Metrics to Measure YouTube Marketing

Most marketers don’t know how to quantify the success of YouTube marketing campaigns.

Part of this is down to the (currently sub-par) quality of YouTube analytics data, but a wider problem is that businesses often fail to set KPIs before beginning the process of creating and promoting content on YouTube.

One of the main reasons why KPIs don’t get set is that, as Avinash Kaushik aptly put in a post early this month, most companies don’t understand how to think about YouTube, and therefore fail to tie YouTube marketing campaigns to tangible business goals.

When you don’t have a goal, you can’t measure success.

“Going viral” isn’t a business goal, neither is having a million video views. Views and virality are simply a means to an end, namely the right kind of exposure to the right kind of people. Business goals should be measurable, concrete and (even if several steps removed) tied to financial success.

With YouTube, your goal should always be some form of increased brand awareness.

This awareness could be a fractional increase in mindshare and engagement amongst a very specific group of individuals; or, on the other end of the spectrum, it could be consumer awareness of a new product on a global scale. Awareness comes in many forms and the focus of your campaign will almost certainly be specific and unique to you.

In order to determine the sort of awareness that will benefit your brand and therefore concretize your goals for YouTube as a channel, you’ll need to have defined your buyer and influencer personas and then mapped out your customer conversion funnel.

From here, there’s then a diverse set of resources available to give you inspiration regarding the kind of creative you should be investing in to achieve those goals.

Specific Metrics to track

Below is a list of the metrics I think are most relevant when tracking the success of YouTube campaigns, split into sections based on the type of content you're creating "Home" or "Hero". The rest of this post is dedicated to explaining the concepts of "Home" and "Hero" and then providing detail on each of the relevant success metrics.

Home and Hero

Successful YouTube channels are typically comprised of two kinds of content: “Home” and “Hero” (hat tip to Barney Worfork-smith from Unruly Media for first introducing me to this distinction).

“Home” content will form the bulk of your channel. The term refers to smaller, more numerous pieces that are relatively inexpensive to produce and often form part of a series. These videos are often, though not always, informational in nature and focus on providing insight on a specific topic relevant to a sub-set of your customer segment.

For example….


REI Expert Advice

Sennheiser Audio for Video

“Hero” describes the bigger pieces, the big brand plays supported by a significant amount of distribution spend. These pieces are typically somewhat advertorial – featuring a creative story tied to the brand in question. The most successful hero content usually evokes a strong visceral emotion in an audience, be that exhilaration, amusement, disgust, awe, excitement, etc.

For example…

The Epic Split from Volvo

An Unexpected Briefing from Air New Zealand

Dove Real Beauty Sketches

Measuring “Home” content

Your aim here will not be viral success, or exposure on a huge scale. For the majority of these pieces, what you want to achieve is engagement with a specific sub-set of your target audience, somewhere near the start of their journey towards becoming customers or influencers.

Engaged Views within Target Demographic

Views are ostensibly “hits” and, therefore, a fairly meaningless metric without the context of dwell time, bounce rate and segmentation by target audience. Unfortunately, YouTube Analytics doesn’t yet provide anywhere near that level of granular detail, and so for now we’re stuck with a bit of a hack to get a feel for how specific videos are performing. This is...

Engaged views = Views x average percentage viewed x demographic viewer percent

In order to calculate this figure, you’ll need to begin by defining your target audience according to the three bits of demographic data YouTube Analytics provides -- age, gender and country (e.g. women, over 35, within the United States or United Kingdom).

Once you’ve got this in place, you'll need to go through the following steps.

  • Download the “demographics” report from your YouTube analytics as a CSV (as below).

  • Pull this report into Excel and add all instances of “viewer percent” in column F which match your target demographic.

  • Calculate the aggregate relevant viewer percentage by dividing the resulting number by the number of countries included in your calculations.

This figure is the percentage of your views that came from individuals in your target demographic (demographic viewer percent). Next you need to collect the average percentage viewed figures for each video you’re tracking.

  • Export the “audience retention” report as a CSV (as below)

  • Pull out the “average percentage viewed” and “views” figure for each video in Excel (Columns  E and F).
  • Express both the demographic viewer percentage and the average percentage viewed as a decimal, and multiply these by the overall view count.

The figure returned will be a loose estimation of the number of people within your target demographic who actually watched your video.

For example, this  is the most watched video on Distilled’s YouTube channel with 93,066 views as of 19/02/2014.

We are trying to reach both males and females, but our target demographic is under the age of 45 and for this video we’re only targeting individuals in the US and UK.

Views: 93,066
Average Percentage viewed: 89.56
Demographic viewer percentage: 64.75

93,066 x 0.89 x 0.64 = 53010

This gives us a total figure of 53010 engaged views within our target demographic.

