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YouTube Shorts: An Introductory Guide

YouTube's quick and entertaining video format did very well in its first year. Here's everything you need to know about YouTube Shorts.

YouTube launched the beta version of Shorts in India on Sept. 14, 2020, prompting some people to ask, “What is YouTube Shorts?”

Then, YouTube rolled out Shorts in the United States on Mar. 18, 2021. And some skeptics began to ask, “Can YouTube Shorts be monetized?”

Next, YouTube introduced a $100 million Shorts Fund on May 11, 2021. And some creators started to ask, “How do I get more engagement and views on YouTube Shorts?”

Finally, YouTube rolled out Shorts in more than 100 countries around the world on July 12, 2021. This prodded some marketers to ask, “Which content creators are using YouTube Shorts?”

Now, YouTube Shorts is celebrating its first anniversary. And some influencers are asking, “Will YouTube Shorts replace TikTok?”

These are all good questions. So, I’ve thoroughly updated this introductory YouTube Shorts guide to answer these questions using actual data instead of scientific wild-assed guesses.

What is YouTube Shorts?

In the post announcing “a new way to watch and create videos on YouTube,” Chris Jaffe, the VP of Product Management, said, “Shorts is a short-form video experience for anyone who wants to create short, catchy videos using nothing but their mobile phones.”

He added, “Shorts is a new way to express yourself in 15 seconds or less.”

Ummm, okay.

YouTube’s Shorts creation tools make it easy to create short-form videos that are up to 60 seconds long with our multi-segment camera. And short-form videos have been around since Me at the zoo was uploaded to YouTube on April 23, 2005.

Creators and artists have been able to create YouTube videos using their mobile phone since Sept. 11, 2012, when YouTube released its own app for the iPhone.

Today, Shorts creation tools are available globally using just a smartphone and the YouTube app.

So, what’s the big deal?

As Jaffe explained at the time, “Creation is at the core of short-form video, and we want to make it easy and fun to create Shorts. We’re starting to test just a few new tools for creators and artists with our early beta in India:

  • “A multi-segment camera to string multiple video clips together,
  • The option to record with music from a large library of songs that will continue to grow,
  • Speed controls that give you the flexibility to be creative in your performance,
  • And a timer and countdown to easily record, hands-free.”

So, you might mistakenly think that Shorts is merely a bunch of creation tools that make it easy to create short-form videos that are up to 60 seconds long with a multi-segment camera.

But the creators and artists I know are more interested in getting more engagement and views for their videos as well as more subscribers to their channel. It’s they earn more money – either as a member of the YouTube Partner program, or as an influencer who creates sponsored content for brands.

In other words, the “features” that encouraged creators and artists in India to get started with the early beta of YouTube Shorts were actually the “benefits” of making short, vertical videos “easily discoverable on the YouTube homepage (in the new Shorts shelf), as well as across other parts of the app.”

Today, viewers may find your Shorts by tapping Shorts at the bottom of the YouTube app. They may also find Shorts:

  • On the YouTube homepage.
  • In their notifications.
  • By checking their Subscriptions.
  • Featured on your channel page.

Once they tap into a Short, viewers can scroll to watch more short videos.

And it’s worth knowing that views of Shorts are counted the same as regular videos. Plus, subscribers gained from watching your Shorts count toward Creator Awards Program milestones.

In March 2021, YouTube added more features, including the ability to add text to specific points in your video. You’re also now able to sample audio from other Shorts so you can remix it into your own creation.

As YouTube launched the Shorts beta in the US, they had millions of songs from over 250 labels and publishers, including Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Publishing, Warner Music Group and Warner Chappell Music, Believe, Merlin, 300 Entertainment, Kobalt, Beggars, CD Baby, Empire, Peer, Reservoir, OneRPM and more.

Can YouTube Shorts Be Monetized?

When the YouTube Shorts Beta was introduced in the United States, Todd Sherman, the Product Lead for YouTube Shorts, said in a post,

“Since introducing our initial beta in India, we’ve already started to see creators having fun with Shorts, and the number of Indian channels using our creation tools has more than tripled since the beginning of December alone.

