Despite the picture to the left, time does NOT grow on trees. It is said to be our most precious resource. So when it comes to online video, I’m a fan of keeping it brief. My motto: Get to the point, and move on. My opinion has been that anything over about 3 minutes is too long. Who has the time? The longer your video, the fewer number of people who will even click to watch it – much less finish watching it.
In fact, I recently came across some interesting research published by Wistia that confirmed my hunch that shorter = better.
According to their findings: “The average 30-second video was viewed 85% of the way through, while the average 2-minute video was viewed on average 50% of the way through.
“The data is quite clear, shorter videos are more engaging than longer videos. For videos 2 minutes and under, you should strive to make your content as short and punchy as possible to guarantee the highest engagement. If your video is 30 seconds or under, it’s very likely that most people will watch it all the way through.”
But, this weekend, I found myself watching a 23 minute tennis video on one of my favorite sites, FuzzyYellowBalls, and it occurred to me: “Why am I willing to watch a 23-minute video on tennis, but would flog anyone who suggested I make a 23 minute video for this blog?”
But WAIT! It depends on the video!
Most people are ultimately making marketing videos – with the goal of selling something, whether it be a company, a product, or a service. (You might think, “Hey, there are lots of other types of videos too! What about those ridiculous honey badger videos!” Well, you’ll notice that even those that seem to be purely entertainment are selling something… in this case, he’s got his own line of honey badger t-shirts. So I would argue that many entertainment videos are marketing videos in disguise. Troll around YouTube, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a video that’s not ultimately marketing something- either a brand or a product or even a link to a site that has advertising or other products). So, for most (i.e. marketing) videos, the optimal length depends on the goal of the video itself, and where the viewer is in the sales process.
In marketing, we describe the sales cycle as AIDA:
- A – Attention (Awareness): attract the attention of the customer.
- I – Interest: raise customer interest by focusing on and demonstrating advantages and benefits (instead of focusing on features, as in traditional advertising).
- D – Desire: convince customers that they want and desire the product or service and that it will satisfy their needs.
- A – Action: lead customers towards taking action and/or purchasing.
What is the goal of your marketing videos? Where are you in the AIDA cycle?
Why I watched a 23 minute video
The earlier in the buying process your viewer is, the shorter your video should be. Until a viewer decides to trust you, you have very little time to get their attention.
If you’re trying to build awareness or get attention, think about creating a video that emulates a television commercial. Think 30-second video whose whole purpose is to grab a viewer’s attention. Videos using humor, or that are short and punchy, can be very effective. (You’d be surprised at how much you can communicate in 30 seconds or less. Just watch some of the films created on 5secondfilms.com to see effective concise communication of ideas.)
As you move from building awareness to trying to generate interest, your viewer may know you, but needs a little more information to become engaged. Think 1 minute to 2 minute videos that communicate your information with benefits. High level overviews or demos can be effective here. A hidden benefit of creating shorter videos is it forces YOU to be more concise about your product and services. You have to really communicate with intent, which helps keeps you focused on presenting the information more concisely and clearly.
Once you’ve got them interested, your audience will be looking for information that will help them understand what makes you different and you’ll be trying to create a desire to buy. This is where longer videos can provide value: testimonials, product demos, or even a thought leadership video will differentiate you from others in your industry.
One recent trend is to provide valuable content for ‘free’, in exchange for the right to continue to market (paid content, or other products) to that viewer. This was the case of the 23 minute tennis video I watched this weekend. This site requires me to enter my email address in return for a wealth of free tennis instruction videos. But each of these videos also includes links (leading me to take ACTION) to the site’s paid content, and I get marketing emails from this company enticing me to register for paid instruction. The honey badger videos also might fall into this category. This user has gained an interested following to which he can now leverage by selling advertising or other products.
I think 23 minutes is a bit long even for this type of video, but, generally “Desire” videos target viewers who are very strong prospects (have communicated interest and taken some action on that) who are willing to be contacted in return for valuable information. I would recommend keeping your videos under 10 minutes, but as your viewer gets further along in the sales cycle, the more willing they are to invest time in getting to know your company and products or services.
Where do your videos fit in AIDA?
So before you make your next online video, think about its goal and who you’re targeting. Are you trying to get attention and brand awareness? Or are you trying to entice someone to take action and buy? Make sure you plan the length of your video according to where you are in that sales cycle.
