If you visit YouTube on any given day, you’ll be sure to find a recently-published video that’s been viewed millions of times in mere days.
Or how about YouTube Records? There, you’ll find the videos with the most view counts in YouTube history — and the videos that reached one billion views in the shortest amount of time. (Adele’s “Hello” reigns on top, taking only 88 days to reach this mindboggling view count.)
Where do those views come from? What exactly counts as a ‘view’ and what doesn’t? For those who are curious, or if you’re a marketer looking to expand your strategy onto a platform with over 2 billion users, YouTube has the answer.
Admittedly, YouTube hasn’t always been the most obvious choice for marketers. Sure, there are guides and explanations, even statistics on how to crack the YouTube code. Yet there’s still uncertainty about what does and does not count as a view. For a site that’s no stranger to regular changes, what’s the baseline?
What Counts as a View on YouTube?
A view counts on YouTube when: 1) it’s a viewer-initiated intended play and 2) the video has been despammed by YouTube’s algorithm. In other words, the video was played by a human on one device, and YouTube confirms it to be a legitimate view.
More than that, there’s a magic number of views: 300.
Once a video reaches 300 views, YouTube temporarily “freezes” the view count to confirm that those are indeed legitimate plays by real humans. Its system begins to track incoming views, as well as the first 300. It can delete fraudulent views as they’re identified. Once the initial screening process is over, the view counter goes back to normal, but YouTube will continue monitoring for fake views on every video.
Why 300? Numbers below that don’t have the power to crowd the YouTube homepage and throw the website off its algorithm.
So, wait. If there’s no secret formula to what counts as a view, can’t anyone refresh their video to gain views? Not anymore. In the early days of YouTube, monetization wasn’t a thing. It was an assumption that almost every view fit into the original definition: a viewer-intended play of a spam-free video. It didn't take the platform long to get wise to the fact that creators could cheat the system. This is loosely referred to as an “artificial” view.
Luckily, YouTube has gotten pretty good at spotting artificial views. Some of the signs they look for include:
Views, reloaded: This is the classic case of a single user constantly refreshing the video to bring those numbers up.
Viruses: If a video looks like malware — software designed to harm your computer, server, or network — it gets deleted.
Website autoplay: If the video is set up to autoplay on a website, that doesn’t count as a view.
Software in YouTube’s security system has the ability to detect malware – a computer program that assists in sending spam messages from your computer – and spambots. YouTube automatically deletes them to make the screening process go more smoothly.
Now, let’s go over some questions you may have about YouTube video views.
Do your own views count on YouTube?
Yes, your own views count if you play your own YouTube video — but only if you do it once or twice, not if you constantly refresh the page.
Why does YouTube count my own views?
YouTube’s algorithm sees you just as it sees any other user, so your view will be counted.
Do replays count as views on YouTube?
Yes, but only if the replays seem natural. If you replay a video once, it will count as a view. However, if you constantly refresh the page to artificially up the view count, YouTube will pinpoint this as a spamming practice (see the Views, reloaded definition above).
Are YouTube views unique?
No. YouTube’s views aren’t unique; replays and re-visits are counted in the view count. You can see your number of unique viewers in your YouTube analytics dashboard.
How often does YouTube update view count?
Though YouTube doesn’t publish this information, we know that it updates views approximately every 24 to 48 hours. It does not update views instantly.
Do embedded YouTube videos count?
Yes, embedded YouTube video views count when the video is embedded into the content of the page and a user purposefully clicks on the video to play it. An autoplay embed video may not count. A background video (that is, you placed the YouTube video in the background of your website) will not count.
Do Facebook views count on YouTube?
Yes, Facebook views count on YouTube. They don’t count, however, if you manually download the video from YouTube and upload it to Facebook.
If a video reaches a certain number of views and falls within the guidelines, it’s eligible to make money. YouTube’s account monetization allows a single video to earn thousands of dollars as it creeps into the territory of having millions of views. Accounts that give themselves fake views are, in essence, making money unfairly. YouTube’s policies here aim to make sure every creator works hard on every video they produce.
That said, algorithms change — sometimes at the drop of a hat. For the most updated information on proper video protocol, review YouTube’s guidelines regularly, especially when they announce changes for creators.
Another reason viewership is taken so seriously is users’ ability to find videos they’re interested in. It would be soul-crushing to sift through tons of spam videos in order to get to the one that you want to get to.
All of this talk of algorithms and homepages may seem a little overwhelming, when the main question is actually, “How do I use this stuff to get views?” Don’t worry, as long as you optimize videos for search, you’ll find ways to get people clicking on your content.
It can be a bit tricky to decipher the mechanics of YouTube. But YouTube uses a system that carefully and cleverly monitors viewership so it can deliver the most authentic experience to its creators and users. By counting views before fake views turn into a real problem, YouTube keeps its platform clean from spam.
Count Your YouTube Views to Measure Performance
Knowing how many people view your video is important. You can tell whether your title is compelling, whether your thumbnail is effective, and whether your content is watch-worthy based on views alone. By measuring your YouTube views, you can successfully pivot your strategy to grow your YouTube channel.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Apr 13, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated April 13 2021