February 7, 2011

4 Ways to Keep Viewers Engaged in an Online Video

Chris Savage

Founder, CEO

The internet can be a hostile frontier. When you post an online video, you don’t have a captive audience. You have just the opposite: an easily distracted, easily bored audience that can click away at any time. We’re running a series of experiments to find out how to keep this wandering audience’s attention.

In September, we posted a blog on making video testimonials. In the blog, we embedded our first sample testimonial. After a few weeks, we embedded a shorter version of the same testimonial in the same spot. Here are the two videos, and what we learned from them:


1. Keep it short

Yes, the videos are very similar. But the average viewer watched 72% of the shorter video and only 50% of the longer video. The only difference: we left a 10 second clip out of the shorter video. Psychologists say that the average human sustained attention span is 20 minutes. But for online videos, it seems to be about 60 seconds.

Last year, we analyzed the viewing data from across our customer base and discovered that length really does matter for videos. The very fact that your video is three minutes long may explain your poor viewership.

2. Put the good stuff in the beginning

Most videos lose viewership overtime. Interest wanes as viewers get distracted, bored, or realize that the video is not for them. The moral here is: If there’s something that you really want people to see, it’s best to put it in the one of the first shots.

A fairly linear decrease in audience engagement is normal, but the longer version of our testimonial had an abnormally sharp decline in viewership within the first 20 seconds:

3. Be specific

Make sure every shot contains specific and new information. If you aren’t getting useful points across, people will stop listening. In the unsuccessful clip, Mike’s enthusiastic but vague endorsements of Wistia make the testimonial begin to sound like a bad advertisement - all raving and no substance. Later in the video, Mike talks more specifically about how and why he uses Wistia. More of the audience keeps watching because this information helps them understand the benefits they could glean from Wistia.

4. Keep it personal

In the shorter version of the testimonial, after he introduces himself Mike does not begin to talk about the product he is endorsing. Instead, he talks about his work environment and his personal experiences with Wistia. The audience can automatically relate to Mike, so they are more likely to stick around and hear what he has to say. People are naturally interested in other human beings. Use this to your advantage.

If you’re going to spend time and money making and posting a video, you don’t want a bored audience to ignore the fruits of your labor. If you follow simple guidelines to hold your audience’s attention, you’ll have a better chance to show them why your product is so great. Just by tweaking your video, you can significantly raise the percentage of people who take a second look at, and even sign up for, your product.

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