Script Writing

How Long Should a Video Be? Long & Short of Video Length

By November 24, 2014 No Comments

If you’re planning on making a video for the web, one of the first things questions you likely will have when preparing your script is ‘how long should a video be?’ This may seem like a straightforward decision, but there are some important things to consider before making the call.

It’s sort of like choosing what size backpack you want to take on a hike. First you need to know where you’re going. That will help you figure out what you need to bring. Then you can choose a backpack that’s big enough to fit all the stuff you need but small enough that it won’t slow you down along the way.

When deciding how long your next video should be, consider some of these options.

One Minute (-ish)

One minute is roughly the time it takes to brush your teeth, pump a bicycle tire, or process a debit transaction.

Conventional wisdom in advertising is that “shorter is better”, and that is generally true for video. Shorter videos naturally have better retention rates, and generally get shared more, so the one-minute range is very attractive to those who want to reach a wider audience. They work well on social platforms like YouTube where audiences are looking for instant gratification. However, their brevity means that they’re only appropriate for relatively simple messages.

One minute is enough time to introduce an idea, but it doesn’t offer much room to develop it. If your message is the ‘bullet-point’ type, the one-minute-wonder probably isn’t right for you.

Read More: How Long Should Your Video Be? 5 Things to Consider

Two (or so) Minutes

Two minutes is about enough time to eat a banana, fill your tank with gas, or write a haiku. Here’s mine:

Videos that range
Around the two minute mark
Work well on websites

If people are on your company’s website then they’re probably already interested in what you have to say, so you can take the liberty of going into a little more detail. A two-minute video can be very effective in giving people a clear sense of your message, and converting browsers into customers.

But don’t try to fit everything into those two minutes. Sure, you have a lot to say about [insert your message/product/service], but two-minute videos aren’t meant to be definitive or comprehensive information resources – that’s what the rest of your website is for. Instead of saturating those two-minutes with information, use them to give a succinct overview of your product, or maybe highlight some key ideas in a fun way.

Your video is still one click away from going unwatched, and short videos inflated with too much information don’t fare well in the competition for people’s attention. Remember, the web is full of powerful distractions, like this one.

Read More: 3 Indications Your YouTube Video is Too Long

Five Minutes (and Beyond)

Five minutes is about enough time to take a shower, drink a cup of tea, or read an edifying blog post. These are great if you have a captive audience. If people already want to learn about your product, they will happily give more of their time, so things like product demos, training videos, and screen-casts are usually on the longer side.

Getting into the five-minute range obviously means you have more room to say more things. But don’t interpret that as a license-to-bore. Just because your video is longer, that doesn’t mean all your viewers are going stick around till the last frame.

There’s only so much information our brains are willing to take in at once. By the time we’ve processed the fact that “your company’s comprehensive suite of mobile banking services allows you to access real-time account information and transactions, transfer funds through an easy-to-use interface, and generate dynamic reporting visualizations at the click of a mouse”, we’ve forgotten the first thing you said, and we’re already looking at the cute dog again.

Sure, explanation and information might be an essential part of your message, but don’t think of longer videos simply as bigger vessels into which you can pour more facts. You still need to do the job of keeping people interested, as well as informed. With great length comes great responsibility.

What’s the gist?

Just remember the hiking metaphor: the size of your video, like the size of your backpack, should be determined by where you want to go. Once you’ve got a destination in mind, choose a bag that’s big enough to fit all your essentials, but try to travel as light as you can.

Learn more about writing effective vdieo scripts in our interactive Guide to Scriptwriting for Video.

Andrew Muir

Andrew Muir

Andrew is a scriptwriter and story producer at Basetwo Media, a video production company that helps businesses get results with video.