Recently I was part of a Central Virginia American Marketing Association’s “Using Video Online for Web and Social Media Outreach” panel. I was asked to speak about the length for a web video, and how run time is determined. My usual response to the question of run time is, “As short as possible… as long as it’s long enough.”
Determining Run Time
It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to marketing or informational videos, but when you look at run times of the (as of this writing) most-watched videos on YouTube, the lengths range from sixteen seconds to almost eight minutes. If there are any “rules of thumb” on length for video online, it’s “shorter is better.” And part of what impacts “shorter is better” is “it depends.” Making an engaging, concise video that “feels right” is almost always the goal. And “feels right” can sound abstract.
Think about when you see a video with a run time of two or more minutes. You stop watching videos that don’t engage you, or seem like it’s too much of a commitment to get to the part you want to see. Does it “feel” like watching that video will take “longer” and more concentration to watch than a twenty second video? Or is the topic or person someone you want to learn more about, so run time isn’t a concern?
As a general statement, marketing videos tend to be under five minutes, often in the 1-3 minute range. While producing a marketing or informational video, internally or with a production company, run time is part of your pre-production discussion. The factors that help determine run time include goals, where you’ll be using the video, and the style and tone of the video.
The kind of video also impacts the run time. A “how to” video by nature may run longer than a web teaser for a Super Bowl commercial. Viewers on your site may want to learn as much as they can about your company ahead of calling or emailing you; two minutes may cover the major points you’d like to communicate “at a glance” so that an engaged viewer can then learn more with the additional supporting information on your site. Or, like a Super Bowl teaser, maybe your teaser on social media is directing people to “watch the full video.”
Sometimes the medium where you’re putting the video helps determine length, for instance Instagram would have to be :15 or less. You may want to use a section of a longer video as a tease on Instagram, Vine, Twitter, or Facebook. Viewers see longer run times as “more commitment.” A shorter video may engage them enough for your goals overall, or may lead the viewer to watch the full video.
Depending on the player or service hosting your video, you have tools to track plays and, in some cases, completed plays. Knowing when viewers stopped watching is a metric to review when planning future videos. Having player data can help determine length in your next production. How your viewers watch your video is another consideration during planning. Knowing if your audience is watching your video from a mobile device versus laptop or desktop browsing is also a consideration to keep in mind when planning your next video.