In March 2023, I uploaded a YouTube short. Three months later, it was sitting at 12M views and raked in a whopping 50K subscribers for the VEED CREATORS channel. How crazy is that?! 🤯
After re-watching the viral video, I was able to crack the code and managed to generate similar results for a separate short. In this resource, I’m going to share everything that I learned, so you can give virality a go, too!
Here's a quick, TL;DR version of our recipe if you're in a hurry:
- A Topic That Already Works
- Popular Keywords That Improve Visibility
- An Interesting Hook/Intro
- An Engaging Pace That Retains the Viewer
- A Smart Structure and Compelling Storytelling
- A Focus on the Right Metric
Overview: What We Did (and the Results We Got)
The YouTube short that went viral is actually a repurposed version of a longer, older video I had previously uploaded covering why it’s a bad idea to buy fake YouTube subscribers. This controversial topic interests many successful and novice YouTubers alike. Here’s the short in all its glory:
After this short blew up, I decided to make a second one. I followed everything I did the first time, in hopes of replicating the results. And while it did manage to get decent results, it didn’t go viral. Here it is:
Frustrated, but still hopeful, I went back to the drawing board and started planning out a third short. This time, I dug a little deeper into the analytics and studied the first short in more depth. Eventually, I was able to uncover some interesting characteristics that played a pivotal role in my first video going viral, and work out what went wrong with the second one.
I then implemented everything I learned — which we’ll go over shortly — on my third short. And to my surprise…it worked! 🎉
The third short ended up getting:
- 97% viewer retention
- Over 2.8M views!
Here it is, in case you’re interested:
Our Recipe for Virality: How to Make Your YouTube Shorts Blow Up
After studying VEED CREATOR’s first viral short, we were able to uncover the ingredients that made it successful. Here’s what we found:
[#TOC1]Repeat Topics That Already Work[#TOC1]
Your long videos are a gold mine for YouTube Shorts. Instead of reinventing the wheel, save time and repurpose your most successful videos into short clips your audience will love.
Wondering how to choose which videos to make those engaging shorts from? Take a look at the list of your best-performing longer videos and shortlist from there.
- Go to your YouTube channel.
- Head over to Analytics in the left panel.
- Click on Content at the top.
- Go to Top Videos to get a list of your best-performing videos.
Now that you’ve seen which of your videos are the most successful, it’s likely the topics behind them are topics your audience engages with. You now have solid proof of exactly the sort of content your viewers would like to see more of.
How I Did It
Almost a year ago, I made a long video on why it’s a bad idea to buy fake YouTube subscribers. The video performed relatively well. After seeing its success and the sudden boom in YouTube Shorts, I decided to repurpose it into one. Here’s how I did it:
- Rewrote the Script According to Shorts: To make your video more succinct, re-watch your video and make a note of the important parts of your script. Then re-write it and get rid of any unnecessary filler (any bits that you feel are a bit dull).
- Re-recorded Myself to Tell the Story in a More Efficient Manner: Once you’ve edited your script, re-record yourself covering the most important bits. Remember to speak clearly and stick to script to keep your audience engaged.
- Reused Original Footage For the Rest: There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when creating your short. I repurposed some of my original footage to save time and brain space.
[#TOC2]Use Popular Keywords That Improve Visibility[#TOC2]
YouTube shorts can also be found through search results. Considering that, it’s important you find relevant keywords with high-traffic potential and plug them into your shorts.
Here’s a quick tutorial on how to get those keywords for your YouTube content:
- Head over to your YouTube channel.
- Click on Analytics in the left panel.
- Click on Research at the top of the page.
Next, in the Searches across YouTube tab, type in your topic and hit enter to get a list of all the related keywords. You can select the keywords based on their search volume, which are indicated as either High, Medium, or Low. You can even go one step further and filter results by Geography.
Ideally, you want to pick the ones that are relevant to the topic and have either high or medium search volumes. You can conveniently save/bookmark them as you go through the list, and access them later in the Saved tab.
Once you have these keywords ready to go, plug them into the title, tags, and description of your YouTube short.
