YouTube Shorts were recently released publicly though still technically in Beta. The short-form looping videos are a very clear answer to TikTok (and the former Vine), providing very short videos of a minute or less to a vertical-only viewing experience designed just for Mobile, surfaced in a compact “watch a bunch at once” style experience.
If you haven’t messed with Shorts yet, the YouTube help article describes the technical aspects pretty well. I’ll focus more on how to use them and my experience with them and if they’re worth it. Note it’s very early stages so don’t draw too many conclusions, I’m still experimenting myself!
Have you started using YouTube Shorts? Share any tips or experiences in the comments below?
Table of Contents
The YouTube Shorts Camera App
The Shorts Camera App seems to be the most direct answer to TikTok, including many features specifically for Shorts creation. However, it is only being tested in India for now, and users outside India will have to wait for the app to roll out worldwide.
The features sound pretty good and will help notice users make Shorts without much/any editing work. The Shorts Camera is NOT required to upload shorts however, so you can upload them now even if you don’t have the app/live outside India.
Note that while the Shorts “experience” is only on Mobile, Shorts are still also a “normal” upload video that will appear like any other video to Desktop users. You get to have your cake and eat it too.
How To Make Your YouTube Video a Short
Even without the app, you can simply upload a vertically oriented (9:16 aspect ratio usually) video 60 seconds or less in length and include #Shorts in the description or title and the system will recognize it as a Short (though this doesn’t guarantee it will be featured as one).
Shorts are somewhat limited: Users can watch the Short, Comment, Like, Share, Subscribe, visit your channel or with a little effort, read the description. Many YouTube features like Chapters and even captions (!!) are currently unsupported, since when watching a Short from the Shorts slider, you get a different fullscreen interface instead of the usual watch page. No ads are shown in the Shorts experience, so a Shorts feature probably won’t raise your income directly—but subs are money too.
The lack of captions is particularly frustrating for accessibility reasons, plus many of us watching on phone leave our devices muted anyway. If your video completely depends on captions, I would bake them in for now. You also cannot tell what frame will be used as the “thumbnail” for Shorts—YouTube will use a frame from the video, not your normal thumbnail.
Expect inconsistency, new features for shorts etc, as the rollout is still technically a beta, so anything could change (or they could quietly nuke the project in a year as Google often does).
Where Do Users See Shorts?
Shorts are currently shown in 3 places, in addition to simply being a regular upload on your YouTube Channel:
- The coveted Home Page slider, where a feature will get you LOTS of views (but good luck getting on it).
- The #Shorts Hashtag. Not sure how many people use YouTube Hashtags to browse honestly.
- A manually added Short Videos section on your Channel page you can add in YouTube Studio’s Customize menu.
The first two are driven by The Algorithm™, blessed be it’s holy name. It is completely opaque what gets a feature there, but it’s surely a mix of the usual SEO/engagement metrics. For your best shot at a feature, try to get as many of your existing fans to watch the video first. I’ve noticed my content only seems to get Featured after a couple days of the original upload.
My Success With YouTube Shorts
It’s too brief (and too random) a sample size to say anything super definitive, but I can say this: Shorts can work. And in a big way. I got 3 months worth of subscribers on my medium-sized channel (26k subscribers) in one day due to my most successful Short yet.
Here’s my last 28 days on YouTube, I shouldn’t need to tell you where the Short spikes are.
So far, I’ve released 4 Shorts in the past week or so:
- My Spoiled Cat Has His Own Room
- 8,000 views, over 20 times my normal views in a comparable period!
- Funny Jackbox Moments – Doc Sigma has had ENOUGH!
- 170 views, about normal to below average for a first-week video on my channel. Almost no Shorts views.
- Talking With My Cat
- 530 views, solidly above average but not too impressive.
- Cat Rolls Himself Off Bed
- 68,000 views(!) and 650 subscribers. I have higher viewed-videos, but never within 3 hours like this.
Curiously, the “Shorts Bump” as I call it lasts about exactly 3 hours according to the Real Time Views metric, and it’s only ever started a few days after the Short was released. None of these videos performed particularly well on the first day nor did they get even a single Shorts view in the first 24 hours. While I can safely say Shorts has driven traffic to my channel, the exact how is largely opaque.
Note I’ve seen some videos in my Shorts slider for FAR longer than 3 hours, but generally it seems videos drop off almost as soon as they peak. Also, once featured, I haven’t yet seen a video be re-featured. Here’s a chart showing the effect on my biggest Short:
After the peak, the video returns to normal/very slightly above average activity. And it’s ALL Shorts, getting featured as a Short didn’t seem to boost Suggested Video hits or increase impressions at all. But I did get subscribers, so there is a long-term benefit to keep in mind.
Of my 4 Shorts so far (not a huge sample size I know!), I can say the following things:
- Success seems pretty random. Comments and upvotes on my worst-performing short were quite high, but it never got featured.
- When success happens, it’s very big but very brief—the peaks all lasted only ~3 hours.
- People DO subscribe from Shorts! At a rather impressive rate in my experience
- Even though I got basically 0 money directly, I’ll gladly take the subscribers long-term.
- Cat videos seem to do great. What a surprise.
- Short seems to do better but it’s hard to say. My best video is 18 seconds, though a 54 second video is my second best. My worst was 59 seconds.
- Due to viewer retention and randomness, I would strongly recommend multiple, extra short Shorts over a single longer Short where appropriate.
This is tentative, experimental advice for a brand new feature. Tell me your experiences and tips for Shorts in the comments! I’d love to know more myself.
What Kind of Videos Work As Shorts?
Basically, think of it as literally TikTok, just on YouTube and without the channel name burned into the video (though if you want to, you could do that yourself in your editing software).
I’ve had the best experience with cat videos, but short funny videos and catchy dance videos will surely work as well. Try and make something “loop worthy”.
If you have an existing channel, think about what existing content you have (or could quickly make) that lends itself well to the super short, vertical experience. Best moments from streams, supercuts, edits from popular videos, literally a video of your cat, something like that.
What About Desktop?
The nice thing about Shorts is that, unlike YouTube “Stories”, they’re ultimately just regular YouTube videos that also get featured in a new special place. There is still a plain YouTube URL where the video can be watched even on Desktop, with all the features of a Normal video.
So even if the Shorts feature gets axed in the future, your videos will just live on YouTube like normal.