3 Rules for Figuring Out How Long Your Video Should Be

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by on October 7, 2015 Lessons

Photo credit: Vashi Nedomansky/VashiVisuals

Some people think web videos shouldn’t be longer than 3 minutes. Sure, sometimes shorter is better. In fact, I’d argue that the best length for a montage of marketing soundbites is 0 minutes, but I digress.

Here are three questions you should answer before deciding how long your video should be.

1. How long is your story?

This should be obvious. If it takes 1 minute to tell your story, make a 1 minute video. Problems occur when you have a 1 minute story and a 15 minute video.

Ask yourself, what are the essential story beats? For example:

  • – Angel tells Mary she’s pregnant with God’s baby.
  • – Baby does a bunch of miracles.
  • – Baby amasses legions of followers.
  • – Scared government martyrs baby.
  • – Baby comes back to life.
  • – Frank wakes up at 5:30am every sunday for the first 18 years of his life.

Write out all your story beats. Then delete as many as you can while the story still makes sense. That’s all you need.

2. The more targeted the audience, the longer your video can be.

People watch videos that are relevant to them. Unfortunately, relevance and wide-appeal have an inverse relationship to each other.

My dad will sit and watch our old home movies for 15 hours straight. That content is extremely relevant to him, and only him.

Pop music on the other hand is designed to be the lowest common denominator. They actually sit down and think, “how can we write songs that are so vague, they could be applied to almost anyone’s current situation?” That’s why pop music never goes much deeper than love, or going out, or whatever.

The same principles can be applied to the-donor-thank-you-video-with-an-audience-of-one and the-homecoming-promotion-for-all-alumni.

3. The final product is not a video. The final product is a web page.

This is kind of a cop-out, but it’s relevant. The web is not constrained by the old rules of television and movies. You can tailor your content for multiple formats, catering to differing audience interest levels. Let’s take this post for example:

  • – The headline delivers my most important message: you should be thinking about video length strategically.
  • – The article is split up into 3 easily skimmable sections.
  • – The article itself is relatively in depth.
  • – Finally, there will be a long podcast devoted almost entirely to the topic of video duration.

That’s 4 different ways of delivering the same information. The content can be as long or as short as the reader wants.

I understand that most web and video departments are separate teams, but I think every video producer should consider the delivery mechanism before they even start shooting. Does your video come with an article? Is it part of an email? Who’s writing the youtube description? The context is really important, so why would you leave all those decisions up to someone else?

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