Tip: Remember — you may already have a list of keywords from your original, longer video that you can reuse here.
More importantly, use these keywords to better understand the questions and interests of your audience, and then use them to guide how you structure your short (more on this later on).
How I Did It
My viral short got over 700,000 views from search alone. Instead of starting the keyword research process from scratch, I reused the exact keywords I had used in the original, longer video I repurposed.
I repeated the same process with the other shorts I created afterwards.
Tip: Conduct the research once more if your original video is very old. Your audience might be searching for different keywords.
[#TOC3]An Interesting Hook/Intro[#TOC3]
The first 5-seconds of your video can either bore your audience and lead them to click away, or reel them in.
49% of the public say that they feel like their attention span is shorter than it used to be, and these days, people watch a lot of videos (694,000 videos are watched by 2.5 billion users on YouTube each minute!). It’s important you make your hook as compelling as possible. You don’t want your content to flop.
Here are some tips on how to hook your audience, and drive up engagement and views on your videos:
- Don’t Give Everything Away: Start off by answering the main question, but don’t give them all the info at once.
- Surprise Your Audience: Hit them with a curveball — something interesting or surprising — that makes them go “Wow!”
- Make Them Feel Like They’re Missing Out: Use a good opening line that increases the FOMO in your viewers. ‘Have you heard about?’ or ‘Did you know that?’ are some good openers.
- Add More Hooks: Use Subtitles or trending sounds in random segments of your video to re-hook any wandering eyes.
- Create Open Loops: In the intro, hint at a bonus tip or useful fact at the end of your short. Our brains are wired to want to “close the open loop” or get answers by watching until the end.
Tip: Avoid clickbait. You don’t want to put your audience off by giving them false promises in your intro. Build trust within your viewers and grow a loyal following.
How I Did It
About 77% of people who saw the viral video in the feed chose to carry on watching instead of swiping away. It goes to show that the intro really hooked our viewers.
If you watch the short again, you’ll notice that within the first 5 seconds, we tell our viewers what the video is about.
That gives them a clear reason — a compelling tradeoff for their time, if you will — to continue watching.
We followed the same strategy for our second short on ‘YouTube watch time’, and managed to yield the similar results.
[#TOC4]Create An Engaging Pace to Retain the Viewer[#TOC4]
Even if you manage to hook people in, you need to make sure they continue to watch. Therefore, strive to increase the average view duration with a fast video pace that keeps your audience engaged until the end.
The following graphs demonstrate what a video with an engaging pace looks like. Note the pink line where people start watching my video and the blue that indicates where people clicked away.
You want to avoid any steep dips in your video content, which indicate that people are leaving at different points in the video. In contrast to the above graphs, here’s an example of what bad retention (and a steep dip) looks like:
It’s important to keep your video’s messaging consistent and keep re-hooking your audience, using a range of shots, effects, and transitions to hold their attention. This is called ‘pattern interrupt’; a technique that brings the viewer back to you and your video’s content.
In public speaking, an example of this would be changing things up by adding humor or using hand gestures, acting animated or unique. It’s a way to alter a person’s mental or behavioral state that will break their typical habits.
Here are some examples of how we can translate this technique into video content and maintain an engaging pace:
- Incorporate More B-roll: Switch up your visuals and use any high-quality, secondary video footage that is in the same specs as A-roll (original footage).
- Use Cutaways: Using cutaways, or changing the shot every few seconds, will re-hook your audience’s attention.
- Zoom In and Out: Zooming in and out at different paces gives a new perspective on your subject, tricking the brain into thinking it’s something new. It also helps focus the viewer.
- Use Engaging Sound: Add sound effects to stop your viewers’ attention from drifting away. Get creative and add sounds to animations or B-roll footage.
- Create Connections Between Shots: Create an idea tree at the scriptwriting stage. Note down all of your creative ideas to ensure that all shorts merge well together.
- Use Background Music: The use of trending background music or another engaging copyright-free track is a good hack to keeping viewers engaged.
- Add Subtitles: Use Subtitles and animations in segments of your video to help your content stand out and set your aesthetics apart from other content creators.
