The shared characteristics of the most popular YouTube videos?

genre tables from YouTube researchFollowing on from my recent article about the shared characteristics of the most popular YouTube channels, in this article I am going to talk more specifically about the characteristics of the most popular videos.

The features of videos that I discuss have been drawn from a recent study (Spring 2013) by a group of undergraduate students on the Internet and Mobile Media course at Columbia College, Chicago.

1. Collaboration on videos

Collaboration has been an important part of YouTube since the beginning. In is how many newcomers to YouTube increase their audience numbers and also improve their reputation. Here are some results from the study, by genre, showing frequency of collaborations from the pool of 286 videos from the top 100 channels.

34% of all videos had at least one additional collaborator credited. Here are the results by genre:

  • Comedy – 42%
  • Gaming – 2%
  • Fashion/beauty – 21%
  • News/commentary – 50%


2. Video length

The study looked at 286 videos from the top one hundred channels. The average length of the videos was 389 seconds or 6:29 minutes. It is remarked that the videos from the gaming channels have skewed the results of this element of the study as they are particularly long (average of 12:18 minutes).

3. Video SEO

SEO is literally about optimizing videos so that they are easier to find via search engines. The study analysed the number of words in the descriptions of the 286 videos from the top 100 channels. The average number of words in the video descriptions was 81.87. The suggestion is that this reveals that these content creators are actively using SEO techniques to improve their chances of being found via search engines.

Many YouTube users engage their audience outside of YouTube using other social media platforms. Of the 286 videos from the top 100 channels, there was an average of 4.64 links to their own websites, Facebook pages, Twitter profiles etc. This kind of interaction, outside of the actual videos, is thought to give YouTube content creators an edge over TV programmes in the sense that the conversation can continue between programmes. I am not sure that I agree with this entirely as many TV shows are also utilizing social media.

4. Intro’s, credits and pacing

In order to analyse these elements of the most popular videos, the study looked only at the top 100 independently owned channels (rather than those owned by brands). Only the most recent 2-3 videos from these particular channels were looked at which gave a pool of 286 videos.

Video Intros

  • 42% of the videos (120 videos) had an intro (bumper)
  • The average length of intros was 3 seconds



  • 14% of the videos (40 videos) had credits
  • The average length of credits was 15 seconds



To calculate the pace of the videos the researchers looked at words per minute and at cuts per minute.

Words per minute:

  • Comedy – average words per minute was 144 word
  • Gaming – average words per minute was 162.7
  • Fashion – average words per minute was 168
  • News/commentary – average words per minute was 145.75


Cuts per minute

  • Comedy – average cuts per minute was 3
  • Gaming – average of 3.39 cuts per minute
  • Fashion – average of 14.68 cuts per minute
  • News/commentary – average of 12 cuts per minute

The suggestion from these results is that most content creators prefer to cut from one camera or scene to another quite quickly to give a sense of movement and to keep viewers engaged.

5. Video engagement

Audience funneling and interactive buttons

198 of the 286 videos studied ended with buttons linking to more of the channels’ own content. That is a massive 67.8%.

142 of the 286 videos ended with a reminder to subscribe to their YouTube channels. This equates to 49.7%. These reminders were either within the video itself e.g. the presenter asking viewers to join, or the invite was in the form of a button at the end of the video.

YouTube comments

The number of comments on the top 286 videos varied a lot. The mean number of comments on the videos was 1. Some videos could be found to have up to 18,000 comments. The study established that the top 3 videos with the highest number of comments were all gaming videos.

The study established that when a channel produces a video of which the content is seemingly unrelated to previous videos, it doesn’t get as many comments.

14.3% of videos included some form of request of viewers to leave a comment – either by using annotations or by making a direct, verbal request within the video.

Youtube table of genres comments

YouTube’s LIKE button

The average percentage of viewers who clicked ‘like’ on the top 286 videos was 3.2%. If the content creator asked the viewer to ‘like’ their video, the viewer was more likely to click the button.

What can we learn from the results?

The study has quantified some best practices in YouTube content creation. What is apparent is that the most successful YouTube videos are ones in which the creator has thought carefully about how to keep their audience engaged. Thinking about the video length and its appropriateness to the genre is one important method adopted, as well as careful consideration of the amount of cuts in the edit in order to keep the viewer interested. It also seems that successful content creators are Internet savvy and go the extra mile in terms of SEO – to give their videos the best possible chance of being found online.

Most important of all is to heave clear calls to action and to be proactive in asking people to like, share and comment.

We will follow this article with another piece about the general web presence of YouTube content creators, and how their YouTube channel relates to wider online activity.

MWP are a video strategy, production and marketing company with a focus on delivering measurable results.

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