You’ve seen a million YouTubers doing it—”please like and subscribe and ring that bell!”.
Whether it’s a verbal reminder at the end of the video, a graphical popup part-way through, or something else, it seems every YouTuber on the platform wants you to like their video.
But why do YouTubers ask for likes? Likes play a significant role in the success of a YouTube channel. Likes, comments, shares and even dislikes are a form of engagement and is a positive sign that plays into the youtube ranking algorithm.
Reason 2 – Simple validation would be a sensible enough explanation. After all, social media is largely predicated on the fact that people are constantly seeking external validation.
Now, we’re not saying that those YouTubers who ask you to like their video aren’t still seeking that juicy external validation—they very well maybe—but that’s almost certainly not all there is to it.
Well, actually, yes. But, as always, we’re not going to just skim the surface of this topic, so let’s dive a little deeper.
Do Likes Make YouTuber’s Money?
It’s reasonable to assume that, if asking for likes is not purely a vanity thing, it must be a monetary thing. The truth about this aspect of YouTube is a little fuzzier than you might think. We can say, quite clearly, that likes do not make YouTubers money.
When you click like, the YouTuber you are watching doesn’t get a few cents dropped into their Adsense account.
However; you are improving the standing of that channel in the eyes of the almighty YouTube algorithm, and that makes their channel more likely to succeed financially going forward. To understand how this works, it helps to understand what YouTube looks for in its content creators.
Engagement Is King
YouTube is in the business of watch time and engagement.
Even a rudimentary understanding of online marketing will tell you that having a smaller number of engaged fans/viewers/customers is far better than a more significant amount of disinterested ones.
This is why business owners are willing to pay extra for targeted advertising—because they know a hundred ad impressions with the right people are more valuable than a thousand ad impressions with random viewers. Those hundred ad impressions are far more likely to yield leads because the people watching the ad are already predisposed to want the thing you are advertising.
YouTube think along the same lines when it comes to viewers. Now, at the end of the day, an ad impression is an ad impression. YouTube get paid if someone watches an ad regardless of whether that viewer was engaged.
But they place far less value on viewers who are not engaged than they do on ones who are. In short, it is the engaged viewers that YouTube are looking for, and it is the channels that create those engaged viewers that YouTube likes to promote the most.
How Do Likes Help With Engagement?
Simply put, a like is an engagement because it is an extra action that the viewer takes that they didn’t have to.
Sure, it’s not a particularly intensive action—it doesn’t take much effort to click a button—but it does take some effort, and that effort shows that the viewer is more engaged than the millions of viewers who don’t click like.
Also, a significant amount of viewers just don’t think about the like button when they are browsing. It is not a statement on the content they are watching; it just doesn’t occur to them to like the video.
Do Dislikes Hurt a Video?
The next question that usually follows this discussion is, if likes are so good for a video, are dislikes bad for the video? And, actually, no. At least; not inherently.
Sure, if someone dislikes your video, closes the tab, and never comes back to YouTube, that will reflect poorly on your content, and YouTube’s algorithm will factor that in. However, the action of disliking a video when considered in a vacuum is still engagement.
That means that if your viewers give your video the thumbs down, but then go on to watch more videos, it’s all good as far as YouTube is concerned. They still see that as engagement, and, as the viewer stuck around, there’s no downside.
Where it could be considered detrimental to a channel to dislike a video, however, is in your personal recommendations. Those videos YouTube put down the side when you’re watching something; they’re based on a lot of data, including your likes.
If you repeatedly like a particular kind of video, you will see more of that kind of video. If you like a lot of videos by a certain YouTuber, you will see more videos by that YouTuber.
Naturally, if you dislike videos, you are less likely to see that kind of video in future, or the YouTuber behind it. How much an individual dislike affects a video’s overall recommendation is unclear, but it certainly affects whether or not it will be recommended to you.
Watch Time Matters
Of course, there’s more to it than merely liking and disliking videos. YouTube wants to see that engagement, whether it is liking, disliking, or leaving comments, but watch time is the ultimate gatekeeper to a YouTuber’s success.
You see, it is watch time that is YouTube’s endgame metric when it comes to measuring success.
The more time people spend on YouTube, the more opportunities there are to serve those people advertisements and the more money YouTube makes.
Watch time is the single, most important metric in the YouTube algorithm’s decision-making process.
The more time people spend viewing a specific channel’s videos; the more YouTube will push that channel because they know they can rely on it to keep viewers on the site.
This is why we specified that dislikes are not harmful in a vacuum. There is nothing inherently damaging about getting a thumbs down, but there may be damaging implications.