While this figure is less than comprehensive, it will give you a reasonable guide with which to determine the relative performance of all your YouTube videos in terms of reach and exposure, while mitigating against some of the problems faced by  raw views as an isolated metric.

Shares & Share Rate

Shares are a nice general measure of success since they reflect a level of engagement above and beyond just watching the video. I would be wary of caring too much about shares for any “how-to” focused videos you might decide to work on as “home” content, but for general “thought leadership” or blogging style video, shares are a decent measure of success.

In order to measure shares, we’ve created a custom GoogleDoc tool which allows you to get bulk metrics for a number of URLs. Remember to track both the instances of your videos and any pages which you’ve embedded the videos on.

Share rate is calculated by dividing the number of social shares from a given social network by the total engaged views (as above), then multiplying by 100 to give a percentage. E.g. 23 Tweets/1000 engaged views = Twitter share rate of 2.3%.

This video, launched earlier in the week on the Distilled blog has so far accrued 103 engaged views and has 35 tweets, as well as 8 +1s on Google+.

This gives us share rates as follows:

  • Google+ Share rate = 7.8%
  • Twitter share rate = 33.9%

Coverage, Links & Embeds

Links, embeds and mentions of your video on other sites are a quality measure of how valuable your content is to a specific audience demographic.

To find details on where your video has been embedded, go to the “playback locations” report in YouTube Analytics, then click “embedded player on other websites” for a full list at subdomain level. You can export this report as a CSV.

To find out where sites have linked out to your YouTube videos, but not embedded them, you can use the “external website” report under traffic sources in YouTube analytics. However, custom link crawlers such as Moz’s Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO and Ahrefs may provide more accurate and detailed data. You should also pay attention to the number of views referred from external links and embeds, as this is a pretty good measure of how valuable that isolated bit of coverage is for you.

It’s much harder to find mentions of your videos where a link or embed hasn’t been included, but Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer will do a reasonable job of finding those instances for you.

Audience Retention

Audience retention is measured as an inverse of drop-off rate over time, specifically measuring how many users stop watching your video at a specific point, either by leaving the page, pressing the back button or closing the window.

This data is the most direct way of understanding how good your audience thinks your content is, especially in comparison to other pieces on your channel.

The “relative audience retention” graph (below) measures your retention rates compared with other videos across YouTube and is excellent for getting an overview of how users are responding to your videos.

The lines on the graph indicate where users are most and least engaged at certain points in your video, based on retention and drop-off rates. The y-axis (Low - High) indicates how your content is performing with respect to other videos across the YouTube inventory.

A general rule of thumb for determining quality is that you should look to see all your videos coming in above the “average” line throughout. Where something is performing consistently badly, it’s probably worth taking the content off your channel. Where a piece has a strong performance in some areas, but poor retention in others, it may be worth re-editing the video to improve the less engaging sections and re-uploading it to your channel.

Referrals from Other Videos in Channel

For “home” content, where you’re likely to have multiple videos around similar topics, one method of determining the engagement of your audience is to look at how many videos each user watches on average. Unfortunately YouTube Analytics doesn’t currently provide this level of insight, but you can get a guide to overall engagement by looking at how many users are referred to a specific video from the suggested column of another video in your channel. The “YouTube suggested video” report under “traffic sources” in YouTube Analytics (below)

will give you this data, which you can then plot against total views to determine a percentage of referrals from your own content.


Similar to “referrals from other videos in channel”, if you’re creating a series of content that has informational or entertainment value, the number of subscribers you accrue is a decent measure of your campaign success.

Measuring Hero Content

Hero content is really designed with mass distribution in mind. While such distribution may still be extremely targeted, your goal is invariably for a significant uplift in awareness. For Hero content to be successful, it will normally be expensive to produce – every creative campaign should be backed up with significant distribution spend, at least in line with the amount spent on the creative itself.

CPSI (Cost Per Segment Impression)

The majority of campaigns will have at least a couple of different user segments that the content is targeting. This might be customers within a certain social demographic, influencers of potential customers, users with a certain transactional intent etc… typically, the costs for reaching individuals within each of those segments will vary.

If you optimise for raw CPI, without understanding the segments you’re targeting, you’ll invariably end up with a suboptimal use of your ad spend. It’s extremely easy to get a very low CPI if you don’t care who watches your video, but if these views are not from individuals who can help contribute to your business goals, then they are of little value.

This is where your persona research and audience data becomes of immense value -- until you know who you should be targeting and for what purpose, it’s very difficult to set up an advertising campaign that will serve the right content to the right people and thereby generate valuable engagement.

