Animated Video Production

How Long Should Your Video Be: Optimal Video Length

Shawn Forno 09.26.2017

Length matters, especially when it comes to online video. The optimal video length varies from video to video. Different hosts (YouTube vs. Facebook), and unique video marketing objectives mean that the ideal length for your video will fluctuate—but not by all that much.

No matter who you are or what you’re selling, the hard, fast answer to: “How long should your video be?”

“Short.”

Luckily, when it comes to animated explainer videos, shorter is better.

optimal video length

Optimal Video Length

In 2012, Wistia studied thousands of videos and discovered that the optimal length for a business video is 60 – 90 seconds. But times have changed, attention spans have gotten shorter, the internet has gone mobile, and micro video content is king. What’s the optimal length for an explainer video today? Wistia looked at another 500,000 videos to find out, and the answer may surprise you.

Video Production: Length & Engagement

As of the end of 2016, the optimal length for a business video is two minutes—nearly 25% longer than it was four years ago. Weird, right? Take that, millennials. The key to understanding the increase in optimal video length is engagement and viewership drop-off.

 

Engagement Cliffs: Finding the Drop-Off Point

People have a tendency to lump certain video lengths together into general categories where engagement rates remain relatively steady. People are just as likely to watch a two-minute video, as a one-minute video, despite being twice as long. Viewers don’t see that extra minute as double the attention investment (even though it is).

Engagement rates for business videos fluctuate, but it’s not linear relationship between length and engagement. That’s important to remember. Unless the platform has a hard cutoff point at 60-seconds (like Instagram), don’t agonize over shaving a few seconds off of your video. If your video is under two minutes (and interesting!), most people will cut you some slack.

Two minutes is the sweet spot,” writes Ezra Fishman. However, right after two-minutes, Fishman warns that the drop-off in engagement is “significant.” A successful business video is all about identifying these “engagement cliffs”—when people stop watching your video—and making your video fit your viewers’ expectations.

T-Minus Two Minutes and Counting

Fishman warns of this sharp engagement drop off:

“Two minutes is where the exponential decay kicks in. This isn’t to say that you should cut a 10-minute video down to 2 minutes—some content warrants longer videos—but it does suggest that you’d be better off cutting 30 seconds from a 2-minute 30-second video to keep viewers’ attention.”

business video

Wistia identified three distinct engagement drop-off points—2 minutes, 6 minutes, or 12 minutes. If you’re on the cusp of one of these, shorten your video as much as you can and get on the other side of that drop-off. If you’re in the sweet spot where video engagement levels off, don’t gut the content of your video just to shorten it by 5 or 10 seconds. Engagement rates for a 4-5 min business video are roughly the same as a 5-10 min business video.

Optimal video length is all about pinpointing your audience, finding their drop-off point, and then clearly defining your animated video’s objective within that time frame.

Translation: You can still make a longer animated video. If it’s good.

Abandonment Issues: Why Shorter is Better

According Visible Measures, viewership falls off at a steady rate as a video progresses, but that it’s not the worst thing in the world.

“Expect to lose 20% of your audience within the first 10 seconds, 33% within the first 30-seconds, 44% by the end of your video.”

That might sound brutal, but abandonment rates aren’t the same thing as the engagement cliff drop-offs we just discussed. Abandonment measures natural engagement decay. As a video gets longer, fewer people are likely to finish it. It has nothing to do with the content itself. A lot of this drop-off has to do with erratic search habits, irrelevant keyword SEO, and the caliber of video content. There are a lot of reasons that people didn’t watch your video. Video length is just one of them.

Don’t panic if your video has an initial abandonment rate under 20%—you’re on curve. If that number spikes, maybe it’s time to rethink how your video starts, your video title, or even your video thumbnail. However, the simplest solution to increasing engagement rates (and thus ROI) is to make your video shorter.

Graph of abandonment rateViewers Look at Time Left

In yet another study, Wistia tested two videos against each other—a 30-second video vs. a two-minute video—to see which would have higher abandonment rates. The catch: the first 30 seconds of both videos were identical.

Abandonment rates for 30-secs and 2 mins

All things being equal—the thumbnail, title, and even the video content—Wistia still found higher abandonment for the longer video. The only conclusion is that viewers checked the status bar, and bailed on the video that took longer to watch. Viewers are simply more likely to watch a 30-second video over a two-minute video. The perfect video length is all about finding that sweet spot just before your target audience leaves, and making sure you’re “worth” sticking around (aka shorter than that drop-off).

Ideal Video Length: “I know it when I see it”

This study goes a long way towards explaining the abandonment rate during any video’s first 10 seconds. Most people click on a video because of an interesting thumbnail, a catchy title, or because it came up high in search results. Rarely do people ever set the video length filter on video searches on YouTube or Google. People don’t think about video length as a factor—until it becomes obvious that it’s too long.

Finding the optimal video length is a lot like the landmark Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio about defining obscenity. In his landmark decision, Justice Stewart wrote, “I know it [obscenity] when I see it. And the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

People don’t think about video length until they notice that a video is too long. Ask a thousand people how long is too long for a video, and you’ll get a thousand different answers. But everyone knows in their gut when an online video is too long, and they’ll click away every time.