How I Did It
My first viral short managed to do really well in terms of viewer retention, with 89.5% being the percentage of viewers that watched the entire thing. If people watched the first 7 seconds, it seemed that they carried on to watch the rest, proving that an engaging intro is worth the effort.
A key driver of that viewer retention was the fast pace of the video. The longest shot in the video is around 8 seconds, and even in this clip, I made sure there was a transition towards the end of it, so people didn’t get bored. I implemented this on my second short, and took it to the next level by adding extra B-roll, more clips, and faster cuts. And…surprise surprise: it worked! The video had a smooth 86% retention rate.
Tip: Though a fast pace is good in your video, make sure you have at least a couple of lingering, longer shots in there, so your viewers don’t feel dizzy.
[#TOC5]A Smart Structure and Compelling Storytelling[#TOC5]
People depend on structure for everything, whether it’s implemented into an everyday routine or using it to understand a piece of content better. A logical structure for your video results in a strong story that keeps your viewers hooked.
Here are a few tips on being smart with your video structure:
- Tell A Short Story: Make it relevant and powerful, so your viewers walk away impressed.
- Introduce a Problem or Question at the Start: Add this towards the beginning of the video, and resolve it by the end. There needs to be a clear cycle of Problem > Solution > Results.
- Create Multiple Curiosity Loops: Make sure to add these throughout the video — not just in the intro. It’s okay to build up on the story with additional questions and moments of suspense halfway through the video.
- Introduce A Twist: Pose another relevant question or twist halfway through your video
- Avoid Giving Everything Away Too Soon: Take your audience on a journey that they want to be on, and one they won’t forget!
How I Did It
While my second short managed to hit an impressive retention rate, it still paled in comparison with the first one in terms of views (only 38K vs. 12M). Not satisfied, I went back to the drawing board and dug deeper into the actual structure of the original viral short.
I realized that right after the ‘hook’, I dive straight into the risks of buying fake YouTube subscribers and give it a go myself. This adds an element of curiosity to the content, with the viewers wondering if my channel would get flagged and deleted, or not.
I’ve also managed to avoid creating a clickbait-y video, which can cause viewers to lose trust in your content. Showing your viewers the risk they face without them actually having to experience it for themselves will win over your audience.
[#TOC6]Focus on the Right Metric[#TOC6]
Viewers who make it past the first 5-10 seconds of your short are more likely to stick around until the very end.
Luckily, YouTube already reports on a metric that helps gauge how many people continue to watch your video, versus those who choose to swipe away: Viewed (vs. swiped away).
If you’re not sure how to access this metric, here’s how to access it:
- Head to YouTube Analytics.
- Click on the Content tab.
- In the bottom right corner, you’ll see How many chose to view.
- You’ll see a Viewed % and a Swiped away %.
The higher the Viewed (vs. swiped away) metric, the higher the overall view count on the short is.
To come full circle and refer back to our very first ingredient for virality: you need to make sure your short starts with a bang if you want your viewers to stick around. If any of your videos have a lower Viewed percentage compared to Swiped Away, it simply means the intro wasn’t good enough.
How I Did It
To put this into perspective, on my first viral short, 77% of people chose to watch the video. It ended up getting 12M views. On the other hand, only 49% of people watched the second video. This means the idea introduced in the first few seconds wasn’t as interesting.
At this point, I went back to the drawing board and worked on a third short with a more compelling intro.
The result? We went viral and 77% of viewers didn’t swipe away!
For the third video, I copied the same strategy I used for my first viral short. I made the script succinct, cut the footage more concisely, and used the same background music.
It got a 97% retention rate and gathered 2.8M views!
Time to Go Viral
Making a successful YouTube short isn’t about having fancy video equipment and expensive software. These things alone won’t guarantee success with your content.
The “meat” of your content needs to be strong. That’s why it’s important the core idea behind your video is engaging and grabs people’s attention from the start. Take your game-changing YouTube short ideas and, using this advice, give it a go for yourself.
Enjoy your rocketing views and subscriber numbers!