YouTube Shorts: What Is a 'Vertical' Video?

Can you make square videos and still get featured on YouTube's highly-viewed Shorts shelf? Let's find out.

So far, there are two undeniable truths about making a YouTube Short. For YouTube to recognize a video as such, it needs to be less than 60 seconds long and in a vertical format.

However, YouTube hasn’t shared much information about the specifics of tall video content. This technical restriction is relatively new, so creators may be curious about the best aspect ratio for making YouTube Shorts.

As YouTube educators, we need that information too. It'll help us answer specific questions, such as, “How vertical is vertical?” Are we talking about an aspect ratio of 9:16 or a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels?

To find the answer, we did a test using the vidIQ Shorts channel. For more details about how we did that, plus a curious look at what may be the skinniest video ever, press play below:

By testing the bounds of vertical content, we discovered which videos YouTube considers to be Shorts, and thus, which videos make it to the Stories and Short Videos shelf. This featured section gets millions of views, so every creator should learn the technical requirements to appear there.

Do This One Thing To Get More Views With YouTube Shorts

Before we dive into our YouTube Shorts test, consider creating a featured section for the Shorts on your own channel. This creates a controlled environment of content where you can easily see all your Shorts. It’s almost impossible to know when a Short will be featured on the discovery shelf, so this is a crucial step in ‘tracking’ your progress.

To quickly create a Shorts featured section, read our guide, “How to Get More Views with YouTube Shorts.

Once you've added this feature, you’ll see a section that automatically shows all of the YouTube Shorts on your channel. Or more importantly for this experiment, the videos YouTube identifies as Shorts.

But remember, enabling this section doesn't mean your video will appear on YouTube’s prized discovery shelf. It still has millions of other short videos to compete with. The only thing you’ll know for sure is which videos meet the requirements to be considered a YouTube Short.

Can You Make a Square YouTube Short?

Most creators understand the concept of making a video that's less than 60 seconds, but what does vertical format actually mean? We’ve seen several examples of square videos appearing as YouTube Shorts, so we decided to test the bounds of vertical content.

To do that, we created a video with an aspect ratio of 1:1 and 1080x1080 resolution - in other words, a perfect square. When we checked the video’s analytics, 12.6% of views came from the YouTube Shorts traffic source, as shown below:

This confirms what we already knew, especially after seeing the evidence on other YouTube Shorts. You can, in fact, make square videos classified as YouTube Shorts.

Ironically though, there’s both an advantage and disadvantage of doing that:

  • Con: YouTube Shorts weren’t designed with square videos in mind. That means the video will have an unsightly black bar at the top and bottom of the frame.
  • Pro: On the flip side, square videos leave the bottom of the screen empty, and viewers can easily see your channel name, video title, and subscribe button.

YouTube Shorts: Can They Be ‘Wider’ Than Perfect Squares?

For our next YouTube Shorts test, we wanted to see if we could make one wider than a square. So we uploaded a video that was just 10 pixels wider than it was tall, and as we expected, the video didn't appear in our featured Shorts section. So by YouTube’s standard, that video was not considered a Short.

This test confirms a very important benchmark. Now we know the widest YouTube Short you can make is a square video. If the video is wider than it is tall, it won't be considered a YouTube Short.

Here’s another rule to follow: Don’t make a video skinnier than what you’d shoot on a smartphone. We created a video with a resolution of 360x1920 pixels, and while it can be viewed on YouTube, it didn’t appear on the Shorts shelf.

There’s no reason to upload a video thinner than what a smartphone produces, but hey - we just wanted to have a little fun.

Ideally, vertical video is shot on a smartphone, and that's your safe zone. If you go any thinner than that, your video may not be considered a YouTube Short.