From our experience, the Attention video is the one that most often violates the rule of concise videos.
For these kinds of videos, expectations must be set. That can be done simply in the title (“Highlights of the X vs. Y game” – highlights are typically only a few minutes long). However, if that expectation has not been established, the video itself must “earn” the time it takes to watch it. In other words, even if I have only a 90 second intro video on top of my web page, the first 10-15 seconds must convince the viewer that it’s worth his/her time to watch the rest. That’s why abandoning rates and how long a video was watched are so important, in addition to just raw views. It tells you whether you were able to hold your viewers’ attention.
I think it depends a lot on what the video / video series is doing. I have a series where I teach Dreamweaver. Trying to get each lesson done in just 3 minutes or so would be far too fast – though I do tend to stick to 5-10 minutes. A bit of shameless self-promotion here, but also so people can see examples and decide for themselves if the videos should be shorter – I would love to hear the feedback: http://stores.lulu.com/prescottcomputerguy
Good point, Michael. I almost added a 3rd type of video to this post: The “instructional” video, which by its nature needs to cover a topic in-depth. But in the end, I decided that most instructional videos were either 1) a paid-for product, which could technically fit into my definition of ‘entertainment’, or 2) falling into that same category of the 23-minute tennis video – an appetizer that is ultimately trying to entice me to buy – or, in other words, functioning in a marketing role – in the Desire phase of the sales cycle.
But the line is definitely fuzzy. And your instructional videos – although more lengthy – serve their purpose to give the users a taste of your full CD program.
Going back to the Wistia research, I think that when you’ve engaged your audience… when they’re deep in that Desire phase (and you’re giving them something of value for free), then your audience is more likely to sit through a longer video. I’d be interested in hearing people’s statistics for their own videos. That Wistia research is a few years old, it would be a good experiment to update that with our findings.
There are some great points here, and I think you guys are exactly right. It’s not just about the length — every situation is different. I think the most important thing (as Veit pointed out) is to actually measure the engagement of your content so you can get a sense of what’s working with your audience.
Lynn, coincidentally I was just talking with Ben (Wistia data scientist extraordinaire) this morning about pulling the latest stats on this. We’re thinking about putting together an interactive and more in depth version of what we released before. Funny how the timing worked out! 🙂
I would love to see those new stats when you have them. Thanks
I’ve recently saw this short video about software: http://www.alarmsapp.com/Alarms/
This a good example of short instructional / promotional / advertising video. It is exactly like saying: “Watch it in action – Fall in love – Download” I fell in love – I downloaded – I purchased, 100% effective!
*It’s not my video. I do not have any relationship to the site nor developer. I do not intent to do any kind of advertising.
Sorry, but it’s simply not true that longer videos are always less effective than shorter videos for selling things. That’s like saying postcards always work better than a salesletter, short copy landing pages always work better than long copy landing pages, 1 minute audio clips always work better than 30 minutes audio clips and 30 second commercials always work better than 30 minute infomercials. It all depends on the audience, their expectations and what’s being sold.
I’ve attended (and given) plenty of webinars that ran 60-90 minutes. Many are pre-recorded and 100% automated screencasts without any interactive Q&A. Given the number of people attending, watching and buying things online during these automated presentations from many, many infomarketing people, it’s silly to simply state that shorter is automatically better.
Better to say both versions should be tested to see which works better with your prospects.
Just a quick thing that I noticed (and I know this is terribly delayed from when this was posted). However, “The average 30-second video was viewed 85% of the way through, while the average 2-minute video was viewed on average 50% of the way through.” – 85% of 30 seconds is SIGNIFICANTLY less than 50% of 2 minutes. (25.5 seconds VS 1 minute).
So perhaps keeping in mind that the beginning of the video is the most important part, and placing all important information in the first half, would be a better solution?
I am being a devil’s advocate, but I am curious about if this strategy has been considered, and if so if it has been thrown out for some reason.
ps) great post, very interesting
Thanks for your input – and very good point. And I definitely agree with you that no matter how long your video is, lead with your most important (interesting) information.
What I thought was interesting also was the psychology behind xxx. Are the people that click on the 2 minute videos a different type of audience than those clicking on a 30 second video (or vice versa)? Does the fact that you KNOW a video is 2 minutes long before you start watching it improve or decrease its chances of being clicked or watched all the way through?
I also agree with Chris above – you need to do your own research and test what types of videos work best for your audience, in your particular situation.