YouTube – Long form content vs. Shorts. Which is best?

A common thread on social media at the moment is comparing YouTube long form content against YouTube Shorts. We look at some of the pros and cons of each with some valuable insights.

When Shorts were first introduced on YouTube, I was not onboard with the idea at all. As a videographer, making portrait oriented content felt a little “icky” to me, and my thoughts were that there were already platforms for creating this type of content such as TikTok and Instagram. Shorts content felt lower value, lower quality… and basically just against my principles as a creator, and had no place on YouTube.

Of course, despite my reservations, I know that when platforms like YouTube introduce a new feature, typically it’s “broken”. What I mean by this, is that they typically get a lot more reach while they push the feature to collect more data; and sometimes they’re literally broken which can be beneficial in the short term for the creator. As such, any new feature that’s introduced should be viewed not through fear (or in my case, disgust!) but rather as an opportunity.

I reluctantly created my first Short, and it was fine. I didn’t understand what Shorts were meant to be at this point, so I treated it more as a way of advertising my long form content (don’t do this) but I started to quickly learn how they should be used, and the massive potential they offered. Fast forward to today, and I create more Shorts than I do long form content, and I’m always keen to recommend them to other creators.

Some creators despise Shorts

A lot of established creators hold Shorts at arms length; others completely refuse to use them. There is a lot of concern and negativity around them, and I completely understand it. If you’ve spent years building your channel your audience, the last thing you want to do is jeopardize all that hard work, especially at first when YouTube was still experimenting and segmenting audiences for the different content types.

As a result a lot of established creators have avoided Shorts completely, or set up separated dedicated Shorts channels to try and avoid any negative impact they might have on their channel. The effect on Average Total Watch Time, for example, was a big concern! So back then, setting up a separate channel would have been a strategy I recommended myself.

However we’re now at a stage where it’s clear Shorts aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In February 2023, YouTube announced that Shorts have surpassed 50 billion views per day, and the trajectory for Google searches for YT Shorts seemed to have captured that of Instagram Reels.

“In February 2023, YouTube announced that Shorts have surpassed 50 billion views per day.”

YouTube

But despite this, the overall sentiment around Shorts seems to remain consistently negative. I thought it would be useful to scratch the surface of this, and offer my insights.

The negatives for using Shorts

Scrolling through LinkedIn, I regularly see other creators sharing their thoughts about YouTube Shorts. Sometimes this is an anecdote, other times they’re sharing their data and providing some reasoning as to why Shorts simply don’t compare to long form content. These are the main objections I see daily.

Monetisation

When Shorts were introduced, they were monetised in the same way as long form content. For early adopters, they made some nice revenue off the back of this until YouTube quickly removed the monetisation from the Shorts feed. You could still earn pennies if the video was viewed from the watch page, but it was insignificant earnings. To help reward creators for making Shorts, they later introduced the Shorts fund. I was a regular recipient of this, and while the CPMs were low if you worked it out (about 20x less comparatively), I was just happy to earn from my Shorts content. It was a bonus, and sometimes a big bonus.

The Shorts fund ended in February 2023 and has been replaced by a new monetisation mechanic. From what I can see, this is very similar in calculations to the Shorts fund, but you get to see your earnings on a day by day basis.

For those new to Shorts monetisation, they are completely disappointed with the CPMs. For most people, typical earnings are around £0.05 per 1,000 views. My worst performing long form content has a CPM of about £1.19, and my best performing has a CPM of £30.58. As a direct comparison, it’s easy to ask why anyone would ever spend their time making Shorts.

However the number of views you can achieve through Shorts is massive, and you can create a lot of Shorts quickly. Again for context, my most viewed long form content has 3.5M views but typically I average between 50K-100K views. My most viewed Short has nearly 30M views at the time of writing, and it’s rare for a Short not to reach 6 figures in the first week of being published.

When you combine high views with a higher content creation output, there is a nice compound effect which has lead to my last 6 months on YouTube being my most profitable.

Short lifespan from limited traffic sources

There is a misperception that Shorts views on YouTube are short-term. You get an initial spike in traffic from the Shorts feed if you’re lucky, and then the video dies. So creating evergreen content with Shorts isn’t possible, and that the only real source of traffic is from the Shorts feed.

Of course, in reality this isn’t true. Below is a screen shot from the analytics of one of my oldest Shorts published in March 2021, and it’s still receiving traffic. 325 views per day isn’t huge by any means, but it demonstrates that if there is an audience for your content, there isn’t a short lifespan.

Additionally, you can see that the traffic from the Shorts feed makes up only 16% of the total traffic. Search and suggested are the highest sources for this time period.

Audience cross over

It’s no secret that building an audience using Shorts is easier; partly this is a numbers game because a Short can reach so many more people, but also the overlay subscribe button on the video definitely leads to a higher view to subscribe ratio, comparable to Instagram and TikTok.

