How long should your video be?
Do you have a longer attention span than a goldfish? If you’ve followed the news for the past couple years, you’ll know that this isn’t a ridiculous question. In fact, an often cited Microsoft study purportedly found the human attention span to be 8 seconds long—one second less than your average goldfish.
Since the research first appeared, the idea of the short attention span has become an article of faith among marketers, training professionals, and other communications specialists, who seem to be racing to see who can make the shortest video.
But how valid is this goldfish theory? After all, people spend hours binge watching long, dense TV shows like “Game of Thrones,” playing immersive games like World of Warcraft, or even, occasionally, reading a book. Intuitively, our own experiences tell us we can pay attention for more than 8 seconds.
And in fact, some marketing professionals argue that the Microsoft study has been misinterpreted. As blogger Jason Miller put it, “The overriding conclusion of the science on this is pretty clear: our attention isn’t diminishing; it’s becoming more demanding.” That is, we’ve gotten very good at multitasking, and as we do so, our brains are looking for content worth paying attention to.
This finding has important consequences. It suggests that if we’re successful in hooking viewers on our content quickly, we can keep them hooked—as long as they are interested and engaged throughout.
And the research actually bears this out. The video hosting site Wistia recently looked at more than 1.3 billion plays for over 560,000 videos, studying engagement as a function of video length. While videos up to 2 minutes long get tons of engagement, some longer videos between 6 and 12 minutes suffer very little drop off. In other words, if it’s interesting, your audience will continue to watch.
CCG has found this to be true in our own work. By design our B2B marketing videos usually time out at the 2-minute sweet spot. But some longer training pieces have performed surprisingly well. Our video, “Safe and Secure,” about how to protect confidential information in the office, runs about 13 minutes. Over the last year, it’s been played 5,630 times on Vimeo and finished 2,412 times, a completion rate of a remarkable 43% for what is essentially a compliance video viewers watch voluntarily.
This isn’t because audiences love to learn about corporate security, but rather because the video is entertaining—taking us into the confidence of a fictional criminal who infiltrates a corporate office. Along the way, it also educates audiences, and many companies have licensed the video to help improve their security practices.
The moral of the story is that every video should be as long as it needs to be. Don’t drag things out if your message is short and sweet. But if your content is compelling, you can make a longer video. Keeping viewers engaged is the key.let the short attention span myth sleep with the fishes.