Abandonment issues: How long should your video be?

“How long should our video be?” This is a question that comes up early with nearly every one of our clients. The answer depends on a number of factors:

1) Shorter is Better. Research by Visible Measures indicates that viewership falls at a steady rate as a video progresses, with 20% of viewers dropping out within the first ten seconds. If you want viewers to see your whole video, keep it short.

Graph of abandonment rate

2) Viewers look at time left. The video-hosting firm Wistia conducted an interesting experiment. They tested two videos, one that was thirty seconds long and one that was two minutes long, but the initial 30 seconds of both videos was identical. They discovered that the abandonment rate was higher for the longer video, indicating that viewers were looking the time left to play and withholding their attention when the time investment to reach the end was higher.

Abandonment rates for 30-secs and 2 mins

This might help explain the abandonment rate during a video’s first 10 seconds. Many video players don’t show the length of the video before play starts. This may cause some viewers to start the video in order to discover the play time, then decide whether the time investment is worth it.

One client of ours had an interesting way of addressing this issue. His thumbnail reads “Get Up to Speed in Under 2 Minutes.” Being clear about the time investment and its prospective benefits (getting up to speed) may be more effective as a way of procuring engagement than showing just a pretty picture.

3) Context matters. A video meant for an event will likely be seen by a captive audience in a darkened room. The attention spans of these viewers will probably be more forgiving than those of the average web visitor, who is driven by the distractions of the office or home, as well as the whole rest of the web.

Even within the web category, different types of viewers will behave differently. A B2B buyer doing her due diligence on a big purchase will likely to be more patient than a web-surfing consumer looking for a trinket.

4) Story makes time shorter. We are humans and that makes us interested in other humans and their stories. The importance of being pithy should not lead you to leave the bones of your message un-softened by the flesh of human interest. Better a little longer and interesting than short and boring! People will hang with you if you offer them joy instead of drudgery.

5) How long does your video want to be? Perhaps the most important factor to consider is how complex your message is. That, of course, begs the question: how complex does it need to be? You need to give the viewer enough information to successfully persuade them to take the next step in your engagement process, whether that be contact, registration, purchase, or something else.

You don’t need to detail every feature and benefit of your product, but you do need to highlight the most important ones and ease any common concerns.

6) The clock starts before your video does. Academic research (pdf) has shown that viewers start clicking 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 underperforming on loading times, you may need to rethink your video hosting solution.

All these factors need to be considered and every client is different. However, in our practice the answer to the “how long?” question is usually between one and two minutes. That’s mainly because our clients typically come to video because their messages are not simple and need careful explaining.


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