People are also watching more and more Shorts around the globe – the YouTube Shorts player has now surpassed 6.5 billion daily views globally.”

But it wasn’t clear if creators were going to be able to earn more money – either as a member of the YouTube Partner program or as an influencer who creates sponsored content for brands.

Sherman said at the time,

“Over the last three years, we’ve paid more than $30 billion to creators, artists, and media companies.”

But, that was through the YouTube Partner Program, which enabled creators to get a share of the advertising revenue. And video ads may be less likely to be served on very short videos.

Sherman acknowledge this and added,

“Shorts is a new way to watch and create on YouTube, so we’re taking a fresh look at what it means to monetize Shorts and reward creators for their content. We are deeply committed to supporting the next generation of mobile creators with Shorts, and are actively working on what monetization options will look like in the future.”

So, it wasn’t a surprise when skeptics began to ask, “Can YouTube Shorts be monetized?”

Fortunately, this question was answered on May 11, 2021, when YouTube introduced a $100 million Shorts Fund, which will be distributed over the course of 2021-2022.

Anyone is eligible to participate in the fund simply by creating unique Shorts that delight the YouTube community.

Amy Singer, Director of Global Partnership Enablement for YouTube Shorts, said in a post introducing the YouTube Shorts Fund,

“Each month, we’ll reach out to thousands of creators whose Shorts received the most engagement and views to reward them for their contributions.”

(A channel’s Shorts will count toward their monthly performance each month viewers watch them, not just the month they were uploaded.)

How Do You Qualify for the Shorts Fund?

To be eligible for a bonus:

  • Channels need to have uploaded at least one Short in the last 180 days.
  • Channels need to abide by YouTube’s Community Guidelines, copyright rules, and monetization policies.
  • Channels uploading videos with watermarks or logos from third-party social media platforms (e.g. TikTok), non-original videos (e.g. unedited clips from movies or TV shows), or videos that have been reuploaded from the channels of other creators will not be eligible.
  • Creators must be located in one of the following countries: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, or the United States. (YouTube plans to expand eligibility to more countries/regions in the future.)
  • Creators must be 13 or older in the United States or the age of majority in their country. Don’t laugh. Ryan Kaji (Ryan’s World), who is nine years old, was the highest-paid YouTube Star in 2020.
  • Creators 13-18 years old must have a parent (like Ryan’s parents) or guardian accept terms and set up an AdSense account for payment when one isn’t already linked to their channel.

It’s also worth noting that the Shorts Fund isn’t limited to just creators in the YouTube Partner Program. Creators in the YouTube Partner Program and channels that are affiliates under a Multi-Channel Network (MCN) are also eligible.

So, how much can you get from the Shorts Fund? Well, qualifying channels can receive between $100 and $10,000 each month.

Bonuses are adjusted based on the location of a creator’s audience. As a result, the viewership and engagement needed to qualify may differ between creators.

And in addition to the Shorts Fund, creators have a variety of other ways to make money on YouTube:

  • Ads continue to be the main way that creators can earn money on YouTube. But, short-form video creators do not share revenue from advertisements played in the Shorts player right now. So, you’ll need to create a mix of longer and shorter videos to take advantage of this option.
  • YouTube has a $100 million Black Voices Fund.
  • BrandConnect (f.k.a., FameBit) easier for creators and brands to create branded content that is both authentic and effective for influencer marketing campaigns. (YouTube BrandConnect is currently invite-only, but YouTube plans to roll this out to more creators soon.)
  • Channel memberships enable creators to offer exclusive perks and content to viewers who join their channel as a monthly subscriber at prices set by the creator.
  • YouTube has a $100 million Kids Fund.
  • The Merch Shelf allows channels to showcase their official branded merchandise from 30 different retailers globally right on their watch page on YouTube.
  • Super Chat enables fans watching livestreams and Premieres to purchase a highlighted message in the chat stream to get more of their favorite creator’s attention.
  • Super Stickers enable followers to show support during livestreams and Premieres by purchasing a fun sticker that stands out.
  • Super Thanks enable viewers to give thanks and appreciation in uploaded videos.
  • Ticketing enables music fans to learn about upcoming concert listings and with a simple click, go directly to YouTube’s ticketing partners’ sites to purchase tickets.
  • YouTube Premium is a paid subscription option that enables members to enjoy ad-free content, background playback, downloads, and premium access to the YouTube Music app.

