No matter what you or your business does, chances are you use video. According to a 2018 VidYard survey, the average number of videos published by businesses each month was thirty-three. That’s a whole lot of content. Whether you create your own video content or have worked with a video production company, you’ve probably had a discussion about how long these videos should be.
There is an old adage in industries like advertising and corporate communications that shorter is better, and while that rings true for some content (particularly traditional hard-sell advertising), there are a growing number of reasons people are turning to longer form content.
While there is no magic number for length, there are three factors to consider:
- What are they watching
- Where are they watching
- Why they are watching
What are they watching?
75% of videos published online in 2018 were under 2 minutes in length, and there’s good reason for that. A recent Wistia survey found that engagement dramatically dropped off after the 2-minute mark.
Furthermore, videos under 2 minutes have a retention rate of 59% while videos over 30 minutes have a retention rate of only 17%.
This data would suggest that you should keep your video short and sweet, and that is a safe strategy to follow. However, the same survey also found that sweet spot #2 was content between the 6 to 12 minutes. Content of this length gets a roughly 50% engagement rate. In the age of diminishing attention spans, that is still a pretty good number.
Deciding between these two optimal lengths really comes down to what the content is. If your message is complex, like a detailed review of a product or a technical tutorial, there’s no need to pack it all in to a few minutes. This kind of content is hard to view only in part because the conclusion or solution requires build up. This means that viewers are more likely to carry it through.
But if your content is meant to express quick information like an update from your company or if it’s meant for pure entertainment (think everything on your Facebook feed), then you’ll probably benefit from brevity.
Where are they watching?
Today’s social and content platforms each have their own benefits when it comes to hosting video. Facebook and Instagram’s auto-play features help get your content seen by people without them having to seek it out, while YouTube curates content in a way that makes it easy for them to find if they’re looking for it. On Vimeo, getting on the Staff Picks list is your best bet for exposure. Each of these platforms have limitations and algorithm quirks that you need to be aware of.
Instagram only allows you to upload content under 1 minute in length. This makes it a great opportunity to hone your short form skills. It’s also a great place to tease a bite-size clip of content that you’ve posted elsewhere.
Videos on Facebook start automatically auto playing when you scroll past them. While this means more people start to watch a video, the play through rate on these channels is much lower than other mediums. For that reason, videos published to Facebook generally do best when they are in the under two-minute range.
YouTube’s most recent algorithm rewards quality content in an attempt to leave out content that is intentionally gaming the system. To do this, it favors content with high watch times. That watch time, however, is not relative to the percentage of the video that is watched—it’s completely based on the number of minutes a viewer engages. So, if you have a 50% play-through rate on a 10 minute piece of content but a 75% play rate on a piece of 2 minute content, that longer video will still be weighed more heavily by the algorithm.
Why are they watching it?
Is it educational? Is it entertainment? How does your viewer benefit from watching it? These are all factors that are going to determine how long you can hold onto eyeballs.
Viewers are more likely to tune in if they are getting something from the content, as opposed to being sold something. A good example of long form content with viewer benefit is tutorials. If you can teach your viewer how to do something that is valuable to them, you’ll keep them watching. On top of that, experts in a particular field are far more likely to sit through long form niche content like demos and educational content.
However, if your viewer needs to know something important about your business, brand or product, you want to avoid clouding your message with unnecessary details. Furthermore, if you don’t get to the point quickly, you might lose them before the ever have the chance to hear it.
How quickly do you need to get this message across? Start by looking at your play-rate metrics provided by the video host (ie Vimeo, YouTube). What is the average percentage of any given video that gets watched? If it’s 28% and your video is 3 minutes long, that means viewers tuned out 50 seconds in. All of your most important information needs to come before that.
Still not sure?
Maybe you’ve got a great video that is packed full of a lot of interesting content. But maybe, only some people will benefit from or appreciate all that information. Instead of trimming it down to fit the needs of the masses, test out multiple cuts. Publish your story-driven or information-heavy video at a comfortable 10-minute length, then experiment with creating a 90 second cut as quick “recap” style video, and then 30 second “teaser” cut. If you hook a viewer on your 30 second cut, you’re much more likely to have them click through to the longer cut because you’ve already captured their attention.
This campaign from Autodesk Sketchbook includes three cuts of the same story. All three versions feature comic book artist Ken Lashley and show how he uses Sketchbook products to create his work.
The 9 minute documentary short delves into his process, his background and gives a more in-depth a look at the Autodesk tools he uses while also giving advice to aspiring artists. Someone who has an interest in drawing and comic books would appreciate this video and watch it through, but the average viewer will not finish it.
The 2.5 minute gives some information about the product, but it focuses on the message that everyone can learn how to use it. This cut has some narrative and enough information to keep viewers watching.
The 30-second teaser cut focuses on the simple message that putting pen to paper is the first step of creating something great.
Ideally, a viewer will see the 30 second cut on social media and click through to the full story. This is a great way to introduce viewers to your content without overwhelming them with a big time commitment from the get-go.
How to Approach Your Next Video Project
At the end of the day, every video strategy is different. The platforms that you use, the audience that you’re trying to reach and the kind of content you produce will all play a huge role in determining the length of your video. The best place to start to put yourself in the shoes of your viewer and ask, “would I sit through this?”