YouTube Shorts: Creating My First Short and What I Learned
Over the course of the five years that I’ve been publishing content on YouTube, the platform has seen a number of changes. Yet, what is perhaps the biggest update to the site arrived stateside last year with the introduction of YouTube Shorts. Even more recently, the offering made headlines (including on this site) as YouTube announced a new monetization plan would be rolled out for Shorts starting early next year. Ahead of that, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try my hand at making my first Short. In fact, as of this writing, I actually now made two shorts with plans for more.
So, what did I think of my YouTube Shorts experience? And, more importantly, what did I learn from creating these two Shorts? Let’s take a look at a few things that surprised me, frustrated me, and excited me overall.
My Experience With YouTube Shorts and the Biggest Lessons I Learned So Far
Let me start with one of the most obvious differences between most Shorts and regular YouTube content (aside from the length): the aspect ratio. Like with TikTok, Shorts are presented vertically. Luckily for me, adjusting my Premiere set-up to edit vertical video was easy… or at least I thought. Turns out I also needed to fix my export options to make sure it was truly vertical instead of merely filling the center of a landscape video. This too was an easy fix and now I have it down.
Finding a topic
When you think of TikTok, you probably think of dance trends or silly memes. So, with YouTube Shorts being an obvious attempt to replicate the success of that platform, one might expect it to be more of the same. Whether or not that’s the case… it’s definitely not what I’m going to be doing. Because of this, while I had the desire to create Shorts content, I wasn’t exactly sure how I could adapt Money@30 to the format.
That was until I decided that everyone likes saving money and getting free stuff. With that, I decided to make my first Short about how American Express customers could get a four-month free trial of Panera’s Unlimited Sips Club. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought I had enough of a hook to give it a try.
Get ’em quick
It’s important to keep in mind how Shorts are (mostly) served to people. Rather than them selecting to watch a video, it simply pops up in their feed as they go through videos. Because of this, you really need to grab their attention and get them to stick with your video.
For my Panera video, my hook was pretty obvious: “Hey Amex cardmembers, care for some free coffee?” Granted, if you don’t have an American Express card, you no longer care. However, if you do have a card and like caffeine, I have to imagine you want to hear where I’m going with this.
Admittedly, I wasn’t quite as pleased with the intro to my second Short — which was about Delta and Starbucks teaming up for mutual rewards (I guess my niche is free coffee). It’s an exciting development, to be sure, but the hook wasn’t as juicy IMHO. Then again, that video did end up performing a bit better, so what do I know?
Crank up the energy and keep it moving
From the Shorts I’ve watched, I get the impression that the energy level should be even higher than it is in long-form content. If you weren’t aware, for whatever reason, speaking at a normal energy level on camera will make it seem like you’re half asleep. That’s why the version of me on YouTube is definitely a heightened version. In that case, the Shorts version of me must be on something.
When reading the script for my Shorts, I made sure that each line had energy and was read even faster than normal. As someone who’s spent the past few years trying to slow myself down while on camera, this took some getting used to. On top of that, I cut out just about any pauses I had to never let that energy slip.
In another bid to keep things moving, I literally did just that with my video. Rather than allow still images to sit on screen like I do with my regular videos, I made sure to have panning, zooming, or some sort of motion happening to keep viewers engaged. Again, this style took a lot of getting used to as I really had to think about every second of my video. Funny enough, while the process of creating a Short was still a lot faster than my normal content, it took longer than you’d expect for a 30-second clip.
Another trend I’ve seen in Shorts is putting in captions. I have to imagine a key reason for this is the reality that some viewers may be scrolling through without sound. There’s also an accessibility and inclusion element, with many long-form creators now also experimenting with open captions. Putting that aside, I also wonder if the captions again factor into that “keep things moving” idea.
Adding these captions may seem like an easy thing but I did encounter a couple of challenges. First, font selection has never been a strong suit so I Googled some recommendations. Next, I had to decide where to place the text in each frame as well as consider colors. Finally, while I’ve seen captions that flash individual words or perhaps a couple of words at a time, I decided that was a bit too much for me. So, I elected to divide up my text into chunks of half a dozen words or so — although this varied by the content of the sentences. I also experimented with a few different approaches to fit the style.
Thinking about the loop
I’ll admit that, one of the first times I encountered a Short from a creator I followed, there was one element that really confused me. At the end of the clip, they concluded by saying, “because…” Was it cut off? Was he doing a bit? What did it mean?!
As it turns out, this is because Shorts are looped, so that ending actually connected to the start. With that knowledge, I straight-up lifted this idea for my second Short. Doing so made the loop go like this: “ because… [back to the top] Delta and Starbucks are teaming up to keep flyers caffeinated and rewarded.” It’s a bit silly but I actually liked how it came out. I probably won’t try this trick every time but, when appropriate, I kind of dig it.
Technically, when you add #Shorts to your video title, it will automatically be offered as one. However, when I uploaded my first Short through the normal method, I panicked when I saw that my video was displayed like any other (and didn’t have the Shorts icon in search). This led me to quickly delete it and try again.
Whether or not this original method would eventually work or not, I now prefer to upload my Shorts via the YouTube app instead. That way, I can confirm it displays correctly from the jump. Then, I can go into YouTube Studio after the fact to turn on monetization, edit details, add tags, etc. On that note, I don’t yet know if things like tags and description box info have any impact on how your Short is served but I imagine it will still affect regular search, so I’ll keep doing what I do.
Betrayed by the thumbnail
Finally, while I was pretty happy with the first two Shorts I created, I have a major complaint. As far as I can tell, the thumbnail that YouTube displays for your Short is basically random. Although you can upload a custom thumbnail to show if you embed a video, this will not show up in the Shorts feed.
Why is this a big deal? Well, for my Delta/Starbucks video, YouTube could not have chosen a worse option for a thumbnail. Rather than going with any of the frames that mentioned either company, it managed to go with a frame that had a stock video of an excited guy with the caption “News.” Ugh.
Look, thumbnails have never been my strong suit. However, even I know that going with that frame certainly didn’t help my video in the Shorts feed. I guess this just means I need to be more creative with how I craft my Shorts and keep in mind that any singular image could be the snapshot viewers might get as a preview of my content.
With YouTube Shorts growing and monetization changes on the way, I do think it will be advantageous for creators to jump on board. While I don’t expect that my Shorts content will overtake my long-form in any way, I am excited about the prospects of what I can do with the platform. At the same time, it’s clear that crafting Shorts will take a lot of experimentation and learning on my part. On that note, with two Shorts under my belt, I’m looking forward to making many more.