How long should our online videos be?

We’re doing some videos profiling several graduate departments on campus. They’re beautifully shot by my friends and former co-workers at Route1a and really give you a look into what each of these departments are about, the programs and the opportunities available in each of them.

The departments and I have been very happy with them. I think people are going to respond to them.

A professor here mentioned that they’ve heard that online videos should never be longer than 90 seconds. These graduate pieces are pushing 3 minutes.

I agree that videos made for mass consumption by anyone, let alone colleges, should be as short as humanly possible. In our YouTube-era of 10 second attention spans, I get that. But, I’ve watched 4,5, even 10 minute videos about a subject that I’m interested in – much like I think a student researching graduate programs would be.

I think you’re less apt to bounce when the video you’re watching is:

  • Well produced
  • Has interesting content
  • Covers a subject of interest to you

I’m interested in what you think – what length do you aim for when producing videos for your institution? Does audience matter?

6 thoughts on “How long should our online videos be?”

  1. I typically tell clients/conferences:

    Under 3 minutes = necessary
    Under 2 minutes = good
    90 secs or less = great

    Obviously there are times when this doesn’t apply, such as lectures, large events, etc. But I think 90 seconds and less wins. Even with some of the annotated tours, etc now coming out, it’s a struggle to even sit through the first 90 seconds to get to the choice. < 30 is optimal for those scenarios, in my opinion.

  2. This reminds me of the question: “How many clicks should X be from the home page?” In other words, kind of a broad question that leaves out a lot of context. I do agree that videos should be as concise as possible and get right to the point (no title screens unless necessary), but always aiming for a minute, or less, regardless of the subject and audience is the wrong rule of thumb.

    I think the question should be: “Have we told a good story in a compelling way?” Whether its a testimonial, a lecture, or a tour video of the newest building, duration isn’t as important as quality. If I’m editing a testimonial of someone who has a great story, I may be aiming for 3 minutes, but I’m not going to sacrifice the story to save 15 or 20 seconds.

    If people start skipping through a video, then either the editing wasn’t as tight as it should have been, or the topic isn’t compelling. Duration is important, but there are a lot of factors to weigh before we focus on it.

  3. I have to agree with Erik.

    I also want to emphasize just how important it is to offer a transcript of the video, too. If the video is short (under 90 seconds), you can get away with captions/subtitles. However, if the video is going to be longer than that, I would really recommend including a full transcript that can be viewed in place of the video. That will allow visitors that are just looking for one key piece of information to find it without having to watch the video, and you’ll probably find that the people who do watch the video will be much less likely to bounce from it before it’s over.

  4. For us, the videos that get the views are ones with content people want. Most of our videos are 1:30 to 2:00, but our all-time views champion is 14:31.

    The video in second place is 10:50. Both are cooking demonstrations from chefs at our Culinary Academy.

    I think the story here is that people turn to YouTube to see how to do things. These videos don’t do much to promote our school, unfortunately. (They weren’t originally made for online marketing.) But a demonstration/how-to video that also promoted your school as the place to learn more like this could be really successful–even if it goes over 2 minutes.

  5. I agree completely – a good compelling and real story will hold the viewer – the short spots look too much like commercials and students know they are being marketed. If some is interested in your program then they will take the time to go over the information.

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