Yes, YouTube Shorts can be monetized. But if I were you, I wouldn’t quit my day job just yet.

How Do I Get More Engagement and Views on YouTube Shorts?

The prospect of earning money – even a modest amount of money – has encouraged a small army of creators around the world to ask, “How do I get more engagement and views on YouTube Shorts?”

Well, it’s hard. Or, as Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) says in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own,”

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”

You can start by reading, How to Get More Views on YouTube: Experts Share Tips. It shares 17 expert tips on how to get more engagement and views on YouTube from 11 different video marketing experts.

Next, you can take as many of the courses offered by the YouTube Creator Academy as you can.

Why not take them all? Well, there are 47 courses in the catalog; twenty-two cover the basics, nineteen are intermediate, and six are advanced.

They cover half a dozen categories:

  • Channel Optimization.
  • Content strategy.
  • Getting started.
  • Money & business.
  • Policies & Guidelines.
  • Production.

Unfortunately, very few of these courses even mention YouTube Shorts. But, they will provide a solid foundation that you can build upon.

To find out how to get more engagement and views on your YouTube Shorts you will need to either experiment to discover what works (and what doesn’t), or search for videos on the YouTube Creators channel to find new videos about Shorts.

For example, watch the video entitled YouTube Shorts, which not only explains what Shorts are and how to create a Short but also shares some best practices for using Shorts at the 4:49 mark.

For example, here are some short-form best practices that can help.

  • Focus on making the first few seconds captivating to grab viewers’ attention and keep your content snappy.
  • Remember that Shorts loop, so pace your content accordingly and think of ways you can encourage replayability.
  • Try making your content relevant by incorporating a trending moment, event, or song.
  • Make your content relatable by using your authentic voice or by showing a behind-the-scenes moment.
  • Make your Short rewarding by making content that educates, entertains, or leaves your viewers feeling good.
  • You can also get inspired by the YouTube Shorts community by checking out our pivot pages for other channels, specific audio tracks, or hashtags.
  • You can post Shorts on your main channel or start a second channel or you can decide to keep your Shorts in a Shorts section on your channel homepage, which makes it easier for your viewers to distinguish between Shorts and your regular long-form videos.

Now, this video says “any content category can be successful on Shorts.” But some content categories are more likely to be successful than others.

Which Content Creators are Using YouTube Shorts?

According to data from Tubular Labs, 625,000 accounts in 50 countries have created 10.2 million YouTube Shorts in the last 365 days.

That’s more than you can shake a stick at.

Do Viewers Enjoy This New Short-Form Video Experience?

Well, the 10.2 million Shorts that have been uploaded in the past year have received a total of 1.2 trillion views and 40.4 billion engagements (Likes, Comments, Shares, and other audience actions on the platform).

I’d call that a big “yes.”

If we just look at the United States, 73,700 accounts have created 2.4 million videos, which have received a total of 433 billion views and 14.8 billion engagements.

And if we just focus on Shorts made by creators in the U.S. that have received at least 5 million views and 100,000 engagements, we still see 2,328 accounts have created 14,300 videos, which have received a total of 287 billion views and 9.0 billion engagements.

The Short with the most views is entitled Impossible balance #shorts.

Created by Xavier Mortimer, a magician and variety performer from the South of France, the video was uploaded on Jan. 21, 2021. It now has 416 million views and 8.8 million engagements.

The Short with the most engagements is entitled, Funny Bar Chair Prank TikTok: justinflom.

Justin Flom is an American magician, and the video was uploaded to his Viral Block channel on YouTube on Mar. 20, 2021. It now has 309 million views and 12.3 million engagements.

And it’s worth noting that this 39-second long video is monetized with ads.

