YouTube Shorts seem to get a lot of exposure on the YouTube home page (what used to be the recommended videos) and the dedicated Shorts shelf.
In a blatant move to compete against popular short form video aggregator TikTok, YouTube is pushing shorts to generate engagement and keep viewers on the platform.
This move is similar to what Instagram has been doing in the past years, taking “inspiration” from competitors and introducing suspiciously similar features such as Stories from Snapchat and Reels from TikTok.
Shorts can be created directly from the YouTube app for some users when they click on the “Create” button (from which you can either upload a video or go live) and they can upload content that is up to 15 seconds long but if this feature is not available they can simply upload a short video (up to 60 seconds long).
It Seems the Internet Still Loves Cat Videos
I have been noticing that more and more of the channels I subscribe to have been publishing shorts: from PlantTubers (the irony that many plants start life as tubers is not lost here) to DIYers, Shorts allow creators to publish content quickly and the YouTube algorithm seems to reward them for it.
I wanted to see what happens when you publish a Short and the obvious choice for me was a cat video. Even though people’s viewing preferences have evolved over the years, cat videos on YouTube are still harnessing millions of views.
I had absolutely no expectations for this video and it actually caught me by surprise how well it did in one day.
My Short Video Experiment
662 views on the first day of publishing, which may not sound like much but for a small channel like mine averaging about 100 views per video this is a good result.
When I checked one month from publication, the views had tailed off (pun intended) at 667, with no further views two weeks after publication.
I also published a few more #SHORTS and each received about 10 views each.
The interesting thing about how YouTube sees Shorts is that the popularity of each video is short-lived: the video is pushed for one day, only to be replaced by something else straight after. In this type of conveyor-belt type of publishing, you need to have a steady stream of content lined up if you want to ride the wave of views.
Shorts have an auto-play feature so as soon as you have finished watching one, the next one in the queue plays immediately. The next video can be from a completely different channel so you only have a few seconds to make an impression before a viewer leaves your channel. This also means there is not much of an incentive to stay on your channel – the emphasis being for people to stay on YouTube in general compared to an individual creator’s channel.
Because there is no or low conversion from viewer to subscriber when it comes to Shorts, you need to decide whether publishing Shorts is a useful strategy for your channel, particularly considering that since 2012 YouTube moved away from rewarding views to rewarding watch time, i.e., time spent on your channel. The idea back then was to dis-incentivise hopping from video to video after a few seconds or, even worse, use bots to churn out repeat views on a video.
Looking at the Analytics, 98.9% of all the views for my video experiment came from Shorts. The remainder views were equally split between:
- direct/unknown 0.3%
- browse features 0.3%
- notifications 0.3% (i.e., views from subscribers).
Also, talking about experiments, when I shared the video on Twitter, my largest platform in terms of audience with 6,222 followers at the time of writing, no one clicked on it so there were no views from Twitter.
Lessons From Publishing a Short
There is definitely potential from publishing Shorts on YouTube:
- Shorts don’t take too much editing time to produce
- Shorts can fill a gap when a creator is not feeling inspired or is running out of ideas
- Shorts can be used as experiments to check the temperature of what would be of interest to viewers
- videos marked as #SHORTS in the title and/or description will be recommended by YouTube across the platform
- Shorts are available for small channels unlike Stories which are only available for channels with more than 10,000 subscribers
- creators can repurpose older content by selecting short sections of videos and republishing them
- Shorts can be a way to offer variety of content while still publishing long form content in line with a channel’s overall content strategy.
What Shorts are not likely to provide:
- channel engagement – it’s unlikely that viewers will comment on short videos
- advertising revenue – Shorts are not eligible for monetisation
- channel growth – it’s unlikely views convert into new subscribers to the channel.
The latter point in particular is worth looking into: unlike TikTok where viral views convert into followers, this may not be the case on YouTube. Viewers may watch several videos from one channel before deciding to subscribe to it.