If a viewer dislikes your video and then leaves the site altogether, the fact that they left YouTube from your content will count against you in the eyes of the algorithm, even if the thumbs down itself doesn’t.
Why is Engagement Important?
So, if watch time is so important, why does engagement matter at all? Well, it’s true that watch time is the significant metric that YouTube covets above all, but engagement is still an important part of their decision making processes.
Engagement shows that a YouTuber is not just drawing in casual, disinterested viewers, but active viewers who are involved in the platform. These viewers are far more likely to pay attention to advertisements and, as a result, click on them when they see one they like.
It is also the case that engagement is only possible from a signed-in YouTube account. YouTube does count views and watch time from anonymous viewers, but it is considerably more challenging to provide relevant advertisements to these viewers.
And, as we covered earlier in the post, it is the highly targeted advertisements that companies prefer to pay for since they yield better results.
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High levels of engagement are an indication that your videos are attracting logged-in YouTube users who can be served relevant ads based on their preferences and watch history, and that makes YouTube happy since targeted advertisements are both worth more and more likely to be clicked.
All of this is digging a little deeper than most YouTubers are thinking, however.
While there are plenty of YouTubers that are fully informed about the intricacies of YouTube’s algorithm, there are far more that don’t concern themselves with that level of detail, but nevertheless know that likes are a good thing for their channel.
And, of course, a good number of YouTubers that are purely after that external validation we mentioned earlier. So, for those YouTubers, why bother asking their viewers to like the content?
Quite simply; because it works. YouTuber after YouTuber has experimented with asking viewers to like a particular video as a way of testing if it makes a difference, and they invariably find that it does. It may be because a lot of viewers simply don’t think about liking until they are prompted, or that they didn’t think liking was that important to this particular YouTuber.
Whatever the reason, asking viewers to like a video has been proven time and time again to be effective. So regardless of why a specific YouTubers wants those likes, they know that asking for them will usually get them.
Tips on Asking for Likes
As silly as it might sound, there is something of an art to asking for likes in a YouTube video.
Doing it incorrectly most of the time will just be ineffective; however, there is also a chance you could actively put viewers off of liking your video or even watching future videos.
One of the first recommendations we would make is to avoid asking people to like (and subscribe, for that matter) right up top. In the case of subscribing, at least wait until you’ve introduced your channel, so the viewer knows if your content is the kind of thing they would even want to subscribe to.
In the case of likes, however, it is often seen as presumptuous to ask your viewers to like a video they haven’t even seen yet. This can create a sense of resentfulness and may even result in viewers refusing to like the video even if they did find the content useful or entertaining.
It is good practice to wait until approximately halfway through the video before considering using any visual cues, such as a “like and subscribe” graphical popup, and to wait until the sign off to verbally ask your viewers to like the video. By this time, your viewers will know whether they do, in fact, like the content.
Another tip is to ask, rather than tell. If you just say, “like the video” once again it can be seen as a bit presumptive. Instead, say something like, “if you liked the video, consider giving it a thumbs up”. That way, you are merely giving your viewers a polite, gentle reminder that the like button is there, but leaving it entirely up to them to decide if they think you have earned it.
Which brings us to the final suggestion we can make for getting those likes; earn it. All the YouTube science in the world won’t help you with subpar content. Before worrying about reminding viewers to click the like button, make sure you have worked out all of the major kinks in your videos. Your content doesn’t have to be perfect—few YouTube channels are—but any glaring problems should be addressed before you start asking people to give you a thumbs up.
There was a lot to cover there, but the basic theory behind likes can be summed up easily.
Likes are a significant metric that YouTube uses to determine which content to recommend to people, though they are by no means the only metric. They play a vital role in personal recommendations.
That is, if you like a particular type of video a lot, YouTube will endeavour to show you more of that kind of video. Dislikes can also play a positive role in your channel’s exposure, as can comments (regardless of the content).
All of it is as seen as engagement that your content is creating, and YouTube likes to see plenty of engagement.
All of this is secondary watch time, however. The longer people spend on YouTube, the better. And if they happen to be spending vast amounts of time on your videos, that will reflect very well for you in the YouTube algorithm.
Finally, don’t be presumptive about your viewer’s opinions. Ask them to like your videos, don’t tell them to. And only do so at a point in your video where there has been enough content for your viewer to judge if they do actually like it.
None of this guarantees you likes, of course. The only thing that can do that is quality content. But by knowing how the system works, you are better placed to leverage that quality content when you make it.