Video Length: Set Expectations

One of our clients, Sevanta Dealflow, found that even though their video was engaging, highly targeted, and under 2-minutes long, people were dropping off before the video finished. Instead of getting frustrated, asking for costly edits, or abandoning the video (it’s still on their homepage five years later), they came up with a simple, interesting solution to their abandonment issues. They just told people how long it would take to watch the video. And engagement rates soared.

Sevanta made a video thumbnail that included the text, “Get Up to Speed in Under 2 Minutes.” They set expectations and then delivered with a quality explainer video that does what it promises. Their video immediately went from sluggish to impressive. You really could “get up to speed” in the time it takes to make toast. It’s a great reminder that engagement rates aren’t always about content. Sometimes you can take your video from an obstacle to an asset with one clever marketing pivot.

video length

Video Length: Context Matters

In the age of “online video” people forget that viewers watch video in a lot of different ways. Mobile video finally overtook desktops in the beginning of 2017, and believe it or not, people still watch video on things other than their computers and phones. When thinking about optimal video length, you have to ask, “Where are people going to watch this video?”

If your video is primarily for online viewers, will it live on your homepage or is it for a seasonal campaign on a dedicated landing page with high buying intent? Is it for awareness on Facebook, or as a lead generation tool on YouTube? Each of these scenarios has a wildly different objective, so should each video’s length should reflect that.

Think about where, when, and how people will watch your video. Then decide how long it needs to be . Videos at live events are for captive audiences, and can be a lot slower. Facebook videos have to capture (and keep!) peoples’ attention in milliseconds. Different marketing goals require different length videos. A B2B buyer doing her due diligence on a big purchase will likely to be more patient than a web-surfing consumer browsing content on their phone.

Time Flies When You’re Telling a Story

People like stories. If you can hook viewers with a compelling narrative through a great opener, strong visuals, and good character design, you have an attention buffer to play with. People will watch longer videos if they tell an engaging story. Don’t gut your message just to fit under the time crunch if you have something truly interesting to say.

Buck trends. Be bold. Ask viewers to come along with you, if that’s what your video requires. Just remember, you have to captivate audiences early if you’re going to ask them to ignore their natural impulse importance of being pithy should not lead you to leave the bones of your message un-softened by the flesh of human interest. Better to be a little longer and interesting than short and boring!

How Long Does Your Video NEED to Be?

How complex is your message, or rather, how complex does it need to be? A good explainer video provides enough information to persuade people to take the next step—that’s it. Hone down on your ideal CTA, then reverse engineer what you video needs to say to get people to say, “Ok,” and act on that one, tangible CTA. Your video should not sell every aspect of your business. It can’t do that in any reasonable amount of time. That’s what the rest of your website (and your employees) are there for.

You don’t have to highlight every feature and benefit of your product. Just get the one most important point across and let your website do the rest.

The Clock Starts Before Your Video Does: Load Time

Researchers at UMASS found that most viewers click away from a video if it takes longer than 2 seconds to load. The abandonment rate increases by approximately 5.8% for every second of loading wheel thereafter. If your site is slow to load, you may need to rethink your video host before you make any other changes.

Optimal Video Length: The Elevator Pitch

Still not sure how long your video should be? Answer this one question:

Am I selling something?

  • If the answer is “Yes” — Make it as short as possible.
  • If the answer is “No” — Make it as short as possible.

Don’t quibble between selling a product or service—if you’re pitching, you’re selling. Embrace it. Your animated video has to entice users immediately and communicate rapidly, or you won’t move them further down the sales funnel.

And animated video production isn’t just about “awareness” at the top of the sales funnel—it goes all the way down to the conversion, whether it’s a purchase, signup, or other conversion.

Video Marketing & the Sales Funnel

Rand Fishkin at Moz, prefers to have at least eight interactions with a prospect before they become a customer. And he designed his sales funnel for this type of circular interaction by creating helpful, compelling, well-produced weekly whiteboard animation videos.

Business Video Length: Focus On One Thing

The biggest mistake with long videos is that they try to do too many things. Sure, one video could explain your product, communicate your corporate culture and founder’s philosophy, and answer FAQs but it would have to be an hour long. Trying to do everything in one massive video will only dilute your finished product into something unwatchable. Don’t believe me? I dare you to sit through this entire video:

Instead, of creating one massive video that talks about every facet of your company, divide your video production into several smaller videos, each about two-minutes long. Tackle topics individually. People will like the focused content, because that’s how the internet works. How do eat an elephant? One video at a time. Have more to say about something than you can fit into a two-minute video production? Make another video.

Video Length: Segmented Video Content

Take a look at Lowe’s “Fix in Six” video campaign:

This video does exactly one thing, and it does it in 15-seconds. Clarity and focus will boost impact engagement rates and lower abandonment. Yoav Hornung, founder and CEO of Veed, says:

“The goal of a tutorial is not only to show how it works, but to show how simple it is. Don’t try to show all the features, just highlight the cool ones and make it look simple.”

How Long Should Your Video Be

Animated explainer videos are powerful sales tools. Keep yours short and to the point, and you’ll keep people watching. For more tips on how to make the perfect explainer video for your business, download our free eBook.

Shawn Forno

Shawn Forno is a massive Studio Ghibli fan who does content marketing. In that order. Find his other writing and extensive travel blogging here.

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