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What is the perfect length for an online video? Maybe ½ of what you (or your client) think it should be.

Typically, when a client has approached me with an idea for a website video, they tend to tell me that they’re picturing something in the neighborhood of 2-3 minutes. When they put pen to paper they tend to write a 4-5 minute script. It’s tough to reel our ideas down to the right length, but I have a few insights to help you steer your videos to the perfect duration.

First, one ground rule. “Watchabilty” is defined by the percentage of people that make it to a certain point in your video. I use 50% as my gold standard. So if I create a video and less than 50% of viewers make it to, say, the 6 minute mark, that tells me that my video should be less than 6 minutes.

Motion Graphic vs. Live Action

The type of video that you’re making is the first consideration to make. To me the biggest surprise is that motion graphic (2D and 3D animation) videos don’t seem to hold up as long in front of a set of eyes as a live action video (i.e. footage shot with a camera).


About two-thirds (65%) of viewers made it to the 3 minute mark.

This is interesting and I speculate that it’s because we’re socially geared to be courteous to other people. There’s a touch of guilt in cutting someone off who’s looking you in the eye and sharing their thoughts. It’s just a recording but live action video generates greater suspension of disbelief and this blurs reality. I’d go further and say that we tend to watch these talking heads way past the point that we’re really interested in the content.


Only 37% of viewers made it to the 3 minute mark.

This isn’t great news for us motion graphic designers and it suggests that if your message can’t be explained in 60 seconds or less you may want to consider live action video. That said, a great looking animation shows a sense of “big-ness” that live action video rarely achieves, any schlep can record himself with a webcam.

How Good Can You Make It?

Time to be honest with yourself. How great can you actually craft the video? How great are your writers? How good is your lighting? How great is your talent or voiceover artist? And even if you’ve assembled the dream team, is everyone going to get the time necessary to be their best? For a moment we have to turn off the “ever-optimist” in ourselves and admit that perhaps some part of our work flow may generate less than an A+ this go around. If that’s the case, shorter is better. Sure, the best of the best can get people to sit still for an hour and a half. But even they can only make something that watchable when given a year of time in the pipeline and top talent at every phase—and even then they often fail. If you’re making your first video (or your first go at a type of video) find ways to keep it short. Your mis-steps will go unnoticed in a 30 second video, they’ll become the prime entertainment in a 3 minute video. For example.

How Badly Does Your Audience Need To Hear Your Message?

Recently, I wanted to learn how to use an old-fashioned safety razor. The top rated videos on YouTube run about 10 minutes or so. That’s an eternity in online video standards, but I could live with that because not giving these videos my time meant that I’d be dragging a razor over my bare neck without a clue how to do it right. I needed to hear that video’s message—twice actually. Most video makers find themselves in the opposite situation. Often they need people to watch their video more than people need to hear their message. That’s ok, fortunately most people will give you 30 seconds make your pitch, more if they’ve got something on the line (like the success of their business or their health). That’s why the de facto length of product explainer videos is right around 60 seconds.

If enough people aren’t making it to the end of your video, then it raises the question: was it was really worth the effort to make that last minute? One of my favorite moments is that moment after watching a great video where the screen is black and silent. It’s in that moment that I let myself exhale and say “wow” to what I’ve just seen. Often, I wish that it was still playing out and I’m left craving just a little bit more than what I got. This is the moment that we as video creators should aim to create, and if we can make it happen, we’ve hit the perfect video length.

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