How to hack the YouTube Shorts Algorithm title banner

How to Hack the YouTube Shorts Algorithm

The YouTube Algorithm is a force to be reckoned with by many new content creators. It is a series of complex systems that primarily promote the right content to the right people. However, there are cracks in the algorithm that creators have exploited many times.

Throughout the years, massive creators today have used the algorithm to their advantage. Starting back in 2006, gaming content took over YouTube. Gaming YouTubers, like Pewdiepie accidentally exploded in the market due to YouTube ranking videos solely on view counts. Another meta is as recent as 2020 when YouTube community posts and polls would easily introduce your channel to a massive number of new viewers. Dream, a massive Minecraft YouTuber, uses both algorithmic optimized content and the community tab to gain the algorithm. He pushes his channel from below 100 thousand subscribers to 30 million subscribers in the span of 3 years becoming one of the largest channels on YouTube.

There are several ways to describe how to grow on YouTube. Today however we are going to use an algorithmic glitch to gain more views, more subscribers and maybe even a spot on the front page.

The YouTube Algorithm

ludwig and susan
Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO, being interviewed about the YouTube Algorithm

Before we get into the shorts, we first have to tackle “what is the YouTube algorithm.”

Think of the YouTube Algorithm as a person whose job is to recommend videos to customers. Now logically they want the customers to watch their videos and be satisfied every time. So, they made a system to check if the videos are good enough by looking at the click-through rates, high retention rates, and continuous consumption of the same content.

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A good example of an interesting thumbnail and title with a curious hook on the topic, by Veritasium.

to sell a product, the product itself needs to look attractive and striking for people to buy. Even if the content is exciting, no one would buy it if it looks dull on the packaging. So, YouTube applied Click through rate (CTR) into their algorithm. CTR is the percentage of viewers clicking your video when they are presented. If more people are clicking your videos instead of ignoring them, then it likely has an interesting appeal. Using this, the algorithm would most likely recommend videos that people click on instead of ignoring when they are suggested. Therefore, an eye-catching thumbnail and a curious title will surely be introduced to further audiences. That’s why the basic rule of thumb for a viral video is an interesting thumbnail and title.

A beautiful package does not always mean it is a good product. YouTube wants to give its customers the highest quality goods it can give. To sort this, The algorithm use audience or viewer retention rates. Audience Retention (also known as “Viewer Retention”) is the average proportion of individuals who view a YouTube video. The Algorithm uses this to check whether the viewers love the video and fully watch it or lost interest and exit midway. If more people stay and watch, then it is most likely an interesting video. Thus, YouTube would recommend those with high retention rates to other viewers.

One good product does not always mean that all their other products are as good. Giving the customer a good product to then showing them something horrible is not what YouTube wants. Therefore, they implemented a slight input in the algorithm to show more videos of trustworthy channels. If a viewer, after watching a video, goes to the channel and continues to watch their other content, then that channel most likely generally creates good content. YouTube wants that and would boost the channel’s videos even further.

mrbeast videos
Example of a channel, MrBeast, with consistent appeal and quality.

YouTube Shorts (why it’s broken and how to make one)

Now that we know how the algorithm work, what can the YouTube Shorts feature do to absolutely soar your channel’s viewership?

YouTube Shorts is a fairly new format that shows specifically very quick portrait videos. But this feature is overpowered compared to normal videos. While the YouTube algorithm recommends channel that has high CTR, viewer retention and continuous consumption, YouTube Shorts single-handedly tick all these boxes and more and here’s why.

Short Shelf

Usually, viewers are given a thumbnail and title of a video before clicking to watch it but only a percentage of them would click on the video. Shorts however are different; they don’t rely on thumbnails and titles. Shorts have 2 different separate platforms. One is the recommended tab that shows the thumbnail and title. Another section is the incredibly powerful Short Shelf.

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Traffic sources on YouTube Shorts

Now, what is a “Short Shelf”?

YouTube Shorts’ source of traffic is vastly different from normal videos. Instead of coming from suggestions and searches, your videos will get thousands of views coming from a source name “Shorts” (like the picture on top). This means that your short video is being played right after another Short or is being displayed on YouTube’s shorts shelf on the trending page[]. Therefore, Shorts automatically have a high CTR as viewers are either instantly provided the video or the video is put on the trending or recommended tab.

Average audience retention is more than 100%

This sounds impossible, a good viewer retention rate on YouTube is around 50%. It is almost impossible for a video to get above 100% except if it is a short video that requires multiple watches, like cooking. Because YouTube Shorts are generally really short, with a maximum of 60-second duration, it is easily digestible and doesn’t consume much time. Therefore, because the average viewers watch Shorts multiple times, retention rate will blow pass 100% and the algorithm will send it to more and more people.

Low supply with an impossible demand

With around 15 billions views every day, Shorts have an incredibly high demand that is impossible to supply. Unlike the saturated market of normal YouTube videos, YouTube Shorts will never have enough videos to share around. Even a brand new fresh channel with 0 subscribers can garner a thousand views at least on their first Short. Compare to normal videos taking years to get a thousand views, you can get it in one day using Shorts. This proves how absolutely broken this feature is.

How to make a Short?

Now that you know how absolutely broken this feature is, how do you make a YouTube short?
It’s easy, get your phone out and film in a portrait angle, make sure the video is less than 60 seconds and include #shorts in the description and done, you have created a short. Additionally, you can include music, insert captions and edit your videos before uploading. This feature is made so easy in fact that you can do this in the YouTube app on your phone. For more information, here’s a short video on how to make YouTube Shorts by YouTube.

Making a YouTube Short is very simple and it is much more rewarding than uploading a normal video. But there are tips that can optimize your Shorts with the algorithm.

Fast-paced content is better, content that is edited to be fast or high-paced narrative works the best.

Take inspiration from other YouTube Shorts, find a trend between successful shorts and improve on it to create a better Short.

Reupload for a better thumbnail, YouTube would randomly generate thumbnails for shorts. By reuploading the short, you can get the best auto-created thumbnail to be displayed on the Short Shelf.

Have Fun

Although this post highly pushes the use of Shorts, it is important that you the creator are not bound to unwanted commitments. Being a Youtuber is more punishing than rewarding and the algorithm shows. Many creators never get their limelight even if they are patient and diligent. However, making content you don’t like is just as punishing and more demanding.

Stress from overwork, creative burnouts, getting cancelled and many more have harmed creators after “making it”. Instead of the goal being the biggest channel, it is best for you to start creating things that you, yourself, love and use this feature to further your reach. Work hard and play smart but have fun doing so.

Jonathan Wijaya
Jonathan Wijaya

Jonathan Wijaya is an undergraduate student doing his last year going for the bachelor degree of Commerce in Finance and Marketing at the University of Melbourne.

Surfing the internet since he was 5, Jonathan is familiar with the online community and has fun researching the internet culture, the good and the bad.

He is passionate in YouTube and it's system as well as the community and what it means for the future.