To measure CPSI, you first need to define the segments you’re targeting for the campaign in question (this should have been done before the creative process) and then refine your Adwords campaign to ensure best possible targeting. From here you can then pull out the CPI within Adwords for each segment, using the “targets” report in Adwords for video.

Unaided Brand Recall

Brand recognition surveys remain one of the best ways to measure the impact of a campaign on wider brand awareness, and your goal with a “hero” campaign is to see an increase in unprompted recall amongst your target audience.

Brand Mentions & Search Trends

The three most important tools at your disposal here are Google Trends and Fresh Web Explorer. Google trends is specifically useful to see if there has been uplift in any terms related to your campaign. For example, if you are Volvo and you’ve recently launched The Epic Split, you may want to look at search volume for things like “Jean Claude Van Damme” as well as “Volvo Trucks”.

Shares and Share Rate

As with “Home” content, shares and share rate tell a valuable story with regards to user engagement. For “hero” pieces, I’d pay particular attention to share rate, especially where paid distribution is concerned.

Coverage, Links & Embeds

These metrics are probably more critical to measure against your “Hero” content than your “Home” content. The engine of virality and distribution is typically embeds and mainstream coverage, and so each placement should be carefully tracked and valued according to the referring traffic it provides (check the “embedded player on other websites” report under “playback locations” in Google Analytics).

You might also elect to use an “advertising value equivalency” to put a financial number against any placements you secure.

Metrics That Should Never be KPIs

Raw Views/Impressions

The moment you start to care about views as an isolated metric is the moment you lose sight of the business goals behind your content. No video, no matter how broad the target segment, should value all audiences the same; views are only valuable when the audience is actually is actually watching the content.

While it’s easy to get seduced by the glamour of an impressive view count at the bottom right of the video and the social proof this provides, it’s important to remember how little this metric actually means. Views on YouTube are ostensibly “hits” and just because a video gained a lot of views, it doesn’t then follow that this campaign had any measurable impact upon the business itself. A strategy optimised only for views, taken to the Nth degree, eventually ends up looking a bit like this...

Traffic to Your Site/Click Through Rate

There are a few ways you can link back to your site from YouTube.

1. On the YouTube channel page

2. Through Annotations

3. With Advertising Overlays

4. With Naked URLs in the video descriptions

Last year, I sourced data from all the companies Distilled work with who have YouTube channels in order to determine how much traffic YouTube might realistically be expected to drive. In the end I looked at 95 different channels, with a cumulative sum of 904,053,617 views (Average 9.5 million views per channel).

Here were the results...

  • Links in Descriptions and on Channel Homepage = 0.57% of views referred as traffic.
  • Links in Annotations and on Channel Homepage = 0.24% of views referred as traffic
  • Links in Annotations, Descriptions and Channel Homepage = 0.42% of views referred as traffic
  • Links in  Advertising Overlays (and any of the above linking methods) = 0.97% of views referred as traffic

Cumulatively, for all channels that had some level of linking back to an external site, the average percentage of referred traffic was 0.72%.

The best referral rate observed was from REI’s channel, where they had 4.37% of the overall reviews referred as site visitors.

There are obvious flaws with the analysis above and because of the inability to effectively track the location of referrals from YouTube, it’s hard to say whether or not the figures stated are representative of a typical referral rate. Nevertheless, the trend does make a fairly compelling argument that YouTube isn’t likely to be a significant traffic compared with overall impressions on your content.

In my opinion, this is all to do with user intent on the platform. The vast majority of people come to YouTube looking to be entertained or informed by a video – not to find products/services to buy or other websites to visit. For these intents, users will typically default to Google or Bing, which serve the user case much more appropriately. YouTube is not a “search engine” in the same way.

This, combined with the YouTube page infrastructure, set-up to retain users on (through related videos, etc), means it’s very hard to drag users away from the platform and back to your site. However, it shouldn’t therefore be inferred that YouTube advertising isn’t particularly worthwhile. As discussed, the main value you should be aiming for with any YouTube campaign is brand awareness, which isn’t necessarily indicated by traffic or click through rate from annotations.

If you’re trying to drive traffic as a marketing goal, YouTube probably isn’t the best channel for you to be focusing on, as other channels will deliver much better returns for the money. As Craig Bradford discusses here – you should treat your channels like a soccer team.


As with other social channels, ROI is not a sensible way to measure the performance of YouTube.

It’s not that a good YouTube campaign can’t lead to significant revenue increases, but it will almost always be indirect and therefore difficult to accurately measure. If you’re tracking direct revenue from YouTube traffic as a KPI, you’re absolutely certain to discover that the channel doesn’t look very good for you and in the process completely undervalue all of the good work it’s actually doing.

I hope you found this post useful! If you have any further ideas for relevant metrics, or questions on the points detailed above, please do let me know in the comments!

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