What I Learned From Making YouTube Shorts for 30 Days in a Row
Last fall, I wrote about my experience making my very first YouTube Short. After crafting those initial few Shorts, I largely gave up on the format for whatever reason. But, when fellow creator Jeff Rose suggested a 30 Day Shorts Challenge, I decided to take him up on the idea. So, from May 22nd through June 21st, I posted a new video every single freaking day.
The good news is that, as this challenge went on, I feel as though I got a lot more proficient at making this type of content (at least in the fact that the amount of time it took me came down). What’s more, I feel I learned a lot about YouTube Shorts in general. That said, I still have a few major questions about the format overall. So, let’s talk about what I learned — and what I didn’t — from making 30 days of YouTube Shorts.
What I Learned from My YoutTube Shorts Challenge
Scripting and looping
In case you weren’t aware, YouTube Shorts have a time limit of one minute. When viewed in the Shorts feed (or at least the Shorts interface), they also loop. Because of these factors, there are a couple of actions I learned to take while scripting my videos.
First, despite beginning to grasp how much text would translate to 60 seconds of speech, there were times when I wondered whether or not I’d be bumping up against that time restriction. So, to accommodate for this, I had lines in my script that I’d want to include if I could but that I could also lift out if needed and wouldn’t affect the overall point of the video. In some cases, it was even the second half of a sentence that I would deem unnecessary if I had to make cuts.
Luckily, most of the Shorts I created during the challenge stayed under 60 seconds in their initial edits. However, there was at least one video where I did need to make trims — and that was because I didn’t realize how much time the TV clips I planned on inserting would take up. Funny enough, cutting the line that I omitted actually made the script better IMO.
As for the looping aspect, I used this to my advantage by employing a simple trick that also helped with the scripting process. Basically, instead of delivering a true conclusion, I’d end by saying something like “So…” or “because…” — with these transitional words leading back to the top of the script. For example, in my video about being an extra, I ended by saying “So that’s the story of…” with the video starting over at “The weirdest job I ever had.” Nice, right?
In some cases, I would “cheat” this loop by just delivering both lines as scripted and not worrying too much about matching. But, as time went on, I got into the habit of actually delivering my last and first lines as a single sentence and cutting in between. This created some truly seamless loops that (hopefully) kept some people watching.
Setting a thumbnail
When I made my very first few Shorts, I was frustrated by how I was unable to select the thumbnail for my uploaded video. In one instance, this resulted in YouTube picking the single worst frame of my video to feature, which I think probably hurt its appeal. Given this experience, I was very excited to see that I could now handpick an image from my video to use as the thumbnail.
This update also played a role in how I scripted and edited my Shorts. Just like with long-form videos, I saw the thumbnail as an opportunity to show a second aspect of the video (along with the title) to grab someone’s attention with a certain graphic. So, with the eventual thumbnail in mind, I made sure the text I wanted was present on the screen and that the background was eye-catching. In some cases, I even added some extra elements to that frame knowing that I’d then be using it as the featured image.
For the most part, the videos I created for my Shorts Challenge followed a similar format. While the topics varied, they largely featured me in the corner (filmed in front of a green screen) with images or video behind me and text typing out everything I was saying. But, even though these videos are only a minute long, they still took a non-insignificant amount of time to produce.
Because of this, I decided to use the weekends of the challenge period to both experiment and give myself a bit of a break. Thus, these shorts typically relied on just B-roll, some light text, and a pop song. Specifically, I tried to tie the song into the topic of the video (even loosely) mostly as a way of making myself laugh. Making a video about a road trip? Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” it is. Talking about the rent for my apartment? Madness’s “Our House” will do. Discussing tips for decluttering? “Cleaning Out My Closet” by Eminem will work! On second thought, better go with an instrumental version.
Perhaps one of the most out-there videos to come from these experiments was one inspired by an old post I forgot I even wrote. The premise of this post was that there are lots of things I’ll do to save money, along with others that I refuse to take part in. In this case, I took those points from the article, added a couple, pieced together some stock footage along with titles, and set it to Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love.”
Surprisingly, some of these lower effort Shorts performed better than others I’d put way more work in. I don’t know if that’s really a good thing but I guess it doesn’t hurt to have options. So, although I plan to stick to my established format, I won’t be afraid to try something different and quirky.
Late last year, YouTube announced that it would be changing the way it compensated Shorts creators. Admittedly, this announcement was a big reason why I decided I should probably get on board with creating Shorts — well, that coupled with the fact that they were clearly becoming a larger priority for the platform. Yet, while the pay may be improving from what it was, I can tell you that the rates aren’t nearly what they are for my long-form videos.
