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During most video planning sessions, this question will pop up at least a few times: How long should the video be? And while there is no right or wrong video length, there are many important factors to consider when timing your video - who is the target audience? What are the messages you’re trying to convey? How will it be used? Is it for a live event? Social media? To gain SEO strength in online search? 

The answer may also be influenced by a variety of components in the video production process. In other words, a smaller production budget may dictate shorter video duration. Although, this is a generalization. To better determine the length of your video project, let’s break down some of the factors that will guide your decision. 

1. What’s the Content of Your Video?

If you're watching another cat video, a 6-second video on Instagram is perfectly fine. If you’re discussing a complicated issue – like whether schools are killing creativity – it should be MUCH longer. That’s why Ken Robinson’s 20-minute TEDTalk has been seen by millions of people. TEDTalks are so successful because they are thought-provoking... And their audience knows to prepare for a 10+ minute video.

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Yes, people are happy to watch good content even though our attention spans are shorter than ever. Think about it, you'll happily sit down and watch a 2-hour movie or binge watch 8 episodes of your favorite TV show on Netflix. But none of us can get to the "skip ad" button fast enough when we are trying to watch a YouTube video. The point is, the length of your video should be a secondary consideration.

Ultimately, your video should be as long as your content will support – to tell your story and achieve your goals. Not a second longer, but not a second shorter, either. 

It Takes Time to Tell Great Stories

If the story is worth it and the storytelling is done right, the audience will keep watching.

Stories for the Soul_ James Chalmers, Marathon Man


This powerful video story is just about 6 minutes long, but it has a 71% engagement rate because the story is interesting, unique, inspiring and captivating. Statistics would indicate that video is successfully holding the viewer’s attention for the majority of the 6-minute play time. All this said, this doesn’t mean that a short video can not also pack a punch!

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2. Who is Your Audience and Where Are They Watching?

If your audience is a busy mom, quick, high-level videos might perform the best. If you’re showcasing a story at a fundraising gala where you already have the audience’s full attention and open heart, you can dig in deeper.

Every audience is different, so what works for one organization might not work for another. Make sure to consider the viewing habits of your target audience and the context of where they might be watching your video to help you create something that will resonate.

3. What are Your Goals?

Every video you produce needs to have a goal that’s established during your pre-production meeting. Without a clear goal, it's easy to get lost in the creative process and lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish.

Work together with your team to establish clear goals for your video. Put them in writing and make sure that you communicate the goals with your video production team.

Here are some goals that will help you get started:

  • Bring awareness to your organization
  • Showcase your product
  • Entertain your audience
  • Drive donations
  • Educate your customers
  • Drive people to your website
  • Train your employees
  • Convert leads to customers
  • Drive webinar registrations
  • Keep your brand top of mind
  • Increase conversion on a landing page
  • Drive more visitors to a blog post

5. What Does Your Data Say?

Look at your engagement rates on Facebook, YouTube, Wistia, etc. Every industry and video will be different, but data can help you understand the trends for your own industry, audience, and context and help you narrow in a length that works the best.

6. What Platform Are You Using?

Ultimately, platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are working hard to try to get users to stay on their platform longer. They don't care if you are watching sixteen 6-second videos or three 4-minute videos as long as you are sucked in.

Every platform will have different results and those results might change in 3 months when there's a new algorithm update that favors different videos.

It's important for marketers to never assume that just because something worked, it will keep working forever. Data and analytics are your best friend, use them to make informed decisions about what to create next.

There isn't a standard video length that is right, but by better understanding your content, goals, audience, engagement rates, and platform, you can get a good sense of what will consistently perform well for your organization.

Video Marketing Guide

Editors Note: This blog was originally published in March 2015 but was updated on December 19, 2017.