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Special Project

Special Project
From the 12th Annual Shorty Awards

Great Big Story

Silver Honor in YouTube Presence

Audience Honor in YouTube Presence


Following the rollout of new analytics tools in YouTube’s Creator Studio, Great Big Story focused our efforts in 2019 on optimizing our catalog of 2,600 videos to maximize click-thru rate (CTR) by routinely updating our video titles and thumbnails. A high click-thru rate increases the chances that a viewer will click on our video and watch it, and as a result, increases the chances that YouTube will expose an even larger audience to our content, resulting in a bigger overall audience and channel watch time.

Our efforts yielded favorable results, with a year over year increase in watch time of +32%, driven mainly by an optimized back catalog of videos.

Strategy and Execution

Available since May 2018 in Studio Beta, CTR measures how often viewers watched a video after seeing a registered impression on YouTube. With access to this new powerful insight in real-time, we saw an opportunity to re-optimize our back catalogue. We identified videos ripe for thumbnail and title updates by categorizing videos with a low CTR but a high audience retention rate (view duration). Looking closely at the drop-off rates, we found that videos in this “low CTR/high retention” category don’t inspire as many clicks, but once an audience is there, they are sticking around to watch the video. This indicates that the video itself is engaging enough for an audience to watch it through, but the marketing around the video (thumbnail and title) aren’t inspiring as many viewers to click on the content, which is where the opportunity to improve the CTR through thumbnail image and/or title updates comes in.

We used research from a variety of sources (including YouTube, Netflix, and WarnerMedia image testing) to select new image options, and then we set up tests to measure the impact of thumbnail images and title changes on video performance over time. From that testing, we were able to build our own data set and create internal best practices. Keyword targeting and A/B title testing further helped us reposition hundreds of videos to reach new audiences and give new life to videos that were sometimes several years old. While we were pleased to see a few runaway hits from new videos in 2019, of our top 10 most-viewed videos last year, nine were published in 2018 or earlier and optimized based on our learnings.

Lastly, during a time of hyper-partisan engagement with media, our brand of diverse storytelling continues to have broad appeal. In addition to increasing our overall YouTube audience in the United States in the past year, we over-index in red states by population (142).



In 2019, we saw three of our best performing months ever with September achieving 89 million views, an 80% increase in views from the same period in 2018. We also outperformed our competitive set, regularly punching above our weight and outperforming brands with larger subscriber bases and overall brand reach, including Vox, the New York Times and Bon Appétit. Most of this traffic was driven by back-catalog content that was optimized for a high CTR, rather than new content, proving our theory that our evergreen content catalog could be optimized to continue to drive views and watch time.

As a channel, we saw our overall watch time increase year over year by +32% to 23.9M hours watched, and we added another 1.4M subscribers to our channel from a geographically and culturally diverse population, proving that our brand of uplifting storytelling has a broad appeal that continues to go unmatched in the YouTube video marketplace.


Video for Great Big Story

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Great Big Story


Entry Credits