Google Watch Times Algorithm For Rankings?

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Google was granted a patent this week about how Google may rank some search results, by looking at watch times.

The patent appears to be aimed at video content, but it tells us that it might be applied to how long someone might watch a page after they’ve been delivered to the page, even if that page doesn’t contain video. The page may contain images or audio, and watch times for that content might be tracked as well.


Regarding videos, the patent tells us that a score might be adjusted for resources like videos based on how long people tend to watch that video content. That score might be boosted if people tend to watch the video for longer periods of time, and might be reduced if people historically tend to watch that video for shorter periods of time. This watch times score could be used to boost or demote a video in search rankings for a query.

The patent is:

Watch time based ranking
Inventors: James Lawry, Bryan M. Kressler, Stanislav Plamenov Angelov, David Elson, Christian Kaiserlian, David Agraz, Jeremy Hylton, and Phong Thanh Pham
Assigned to: Google
US Patent 9,098,511
Granted August 4, 2015
Filed: March 6, 2013


Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on computer storage media, for ranking search results. One of the methods includes identifying one or more sessions for a query and associating watch times of the respective resources watched in the sessions with the query. One or more watch time signals are calculated for a first resource and the query based on the watch times associated with the query. A first search result responsive to the query is obtained, wherein the first search result identifies the first resource and has an associated score S. A new score S’ is calculated based on a least S and a watch time function, the watch time function being a function of the one or more watch time signals. The new score S’ is provided to a process for ranking search results including the first search result.


I wanted to see if there was any discussion of watch times as a ranking signal at Google or YouTube and found one which says that at some point Video Views was replaced by Watch Times as a way to rank videos at YouTube. The article is Watch Time: A Guide to YouTube’s TOP Search Ranking Factor. The patent does mention user sessions, though it doesn’t seem very clear why. Visiting this article, I understand that the reason why they mention user sessions is to try to show that people spend more time on YouTube with some videos. Google seems to rank those higher.

A YouTube Help page titled Watch Time optimization tips offers suggestions to keep people on your pages longer.

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24 thoughts on “Google Watch Times Algorithm For Rankings?”

  1. That’s new but very natural way to measure the quality of a video or a webpage. Isn’t it something like dwelling time? Is it only related to organic traffic from Google or Youtube?
    I have a few videos with less views which are ranking pretty well on Youtube and also have couple of videos which have large number of views but ranking poorly on same, Youtube.
    I have another question Bill Sir. If I put a video hosted on Vimeo, on my site, will Google be able to measure the watch time of that and does that have any direct relation to site’s ranking? I have got so many questions on this topic. Awaiting your inputs.

  2. Interesting! It does seem logical to use watch time as a ranking factor as opposed to view count.

  3. This will be black hated using proxies and bots, do we really want this ?
    Google is looking for new ways to be abused?


  4. Hey Bill! Another great post! Watch Time has been a part of the algo for a long time albeit to a lesser degree in the beginning. There was a time when getting to the end of the video was a bigger factor. That was not so good for demonstration and how to videos (likely the most important category). Total Watch time on the channel is also a signal as is subscribers (or was last I looked closely). Watch time is so important that anyone trying to rank on Google with videos hosted anywhere but YT is wasting their time and/or “doing it the hard way”.

  5. Hi Terry,

    Thank you! It does seem like a metric that works well to show that people have been appreciating being shown a particular video in response to a search. Interesting point about trying to rank anywhere else other than YouTube with videos, because of the importance of watch time.

  6. Another Interesting point is that avg. watch time has been steadily rising! IMO, to some degree it is the direct result of GooglePlus Hangouts being a long form format of usually a 1/2 hr to 1 hr. I know at least one Hangout people are riveted to for an hr every Tuesday at 3! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Hi Terry,

    Interesting that watch time has been increasing. I suspect you are right about the Google Hangouts. I think I know the hangout you’re talking about. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I think that they a re a bit late. Videos are the future of marketing and they are going to dominate web ranking for the next years. I think that google should develop the algorithm and make it better if they want to remain on the top of search engines.

  9. Hi Hassana,

    Google appears to have developed their algorithm, and this patent was filed in March of 2013, so it’s possible that Google has been using this approach already for the past 2-3 years.

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  11. Hi Bill,

    Great takeaway on the Patent! Indeed Watch Time is not new and a very important metric to consider for search marketers. Interesting finding there Terry on the video hosted on YouTube is likely to rank higher considering the number of subscribers and watch time.

  12. Hi Ajay,

    Thank you. When I read this patent, I thought it was important enough of a metric that if people weren’t aware of it, they should be.

  13. Interesting opportunity for video marketers for bringing something new to the table. But the question is whether other video channels such as Vimeo will get any sort of advantage in it?

  14. Interesting! It does seem logical to use watch time as a ranking factor as opposed to view count.

  15. wow! It is very natural way to measure the quality of a video or a webpage..thanks for sharing with us

  16. I think this is just one more way to see how engaged people are with the content one publishes. The more engaging the content is the higher it should rank.

    The question is will this eventually end up devaluing the weight backlinks play in ranking websites and videos. (one can only hope)

    I see it being very similar to social media. How many tweets, retweets, pins, repins, etc. etc. The more engaging the content the more “viral” content can become.

    As someone mentioned above, the blackhats will have a heyday with this. Proxy providers with geo targeted proxies are going to bank off this.

    As long as they don’t mess with my silly cat videos, I’m happy.

  17. How will this be weighted within the algorithm for the business or industry sector?
    Surely the degree of interest in the video will determine how long people watch the video and this will vary for different business sectors?

  18. Hi Tim.

    The patent doesn’t say that it looks at the categories of videos nor business sectors. Many videos aren’t about business; this patent seems to want to address all of them.

  19. Wow, our job is getting more complicated with each new day. SEO marketers really have to start thinking about many new ranking factors. Thanks for sharing, this was insightful.

  20. Hi Alex,

    This is commonplace in SEO; with ranking factors prone to change with little to no notice. This metric seems to make a lot of sense though.

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