. But if you get it right, you can see your videos generate consistent views over a long period of time.
We've seen this happen many times on our YouTube channel. And once you have 5 or 10 pieces of evergreen content, you'll soon see your views graph go up and to the right, and you'll rapidly start chasing those 4000 hours of Watch Time.
How Live Streams Can Accelerate Watch Time Hours
If you're a user or follower of VidIQ, you’ll know that every Tuesday, we do channel audit live streams where you submit your YouTube channel, and we give you constructive criticism.
When we first started doing these live streams two years ago, we were getting maybe 50 to 100 people watching them. Now we get on average between 600 and 700 people. And every time we check our live stream analytics, we see Watch Time bombs!
Do the simple math, if 600 people watch a two-hour live stream, that's 1200 hours of Watch Time. Now I can't promise you those types of numbers, and I wouldn't even recommend it doing live streams when you first start your YouTube channel, because the chances are, you might not get a single person joining you on it.
When you're 6, or even 9 months into your YouTube journey, and you have built up an audience of a few hundred subscribers, even if you get maybe 10 or 20 people joining you for a live stream for one or two hours, that's a nice bit of Watch Time.
Those people who join your live streams are your super fans. They care about you and your progress on the YouTube platform. But it does take time to cultivate that audience.
Here at VidIQ, we've been live streaming for two years. But in the last few months, something amazing has happened, and it seems to have happened organically. A meme culture has sprouted up around the live streams, and we've embraced this so much so that we incentivize our viewers to make fun of us in exchange for channel audits.
We have no idea it was going to go in this direction, but we love this type of community engagements, and apparently so do you. So when you find your YouTube audience, make that audience your community, part of your channel, and you can do that through live streams, which means lots of Watch Time for you.
Why Consistency is Key to YouTube Watch Time Growth
Don't get me wrong, viral videos are a wonderful thing. They really give your channel a kick up the backside. But I never go into the video-making process with the intention of making a viral video. It's just a very happy and very welcome bonus when it does happen. When people ask this question, and they do genuinely ask it, "How do I make viral content?" This is my answer:
"Aim to make better content on a consistent basis"
Be consistent with every aspect of your YouTube workflow, whether it’s the way you film, the scripts that you write, how you present on camera, how you edit, the custom thumbnails you create, or the titles that you write - aim to improve on your previous content by 1% or 2% every time.
If you create 50 to 100 videos over a year, you'll look back at those videos from 12 months ago and say, "Wow, those were terrible, but look where I am today." If you put all of your effort into just one video, determined that this is going to be your viral moment, you are going to drive yourself insane, and you'll burn out on YouTube very, very quickly.
Let me give you an example. We launched our Spanish Language VidIQ channel just over a year ago, and at first the channel grew very slowly. But we knew we were creating good content on a consistent basis. And once YouTube had enough data, and positive signals from our content, the channel started blowing up.
No viral videos, just good consistent content being shared more and more by YouTube to the right audience. And in the end, we didn't just reach 4000 hours of Watch Time, we crushed it. But we had to be patient. Now that content attracts pretty significant views like this one with 257K at time of writing:
The Secret to YouTube Watch Time Success: Quantity vs Quality
All right, let's start off with the obvious. Everybody wants to create the best quality content they can, but at what point do you reach diminishing returns? Is it worth putting in extra resources to make this video even better, or there is a cutoff point where you end the video and say, "I'm going to move on to the next thing?
It’s that classic question of quality versus quantity. My personal opinion is that quantity has more value to you as a creator when you first start out on YouTube. Let me explain.
First of all the experience you build by being consistent on YouTube helps you learn how the platform works. If you're focused solely on making videos all of the time, and never take the time to read the comments you attract or the metrics, you're never quite sure how your audience is going to react to that content.
Second of all, the more videos you publish on YouTube, the more data YouTube has to play with, in terms of serving up your content to the right audience. Think of it as filling out an application form. The more boxes you tick, and the more thorough your answers are, the faster and more efficiently this application form can be processed.
Also, when it's time-sensitive content, you really do need to consider how fast you can a video out. For example, when there is a big new story, yes, you could spend an extra few hours or even days working on the video to make it of higher quality, but then you're losing out on the potential audience that wants that information right now.
Now, this is not a hard and fast rule. For example, Marques Brownlee is a very popular tech YouTuber, who does amazing reviews on products. But he doesn't try and rush those reviews out as a product is released.
He may do a quick hands on when it first comes out, but then he spends a considerable amount of time creating a very high-quality piece of content after. So in this sense, he gets the best of both worlds, a video that rides the waves of a trending news story, and then a really high quality, very high-value video for his audience. Like this one:
And finally, when you're creating content as a new channel, you don't have the volume to send YouTube enough positive signals so it recommends that content for a longer period of time.
How to Analyse YouTube Data to Understand Watch Time
There are a lot of YouTube education channels out there, ourselves included, but you know who else is a really good YouTube educator? It's YouTube itself with all the data they have to offer you.
Ignore YouTube's analytics at your peril. If you didn't already know this, on the ‘Reach’ tab of the ‘Analytics’ dashboard in YouTube Studio, there is a data funnel of impressions, click-through rates, and Watch Time stats.
If you mouse over the information icon, it tells you in YouTube's own words, that you can increase the chance of YouTube suggesting your content by increasing click through rates, and your video Watch Time.
When it comes to Watch Time, you can analyze each video in great detail by looking at the audience retention. You can do this via the ‘Videos’ dashboard on YouTube Studio.
Of course, you want to get as high a Watch Time as possible, and while there is no magic Watch Time percentage, if you're getting over 50% consistently, you're doing a good job. People usually abandon videos when they are bored, or when the video doesn't deliver what was promised in the title in the thumbnail.
Through this graph, you can see where you might have pain points. Maybe your intro is far too long for example and you lose viewers before you even start.
Every once in a while, check out your audience retention on the last 5 to 10 videos and determine whether or not there is a consistent pattern of audience dropping off your content.
And while we're on the subject of Watch Time, and audience visualization, don't fall into the trap of making longer videos in an attempt to get more Watch Time. Make the video as long as it needs to be for your audience.
For example, we cannot make a video on how to delete a YouTube video for 20 minutes. But we can create a bite-sized, two to three minute video, that gives the viewer exactly what they want. It also gives YouTube positive signals and launches our content to the top of the search rankings.
Listen to Your YouTube Audience!
We received hundreds of comments from the vidIQ community saying that they wanted to get 1000 subscribers so that they could get a Support-A-Creator code for Fortnite.
We already knew we had a lot of gamers who follow and watch VidIQ, but what we didn't realize was just how many of those gamers play Fortnite, and specifically want this Support-A-Creator pack.
While it is true that you will find out a lot about your general audience from YouTube analytics, you'll never find out key nuggets of information like that. And all we had to do was simply ask you our audience a question. and I bet you can guess what we did with that information.
That's right, we assigned Dan, our gaming expert, to get the answers that you needed, and to create a video on that topic. At the ti,e of writing, the video has generated nearly 150K views, and perhaps more importantly, now sits at the top of the YouTube rankings for a very juicy search term.
Given the evergreen potential of this video, I think that if it stays at the top of the search rankings, it will have half a million views by the end of the year.
If your community is generating video ideas for you, and they respond really well to those videos, you'll get to 4000 hours of Watch Time in no time.
Build More Watch Time & Views on YouTube
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