This in itself raises a lot of questions. If it’s easier for them to subscribe, is this audience as discerning as someone who watched your long form content and actively decided to subscribe to the channel, compared to a Shorts viewer with such a brief encounter with your content? Are then then considered to be a lower quality subscriber?

We know that in the early days of Shorts, YouTube segmented Shorts and Long form audiences resulting in little cross over from Shorts views to long form views. This has changed now, but the question remains as to whether someone who watches your Shorts content will be interested in your long form content.

For those that have had the biggest complaints about this, I’ve seen little synergy between their Shorts content and their long form content. If your long form content is, for example, about legal advice, then your Short form content should be an extension of this. If, in a very extreme example, you’ve started creating funny skits or dance videos TikTok style because that’s what you think Short form content is about, then yes clearly you are targeting two completely different audiences. As a result there is likely to be zero cross over here.

However if you can maintain that same value proposition and content style in your Short form content, then there can absolutely be valuable cross over here. I’m not convinced it’s as seamless as YouTube suggests, but from the data I’ve seen, it certainly seems like this is improving.

Learning curve

As with any new content type, it takes time to learn what works and what doesn’t. For those not yet having success with Shorts, unless you’re confident in the potential of what can be achieved, it can be difficult to justify the time investment required to learn how to create this new type of content; especially if you’re already doing well with long form content.

I understand this reluctance, and it’s easy to dismiss Shorts as a result, but you could be missing out. A good place to start would be to see what content is successful in Shorts, TikTok and Instagram that’s close to the content you produce, and start to reverse engineer it.

The positives for using Shorts

It’s probably pretty obvious at this point that I’m “all in” when it comes to Shorts, but I thought it would be useful to highlight just some of the most important benefits in my opinion. It’s also interesting hearing from creators like Mr Beast about their thoughts on YouTube Shorts; this quick clip below ends slightly early from his main point, but you can see he’s definitely excited about the opportunities that Shorts provide.

Video output

I’m the manager of about 50+ YouTube channels, and I have around 5 of my own YouTube channels. YouTube is not my full time job, and I’m busy enough with Falkon Digital. As as a result I would quite often go months at a time without posting any new content. During lock down, I didn’t post any new content on my personal channel for over 13 months.

To create long form content strategically and the right way for my channel takes time, and probably more than you might think. It involves research, scripting, design, filming, recording voice over, editing, publishing… the list goes on. As a minimum a video might take anywhere from 8 hours to 4 weeks to create.

When time is limited, being able to create some Short form content to support your long form content is amazing. You can fill those content gaps with Shorts which maybe take a fraction of the time to create. This can really help you maintain momentum on your channel, especially at times when your output would normally be low.

Monetisation

The recurring theme I see on LinkedIn and Twitter goes something like this:

“This Short got 10,000 views, but only made £0.50. If my long form video got 10,000 views it would have made £20.”

A direct comparison like that is a bit misleading in my opinion. As mentioned, my Shorts typically outperform my long form content by about 10x the amount of views, but revenue is about 20x less per 1,000 views. So if I don’t look at the views, I just look at the total earnings, as an average a Short earns from around a quarter to maybe half as much as a long form video during it’s lifespan.

But, the time investment to create that content was far less. As a result, in the time it takes for me to create one piece of long form content, I could create 3-4 Shorts. My total earnings from YouTube have been considerably, and consistently higher since using Shorts.

Increased session times

If you’re able to create consistent Shorts content, it can really boost your average session times. I’ve found that it someone watches one of my Shorts, more of my content is served to them, and they watch a lot of my videos (both Shorts and long form). If a new video suddenly takes off and reaches a new audience, all my content gets and uplift in traffic. This is a really powerful metric on YouTube, and an important signal that can really have a significant positive impact on the overall success of your channel.

Easy content repurposing

There are 2 aspects to this; repurposing longer form content into Shorts, and repurposing Shorts across other platforms. For example, below is a long form piece I created for my own personal channel (yes, I’m wearing a wig!)

The video performed fine; although the views were contextually low for my channel at 35K views, this turned out to be an important piece of content. I then repurposed this a Short, but rather than creating it as an advert for the long form, I developed it as a standalone piece.

The Short was quick and easy to make as I had all the footage, I just needed to add in a new voice over. For about a 2 hour time investment, this video has generated 9.3M views.

Next, Short form content translates really well into TikTok videos and Instagram Reels. You don’t need to make any modifications for them to natively work across these other platforms. You need to have a strategy to this so you don’t cannibalise your YouTube views, but this seems to work really well. Even on a brand new account, the reach is impressive.

Long form vs. Shorts

So which is better; long form content or Shorts? In my opinion, long form content is still king, but my answer is that direct comparisons between the two are irrelevant. It’s the old apples and oranges analogy. The type of content you should focus more of your time on will ultimately depend on your channel and your goals.

Both long form and Short form content offer value to your channel, and if you’re not using both, then in my opinion, you don’t have a complete strategy. At best, it’s just a missed opportunity.

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