How to create a great web video: The length

by Matt Byrom on 20 February 2012
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Video LengthIf you’re trying to sell someone something with a web video, you need to ensure you hold the viewers attention throughout.

If you’re trying to help them with instructions or demonstrations, you need to be really careful with the pace of the content - and you need to ensure you don’t scare them off before it has even started.

If you’re struggling to decide the length of your video, here are a few ideas to get you on the right track.

Marketing videos: perfect your patter!

It’s difficult to hold someone’s attention if you’re trying to promote something. Often, people decide they don’t want what you’re offering within a few seconds. That’s what you need to prevent. You have to stop them getting to that stage by structuring content well and sticking to a compact format. Do this with a snappy pace, carried along with a nice concise script. Also, try imparting lots of information about benefits and freebies.

In the days of traveling salesmen, each one would develop a ‘patter’ - a quick, info-packed dialogue about the product they were demonstrating. They practiced their patter daily, and could reel it off while using the product or ad-libbing with the audience. Market traders also rely on this technique. They catch the eye of one or two people and speak directly to them, barely stopping for breath. If they can hold those few people for a few minutes, a whole group of onlookers often forms around those first two or three people. The sole salesman or market trader has gone from chatting to a few nosey bystanders to a huge crowd in a few minutes.

Normally these people throw in a bonus every now and then to hold their audience’s attention. People are always interested in getting something free, or getting a special discount that other people haven’t been offered.

The modern day equivalent of the rapid-fire sales technique is the TV ad. TV ads are a goldmine of information about attracting an audience, and watching them can tell you a lot. There’s a reason most TV ads are short. Grabbing someone’s attention doesn’t mean firing information at them rapidly - selling on TV is a little more sophisticated than that. But you can certainly see that similar techniques are involved. Slogans and attractive visuals also help.

So what’s the key? People who are watching your video need to engage. You need to make them feel that there is a benefit to watching your video. Ensure you’re giving them something for free or teaching them something… or you’re making them laugh, or offering them something you know they need. Do it quickly and don’t lose their attention. For marketing videos, make sure you have time to impart information efficiently. Ensure the content is attractive and makes people want to stick with it.

The first ten seconds are particularly important, so always ensure you mention your key benefit right at the start if it makes sense to do so. Keep the overall duration to a minute or two, maximum.

Don’t forget: if you can come up with a well-paced video with a marketing twist (a funny theme or a quirky animation, for example) your video will get shared on social networks where brief, interesting videos are really popular. Your video may even go viral. That’s the ultimate goal.

Use a longer length for instructional videos

Informational videos and screencasts are more detailed and have an entirely different tone. A longer duration is usually fine for these, but be careful.

Bear in mind the psychological effect of a really long video. Believe it or not, you can put people off a video as it loads up. If you want to quickly demonstrate a feature, users will be terrified by a long timeline appearing on screen. They’ll think the process is complex and they will skip lots of carefully-constructed content to try find the section they’re looking for.

Secondly, make sure you impart information at a steady pace from start to finish. You need to have time to demonstrate things at a good even speed to allow the user time to digest the information. If you’re using callouts and text labels, allow time for them to fade in and out, and allow time for people to read them - even if it makes the video seem long to you. Remember that not everyone who uses your instructional video will be a native English speaker: They might be using a screencast because they find it hard to read technical documents. Make it easy for them to follow by pacing it carefully: not too fast, but not so slow as to bore everyone to tears.

Video too long? Things to try.

So you’ve finished your video and it’s too long. That’s much worse than a video that feels too short! Thankfully it’s also much easier (and cheaper) to fix.

If your video is complex or has several themes, consider splitting your content up into smaller chunks. Stick to one concept per video. Some screencasting software allows you to apply a Table of Contents to a series of videos, much like a document or user guide. Use this when you can! When you select this output format, your video loads on the right and your Table of Contents loads on the left. Providing ten two-minute videos is much less scary for the user than one 20 minute video.

When you need to impart technical information, it’s a good idea to stay well away from marketing techniques. This can help make a long video shorter and more effective. Don’t be tempted to turn your detailed ‘how to’ video into an advert. People who need help or information aren’t in the mood to buy anything from you. They’re might be confused or angry, and that’s not a receptive state of mind.

Finally, if you’re not sure about the length or pace, the best thing to do is test it out on someone who wasn’t involved in making it. Pay a company to conduct usability tests, or - even better - upload it to YouTube as a private video and invite an honest friend to leave a comment. Often, the first person who watches your video will give you precious feedback on pace and length, and you can use this to refine everything before the video goes live.

If you would like any help or advice please get in touch with Wyzowl, we are a web video company and would love to help you out with your project.

Video Marketing

Matt Byrom

Written by Matt Byrom

My name is Matt, I'm Managing Director of Wyzowl. That means I chat with customers and make sure everything is running smoothly in the office. I love our business and hope you enjoy our blog! :)