YouTube stars peel back the curtain on the secretive Google Preferred program, which can supercharge a creator's earnings


Remi Cruz - YouTube star

  • As part of its broader advertising strategy, YouTube curates a lineup of its top channels called “Google Preferred” where it highlights brand-friendly content that advertisers pay a premium to appear alongside. 
  • Being included in Google Preferred means more revenue for creators who earn a higher rate than they normally would for videos on the platform. 
  • The company is highly secretive about Google Preferred, declining to share even basic information like the list of content categories advertisers can buy against. 
  • Business Insider spoke to creators and individuals familiar with how Google Preferred works to learn more about the company’s top-tier monetization product. 
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

For a YouTube creator, joining “Google Preferred” — the company’s top-tier monetization category — means you’ve made it.

“I remember feeling an insane amount of pride,” said Remi Cruz, a YouTube star who posts DIYs, cooking tutorials, and makeup and fashion videos for her 2.5 million subscribers. “I think I watched four years or so as a silent viewer and then decided I could make my own videos. A year and a half ago I was admitted into the program.”

Cruz said her channel’s inclusion in Google Preferred also came at a time when she was assigned a partner manager at YouTube, a service the platform offers to popular creators to help them work with brands and address technical and copyright issues that often emerge when a channel reaches a certain size.

Qualifying for Google Preferred means YouTube has graded a creator’s content as engaging, popular, brand-suitable, and produced with a level of “camera work and cinematic technique” worthy of the company’s top advertisers, as laid out on its website.

It also means more money.

Google Preferred videos tend to command higher CPMs (cost per thousand views) than its standard AdSense (biddable pre-roll, mid-roll, and post-roll) monetization, according to multiple sources who spoke to Business Insider.

Having a video removed from the program can cut into monthly income, and being kicked out of the program entirely can potentially lead to millions of dollars in lost revenue at the highest end.

“In the beginning with Google Preferred, it definitely boosted [revenue],” Cruz noted. “But since then I think it’s been climbing depending on the quarter that I’m in.”

YouTube sells its Google Preferred lineup as an alternative to traditional linear TV advertising. The company drove $15 billion in revenue across its various advertising products in 2019, with the majority of its ad-supported earnings going to creators. That number is around 20% of the $70 billion that went into all of US TV ad spending last year.

But for a program designed to compete with traditional TV advertising, YouTube is highly secretive about Google Preferred. The company doesn’t publicly disclose basic information about the program, including the list of content categories available to advertisers who purchase its inventory. YouTube doesn’t even necessarily inform creators when their videos or channels have been selected for Google Preferred, and it won’t break out Google Preferred revenue in YouTube analytics (though savvy creators have found alternative ways of tracking their Preferred earnings).

To learn more about how Google Preferred works, Business Insider spoke to content creators and individuals who are either enrolled in Google Preferred or familiar with the program. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid backlash from Google.

Here’s what we learned:

How does YouTube decide which creators get included in Google Preferred?

Google Preferred’s lineup is selected through both an automated and manual review process by YouTube.

One of its mechanisms for choosing channels is assigning them a “P-Score,” which is a numerical value determined by an algorithm that Google says it’s tested against 5,000 campaigns.

In its 2:32 video describing the P-Score, YouTube used the term “proprietary” five times. Here are the five factors that go into a channel’s P-Score:

  • Popularity: A signal driven by “watch time,” a proprietary metric that reveals “repeat engaged viewership.”
  • Passion: A signal that examines “how engaged an audience is with a channel,” including how often users interact with content.
  • Protection: A signal that focuses on content suitability so that “P-Score outputs are working for your brand.”
  • Platform: A signal that highlights content that’s frequently watched on large screens, such as televisions.
  • Production: A signal that scans for content with “sophisticated camera work and cinematic technique.” 

While Google doesn’t release any additional information about P-Scores, last year a group of creators managed to track down the metric for individual channels by looking at the source code of a YouTube page in a web browser. They discovered that P-Score varied based on geography, and that channels tended to fair better in their home countries. Google has since removed access to this data point for external users. 

