YouTube algorithms determine whether or not a video is eligible for monetization. Every single video uploaded to the platform goes through that system which reviews it based on advertiser-friendly guidelines. YouTube doesn’t specify what these guidelines are and some speculate that Google itself doesn’t know, as specialists can’t determine why the algorithms make certain decisions. Keep in mind that descriptions, thumbnails, and titles are checked first and factor greatly into making your video eligible for monetization. The first decision is made at the moment of uploading and is rechecked within 12 hours.

Monetizing your content on YouTube

YouTube is notorious for its unclear monetization guidelines. PR and guidelines representatives are caught in a crossfire between advertisers and content creators. YouTube positions itself as a creator-driven platform, but often can’t explain to them why certain videos are deemed inappropriate, which might end up in unfair demonetization of videos in mass.

The reality of the platform is that content creators draw viewership, but advertisers are the ones who hold actual financial power. Companies want to run ads only on videos that are deemed safe as they don’t want to connect their brands with controversial topics. The situation is worsened by the fact that the sheer amount of content on YouTube makes it impossible to properly check every single video manually. That is why the majority of the work is handled by bots, algorithms and neural networks, developed somewhere at Google. Due to the fact that this tech is relatively new and probably self-governed, the logic of its decision-making process probably escapes even the creators of said algorithms. That would partially explain why YouTube representatives give vague answers when asked for more transparency.

As it stands, YouTube won’t allow you to monetize content that touches the topics of terrorism, death, war, crime, sexual themes, global and social politics, substances, etc. It is irrelevant whether your videos have, for example, graphic imagery or not, or what stance you take on certain issues, the fact of discussing said issues at all makes it non-monetizable. The only ones who seem to be able to monetize such content are major news networks. It should be noted that there is no solid proof of YouTube prioritizing ad-friendly videos in their search results and suggestions, even though these discussions and speculations have been happening for a while.

For the majority of the creators the problem lies in videos being flagged automatically, even though, they comply with the guidelines. By the time the manual review gives it all-clear the main revenue stream might be days and weeks behind. The initial 24-hour window is crucial. To give you an analogy, think of a major blockbuster coming out. The first weekend is generally when it makes the most of its money, but some illusive system decides that the movie shouldn’t earn any money until the manual review. A month later someone reviews a movie and says that it is totally fine, but by that time people who wanted to see the movie already saw it, and the movie ends up grossing 10 USD in the box office as a result. This might sound a bit overdramatic, but demonetization has been a hot topic among YouTube creators for several years now.

Becoming a partner

To even start monetizing your videos, it is required to join the YouTube Partner Program or YPP for short. YouTube sets specific requirements for its future partners:
  • Adhering to the Youtube Monetization policies (acceptance of the policies is prerequisite to start monetizing as a partner);
  • Residing in one of the areas eligible for YPP;
  • Gaining 4,000+ valid watch hours in the previous 12 months;
  • Having 1,000+ subscribers;
  • Owning an AdSense account linked to the channel.
After complying with all of the above you should apply for YPP and someone will review your channel for monetization.

Types of content susceptible to demonetization

So, what are the actual topics that YouTube deems not suitable for ads? According to official guidelines the list is as follows:
There are a couple of important things to mention here. YouTube states that the context matters and the following list won’t apply or at least apply not as harshly if said content is used for artistic expression or education. This sounds great in theory, but if you thought to yourself, "I’ll be fine then", no, you won’t, at least not initially. For example, content related to guns, even educational, doesn’t seem to be monetized. Keep in mind that the review process is handled by bots, your initial intent might be irrelevant to them, so using “educational content” loophole is very unlikely to work, for certain types of videos.

YouTube word algorithms

According to YouTube Analized, who has done rigorous testing, your first line of defense against demonetization is the title of the video, its thumbnail and video description with tags. YouTube Analized compiled a list of words that the bots find undesirable. Unfortunately the algorithms process information faster than humans, so the list of "green" and “yellow” words is constantly fluctuating. A word can be ad-friendly one day and get you demonetized another. You have to understand that the public doesn’t know the parameters of algorithms. To put it simply, they have certain “directives” under which they operate. We can only assume, but they likely analyze the trends, the most searched topics, word combinations, like to dislike ratios and many other factors. This would explain why certain words change from “yellow” to “green” and vice versa. This effect is not exclusive to YouTube and, for example, can be observed at the stock markets[0], where trading is also done by algorithms. This leaves a lot of room for speculations. It is very unlikely that YouTube algorithms operate solely on YouTube or separated from other algorithms of Google. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the algorithms were fast to demonetize not only “COVID-19”, but also possible related words like “virus”, “corona”, “contaminate” and some others.

Minimizing the risks

A content creator on YouTube is never safe from demonetization, however, some precautionary measures can be taken to minimize the risks. Using the database, provided by YouTube Analized, we created a tool that checks words for monetization eligibility. Make sure that you have no red or orange words in your description, title, tags, and thumbnail. Yellow words might result in limited monetization and lower CPM, but will still earn you money. It is highly advised to go through this "pre-launch sequence" before you post your video. This process might take anything from 10 minutes to several excruciating hours, but might save you a lot of time and money later on. The idea is that you need to upload your video, make it private and wait for the bot to analyze it. Ideally, you need to check all of the elements (video content, title, description, thumbnail) separately. This will allow you to troubleshoot the issues as they come. For a more in-depth look at this process check this video by YouTube Analized.

Ad-friendly vs. Limited Monetization

Ad-friendly content is marked by a green $ icon. This means that your video meets all the guidelines. A lot of advertisers prefer family-friendly content as it is generally the safest. The ad-rates are generally higher and such videos are eligible to run more ads.
Limited monetization is represented by a yellow $ icon. Your videos are still monetizable, but the ad rates are approximately half of what an ad-friendly content would make. The video gets classified by policy specialists and automatic systems. You can always send the appeal, but it might take a while.

Yellow Icon Topics

  • Adult content
  • Inappropriate language
  • Violence
  • Profanity
  • Sexually suggestive content
  • Hateful content
  • Harmful or dangerous acts
  • Recreational drugs and drug-related content
  • Tobacco-related content
  • Incendiary and demeaning
  • Controversial issues and sensitive events
  • Adult themes in family content
  • Firearms-related content

Ads Friendly Guidelines

YouTube Monetization News

Demonetized Word List UPDATE