The U.S. creator with the most Shorts that have received at least 5 million views and 100,000 engagements is Zhongni “Zhong” Zhu, a 21-year-old Russian-Chinese YouTuber and CEO of Epic Zhong AB. He is known for making skits, reactions, and vlogs on his channel.

During the last 365 days, he’s created 525 Shorts, which have received a total of 4.4 billion views and 174 million engagements.

And 183 of his Shorts have at least 5 million views and 100,000 engagements, accounting for a total of 3.7 billion views and 134 million engagements.

His top Short is entitled, I Would Do Anything For My Best Friend #Shorts. Uploaded on Mar. 4, 2021, it now has 200 million views and 4.0 million engagements.

As for content categories, the top 10 categories in the US with the largest number of Shorts uploaded in the last 365 days are:

  • Video Games ‎(69,200).
  • Video Game Genres ‎(52,900).
  • Pop Culture & Entertainment ‎(50,400).
  • Music ‎(40,700).
  • Action Video Games ‎(27,400).
  • Video Game Franchises ‎(27,300).
  • Social Media ‎(26,300).
  • Food & Drink ‎(24,500).
  • Sports ‎(23,000).
  • Role-Playing Video Games ‎(22,500).

However, the top 10 content categories with the most Shorts that have at least 5 million views and 100,000 engagements are:

  • Pop Culture & Entertainment ‎(3,220).
  • Humor ‎(1,704).
  • Video Games ‎(1,316).
  • Music ‎(1,213).
  • Social Media ‎(1,192).
  • Food & Drink ‎(1,063).
  • Video Game Franchises ‎(895).
  • Video Game Genres ‎(878).
  • People & Lifestyles ‎(810).
  • Jokes & Pranks ‎(807).

Now, you should always play to your strengths. But the YouTube audience tends to segment itself based on their interests and habits.

For example, there are five YouTube audiences whose interests and habits relate to Food & Dining:

  • Coffee Shop Regulars: People who regularly visit cafes or coffee shops and buy beverages or snacks. They often come to YouTube to watch reviews of different menu items or enjoy cafe-inspired music playlists.
  • Cooking Enthusiasts: People who like to cook, look up recipes, and learn about cooking. They often come to YouTube to look for recipes, watch food channels, and browse cooking tips and tricks.
  • Fast Food Cravers: People who seek out fast food and other quick and inexpensive dining options. They tend to be students, family members, or anyone else who’s on the go. They often come to YouTube to watch menu hacks and top 10 burger videos.
  • Foodies: People who are enthusiastic about food and restaurant culture. They often come to YouTube to watch in-depth interviews with celebrity chefs, look up recipes, and dig through user reviews.
  • Frequently Dines Out: People who frequently purchase meals at restaurants and other dining establishments. They often come to YouTube to watch reviews of local restaurants and beyond.

So instead of making Shorts for people who have a general interested in Food & Dining, you can create Shorts for segments like Foodies who have a special interest in food and restaurant culture.

They are much more likely to not only watch your Short all the way to the end (which is a signal of engagement) but also to subscribe to your channel so they don’t miss your next Short.

Will YouTube Shorts Replace TikTok?

This brings us to the last question: “Will YouTube Shorts replace TikTok?”

To be honest, I don’t have enough information to answer this question at this point in time.

What I do know is that my colleagues at Search Engine Journal think:

It looks like TikTok isn’t going to let YouTube Shorts replace it without a fight.

But it’s also worth noting that Instagram Reels is barely mentioned in the discussion of YouTube Shorts vs. TikTok.

In other words, the new way to create and discover short, entertaining videos that YouTube Shorts may replace is Reels, not TikTok.

I realize that I promised to provide you with actual data instead of scientific wild-assed guesses.

But as Yogi Berra once observed, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

More Resources:

Featured image: Gravity Design/Shutterstock; Oleksii Arseniuk/Shutterstock

VIP CONTRIBUTOR Greg Jarboe President and co-founder at SEO-PR

Greg Jarboe is president of SEO-PR, which he co-founded with Jamie O’Donnell in 2003. Their digital marketing agency has won ...

YouTube Shorts: An Introductory Guide

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