Of course, there are several reasons for that. For one, while Shorts may get more views because of their length, that’s also what makes them less valuable. Second, unlike long-form videos where the ads play directly before, during, or after a specific piece of content, the ads in Shorts only play in the Shorts Feed and aren’t tied to the work of any one creator. In turn, the niche targeting that leads to larger CPMs is absent.
What’s more, since there’s not a fair way to link these ads to one creator, revenue is instead pooled and then divided up by the number of views. Actually, since Shorts do allow users to include copyrighted music in their videos, YouTube pays out licensing fees before calculating its revenue split with creators, further cutting down the amount made per view.
To show you what I’m talking about, I happened to look up the estimated revenue from my best-performing Short (so far) and a long-form video with a similar number of views. My Short about Vegas table game rule changes garnered 1,600 views, leaving me with an estimated revenue of… 17¢.
Meanwhile, a review I did of PrizePool a while back is sitting at 1,800 views. However, in this case, my estimated revenue is $52.71. In fairness, this is a bit of an anomaly as that CPM for the long-form video is crazy high even for me. Still, I think this disparity highlights a major difference between these two forms of content.
Things I Didn’t Learn During the Challenge
Look, I realize that social media algorithms are proprietary and meant to be kept a secret — aside from a few clues that these companies may throw at us to tell us what they want. But I have to say that the Shorts algorithm has severely confused me throughout this challenge. With long-form videos, it’s generally true that, if your video garners a lot of views early and gets good reception, this will inspire YouTube to serve it to even more people. I would have assumed it would be the same with Shorts, but I was consistently dissuaded of that notion.
Each time I checked a new Short I had posted and saw that it was doing pretty well, I soon found that it had already hit its (apparent) peak. For example, returning to the Short I made about my time as a TV show extra, that video garnered more than 100 views in its first 20 minutes. Two days later, it still hasn’t even cracked 200. Similarly, one I made about the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was my first Short of this challenge to crack 1,000 views and was at 1.5k when I first checked up on it. Spoiler alert: it’s still at 1.5k.
What makes this extra confusing to me is that I feel as though Shorts are meant to be more evergreen than even long-form content. In the Shorts feed, you can’t even see when a particular clip was posted and I’ve had Shorts served to me that were months old (judging by the comment dates at least). So how is it that some videos are in high rotation weeks later but mine seemingly top out after a couple of hours? I wish I knew.
What will hit
Similar to how I don’t understand why my Shorts are peaking so early, I also haven’t figured out the formula for making a short that will be a hit. Truth be told, I did partially suspect that my Vegas video would do pretty well (although I was initially worried it might be suppressed if YouTube thought it was endorsing gambling) — but I did not think that my silly “Thunder Road” video would get more views than other Shorts I spent far more time working on. Again, this phenomenon isn’t terribly different than my experience with long-form YouTube videos, but it’s frustrating and often disheartening nonetheless.
Whether or not I should continue investing time
Given the low CPMs, my issues with the algorithm, etc., is it worth it for me to keep making Shorts? Well, the short answer is “yes” — but not as many. While I’d love it if I could make a Short a day in theory, in practice, I don’t see it being possible. Or should I say it wouldn’t be possible if I stick to my current format. Instead, my goal is to create 1 to 2 Shorts per week in addition to my long-form video. Should I come up with ideas for easier-to-make videos, then perhaps that number can increase.
With that said, the reason I’m more interested in creating Shorts isn’t directly because of the potential money I could earn. Instead, I think posting Shorts content will continue to be important for getting the YouTube algorithm to “like you.” To that point, whether related or not, my overall views and revenue have risen since I started the challenge. Furthermore, I have picked up a few subscribers from my Shorts. For that reason, I see sticking to a Shorts strategy as a way to grow the channel overall and hopefully bring more eyeballs to my long-form content — AKA the stuff I care more about.
All things considered, I’m glad I undertook this 30 Day YouTube Shorts Challenge. Whether I like it or not, it’s clear that YouTube wants creators to be making Shorts, so I guess it’s good that I now feel a bit more confident in doing so. Yet, as far as I’ve come, I’m still baffled by some aspects of Shorts and doubt that they’ll really do much for me monetarily. With that, now that the 30 days are over and I’m decelerating into a more manageable schedule, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on my analytics and seeing what else I can learn about YouTube Shorts.