YouTube declined to share how often its channels are evaluated for inclusion in Google Preferred, but a source familiar with the process told Business Insider the list is updated quarterly. While YouTube currently doesn’t post any information about the frequency of its channel review process, an earlier version of the Google Preferred website stated that “Google Preferred lineup channels are refreshed quarterly.”

YouTube confirmed that all of its Google Preferred channels are also reviewed by humans to comply “with our advertiser-friendly content guidelines,” and the company allows third-party analytics firms like DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science to review the list of videos where ads have appeared in a campaign.

YouTube’s partnerships with third-party brand safety companies offer advertisers the opportunity to get independent verification that Google Preferred is meeting their content standards. This verification process happens after ads have already run on Google Preferred. DoubleVerify and IAS don’t gain access to the company’s channel list prior to campaigns going live.

How can creators track Google Preferred revenue in YouTube Analytics?

While YouTube doesn’t break out revenue for Google Preferred in its analytics product for creators, Business Insider heard from multiple platform users who said they tracked earnings from the program by looking at estimated revenue from reserved-sold advertising.

Because these creators know their channels were in the Google Preferred program and were not aware of alternative sources of reserved ad monetization, they interpreted this revenue as coming from Google Preferred campaigns.

YouTube wouldn’t confirm whether this approach provides an accurate picture of earnings from Google Preferred, but the company did confirm that Google Preferred ads are sold on a reserved basis. 

Google won’t reveal how many content categories are available to advertisers, but at one point it named 13 in the US

When marketers buy ads on Google Preferred, they don’t pay for placement on individual channels — as a brand might for a flagship show on a TV network like NBC or CBS. Instead they purchase by content category.

YouTube currently names eight content categories on its Google Preferred website: Beauty, Fashion & Lifestyle (one category), Sports, Music, Gaming, Comedy, Parenting, Science, and News. The company declined to share the rest of its categories with Business Insider, but in the past it’s advertised a broader array of Google Preferred categories in the US. In 2017, for example, the company listed the following categories on its website, noting that these are just a sampling of all channels available to brands:

  • Beauty & Fashion (now called Beauty, Fashion & Lifestyle)
  • Cars, Trucks & Racing
  • Comedy
  • Entertainment & Pop Culture
  • Food & Recipes
  • Music
  • News
  • Parenting & Family
  • Science & Education
  • Spanish Language
  • Sports
  • Technology
  • Video Gaming

YouTube doesn’t always inform a creator that their video or channel has been added to Google Preferred

Because YouTube algorithmically selects videos and channels for inclusion in Google Preferred, a creator may have their content selected for the program without knowing. 

Trevor James, a travel influencer who runs a YouTube channel with 3.9 million subscribers called “The Food Ranger,” ended up being featured on Google Preferred’s promotional website without knowing that he was part of the program.

James’ 2018 video, “Chinese Street Food Tour Of Chengdu, China,” is one of 15 videos currently showcased in the “What’s On?” section of YouTube’s Google Preferred Lineups website. 

Google Preferred The Food Ranger

“We’ve attended some YouTube summits before with other creators, so maybe they know of us, but I’ve never been told that,” he said when Business Insider pointed out that his YouTube channel was featured by Google.

“Our content is mainly monetized through AdSense and we do merch sales through our T-shirts,” he said. “For YouTube, that’s mainly our income.”

While YouTube approves entire channels for Google Preferred monetization, it may exclude an individual video within a channel if it deems its content unsuitable for brands. Business Insider heard from multiple sources who said they had seen this happen for videos within their channels.

For more on the business of influencers, according to YouTube creators, check out these Business Insider Prime posts: 

  • How much money do YouTubers make a month? A minimalist influencer with 77,000 subscribers shares exactly what she earns and spends: The minimalist influencer Kyra Ann, who has 77,000 subscribers, shared how much money YouTube paid her in February.

  • 8 YouTube stars explain which videos made them the most money, including one that earned $97,000: We spoke to eight creators with vastly different channels, and they shared the most amount of money YouTube paid them for a single video.
  • A YouTube creator explains why personal-finance videos can make much more money than many other types: Marko Zlatic runs a YouTube channel with 298,000 subscribers, and he posts videos about personal finance, stocks, and real-estate investing.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns explains why country music is universal