How long should a video be? It’s a question that we get a lot from clients, and it’s also a question we think many content makers aren’t asking. The answer isn’t necessarily about length. It’s not even about content. It’s about context—that is, what expectations does someone have for a piece of content?
Let’s compare videos at two ends of the spectrum: TED Talks and pre-rolls. The former usually run about 30 minutes, and the latter can be as short as 10 seconds.
In today’s world, TED Talks are astronomically long. They are dense and rich with information. We don’t watch these videos casually. There is a mutual agreement: we give the video permission to take 30 minutes of our day, and it gives us insight.
Pre-roll is the opposite case. Nobody ever goes out with the intention of watching a pre-roll. The video could be 2 seconds long, and we still would feel aggravated by its presence. While it can be an effective marketing tool, there’s a reason why “successful” pre-roll campaigns only have engagement rates of 1-2%.
Your video probably falls in the middle. We’ve found the sweet spot is between 1 and 3 minutes. That said, we’ve found that shorter is almost always better and that most content is too long.
We get it. You have a ton of information and a story to share with your audience. You don’t want them to miss any of it. The details, like performance numbers and tech specs, are important to know. But when it’s all in the video, the video becomes bloated, unappealing, and, by being too long, feels like an interruption, not insight.
Consider the two “worst case” alternatives. If your video is too short, it leaves the audience with an incomplete understanding. They have questions. But, having questions could actually lead them deeper. A high-level 60-second video on your homepage could drive your audience to technical info in text below the video. It isn’t a huge stretch to assume that if you catch someone’s attention with even a small hint of insight, they’ll be willing to go find info.
But if your video is too long, your audience won’t just stop watching. They’ll stop searching. You’ve killed off their curiosity. You’ve made them think the rest of your content isn’t worth engaging with, even if it is valuable. This is a much worse place to be.
Finding the right length for a video is a tight balance. But it’s less about what you have to say, and more about knowing what your audience is ready for. Make them want to know more. And keep it snappy.
Written by Joe Lee, Content Marketing Specialist