DTC 380: Unlocking the Shorts Algorithm

📺 Giving Shorts a space on YouTube

YouTube and its traditionally longer-form content has grown to become not only one of the largest social media platforms in the world but also an essential part of your creative funnel. 🔽

YouTube Shorts, Google’s latest iteration of short-form video on YouTube, boasts upwards of fifty billion views per day. 🤯

We think it’s in your best interest to learn what makes the Shorts format tick and how the Shorts algorithm works for creators.

We’ve got some sizzlin’ insights from Todd Sherman, Product Lead of YouTube Shorts, to help creators and brands maximize the versatility and discoverability of Shorts. 

💑 Audience first

A key point of the Creator Insider’s conversation with Todd is that creators need to “think audience, not algorithm,” and this statement holds significant weight in the current Shorts landscape. 

Shorts do well if they’re curated specifically for a target audience. This means editing down successful long-form content to create Shorts may not produce the expected results. 😓

Remember: Your Shorts content may have a very different audience than your long-form videos and each audience values different topics and subjects. 

🔑 The key to YouTube success is to craft a complete narrative in long-form videos and Shorts content. 

For example, a video diving into your latest product might list all the pain points your product addresses followed by a demonstration and a bunch of UGC testimonials to back up your claims. 

You’ve laid out the problem your product solves, proved it, and supported your claim with real customers forming a complete “narrative” or “structure” for this video. 

There’s far too much to cover in a single Short so instead, fully committing to one element per Short, like a demonstration, can provide the sense of a completed narrative for the viewer.

Instead of partially focusing on multiple ideas squeezed into one Short, fully develop one main idea per Short. 

Viewers will be looking for value and payoff, so repurposing content into new formats may not be the best way to achieve those goals or meet the needs of each audience. 🤝

🤔 There’s a difference!

The Shorts algorithm is different from the video algorithm. This is because watching a video from a recommendation or subscription is a deliberate choice by the user rather than a discovery of content in the Shorts feed. 

Views are counted differently between the two formats as well. 

The view threshold for a Short, the moment when an impression counts as a view, will not be disclosed because of how often it changes, but Todd reiterates the importance of capturing viewer attention in the first few seconds of the content.

It’s implied that the view threshold of Shorts content is beyond the first few seconds, but this threshold is also dynamically influenced by the viewer's intent to watch the whole Short.

How intent is calculated also remains a mystery, but it’s important to factor in during the creation process of the video as you craft the narrative and edit the content. 🕵️

📷 Are thumbnails worth your time?

While there’s some disagreement in the comment section of Todd’s interview, thumbnails on Shorts don’t appear to significantly affect their discoverability. 

Todd mentions that thumbnails for Shorts are only seen on a channel’s shelf and not in the Shorts Feed, and the Feed is where most discovery and impressions happen. 

Your time, at least for now, is better spent creating a new Short than creating a custom thumbnail for an existing Short. 

⛔ Hacks that aren’t really hacks

Todd disproves the so-called “discoverability hack” of deleting and re-uploading Shorts until it suddenly takes off. 

Shorts are shown to small pockets of interested viewers, called “audience seeds,” after the initial upload in a testing period. 

This often explains inconsistent view counts and spontaneous success, but showing that same content to a new audience seed isn’t more likely to build on that success. 

Todd, once again, tells us that your time is better spent creating a new Short instead of reuploading previously deleted content. Reuploading could even be considered spam by the almighty algorithm! 😨 

🎥 Now is the time to jump in

YouTube is an intimidating platform because of its massive scale and equally massive creators. 

High-budget content filmed with cutting-edge technology is an unrealistic standard to hold every creator to, so it doesn’t make sense to hold your brand to it either. 

Shorts are a much more accessible format that encourages smaller channels to publish content using a more iterative workflow rather than investing significant amounts of time and money into a longer form of content. 

Use Shorts metrics as a tripwire to produce better content rather than an identifier of your content. If one Short doesn’t do well, you can simply try again without wasting your resources. ♻️

Once you succeed with a Short, dive into your process and content to understand what resonates with your audience and make small incremental changes with each upload. 

There will never be a perfect Shorts formula because the goal is for Shorts content to be highly flexible and evolve with your brand and community.  

🔮 What does the future hold?

Todd was hesitant to discuss anything related to the future of Shorts, but from his answer, we can guess that AI will eventually play a role in Shorts content creation. 

How this will play out isn’t publicly available yet; however, getting your creative team familiar with available AI tools would be a huge step in the right direction.

🤏 Small barriers, huge possibilities

The Shorts format is a valuable tool for creators and brands of all sizes to connect with new audiences and experiment with new ideas. The iterative nature of Shorts should dispel any hesitancy towards ambitious new ideas and marketing angles. 

A new audience could be waiting for you, and all that stands between their eyes and your brand is less than 60 seconds of content.

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