Longing for Longform: Optimizing For Longer Video

June 20, 2013

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Alyce Currier


Last May, we did a study of thousands of business videos hosted on Wistia. The study revealed a negative correlation between video length and “engagement rate,” or average percent viewed. The engagement rate for videos from zero-to-30-seconds-long videos was over 80%, dropping steadily to just over 25% for videos over 60 minutes.

Sometimes, even a 30-second video made purely for entertainment can feel too long to watch in full. So how does anyone ever craft a business video that’s able to hold 30 minutes or more of our fleeting attention?

At Wistia, we haven’t created a whole lot of longform content of our own. The longest content that we create on a consistent basis is the set of instructional videos in our Learning Center, and most of those videos are a mere five minutes or so in length. We’ve dabbled in longer webinars, but we wouldn’t consider ourselves experts on this topic.

Because we haven’t perfected our own longform video strategy yet, we asked Nick Sayers (@Nicholas_Sayers), Communications Chief at Moz, and Teri Marks-Brunner (@TeriBrunner), Marketing Programs Manager at Pardot, to share their suggestions for creating and sharing longer videos successfully.

Bring in passionate speakers

If your speaker isn’t convinced that the content they’re presenting is interesting, then your viewers won’t be either. “What keeps viewers watching longer videos isn’t just content. It’s emotional connection,” says Sayers. “When we have guest presenters (anyone who is not Rand Fishkin), Elijah and I both do a fair amount of directing. We make sure the content they are going to talk about is relevant, actionable, and that they are passionate about it.”

"To do this, we let them run through their talk to practice, then give them feedback or tell them the most interesting parts. The best thing to do is to look for the piece of information they seem most passionate about.

“You can find this sweet spot by paying attention to what part they really get into, or simply by asking, ’what part of this are you most passionate about?’ Once you find this, you can start there and really create some good content.”

“It’s about forming a relationship and building a sense of trust,” says Marks-Brunner. Video is a great way to create an emotional connection, but without an authentic presenter, that relationship is much more difficult to build.

Start shorter and grow

Before throwing someone directly into the fire with creating longer video content, give them the opportunity to do something a bit shorter.

Marks-Brunner tells us that with new speakers or topics, they sometimes offer a half-hour “blitz webinar” that warms them up for full-length webinars later on.

During the “blitz,” the speaker works on becoming more comfortable speaking to a computer or phone for half an hour straight. If it’s something they enjoy, they can continue on to a full-length webinar. Most of their presenters have ended up thinking the format was fun and wanted to continue creating even longer videos.

Entice your viewers with good thumbnails, titles, and descriptions

One of the biggest roadblocks with longform video is convincing your audience that the video is worth a large chunk of their time. If a viewer never clicks play, they’re totally missing out on that content. For that reason, the context surrounding your video is super important.

Sayers gave us two examples of titles from their Whiteboard Friday series:

"Fixing the Broken Culture of SEO Metrics," a video with an intense statement for a title, was loaded 80.3K times, played 5K times, and had an average engagement of 69%. Meanwhile, one of the worst performing Whiteboard Fridays was titled "Making SEO Clients Happy," a title that doesn’t offer much information about the contents of the video.

“Even if your video is about something boring or heady, the title can still play with emotions. Another good thing to try is using numbers like ’5 Ways to be Super Awesome’ or ’Top 10 Reasons Why ’Aliens’ is the Best Movie Ever.’ People love lists, even in video form,” said Sayers.

Include a transcript on the page

There are four main benefits to using transcripts for your longform content:

  • They offer an alternative means of consuming your content for users who may be unable to view video (maybe they’re on a slow connection, streaming is blocked, etc.). Some people may simply prefer to read content over watching a video (although we’d argue that they’re missing out!).
  • Your viewers can search for exactly what they’re looking for within the video.
  • Transcripts (and captions) offer SEO benefits (since Google can’t read your video, having the contents in text form on the page means you’re more likely to rank higher).
  • And finally, a transcript may be the final push a viewer needs to entice them to watch the video.

Give viewers the option to watch the video in smaller chunks

When asked about the primary roadblocks for getting people to view Pardot’s longer content, Marks-Brunner told us, “it’s very challenging for someone as busy as we all are. We try to make it as convenient as possible for someone, in their given time, to watch that content at their convenience, which is the cool thing about recordings. They can stop and start as much as they need to, step by step.” As an alternative, Marks-Brunner suggests sending out the video out in smaller parts, as a multi-part series, as part of an email drip campaign.

Adding chaptering to your videos is another option for making longer content more digestible. With video chaptering, you can allow viewers to jump to a specific topic in the video, which is particularly useful with instructional videos or other content where a viewer may only need assistance with a certain step.

Allow viewers to resume the video where they left off

It’s easy to get distracted online, so you can hardly blame viewers for drifting away from your highly informative video content to watch the cat video someone just sent them over AIM (haha, an anachronism!).

To help with this problem, we built the [Wistia Resumable Video Lab][12].

With this tool, viewers can pick up right where they left off in the video upon returning to the page. You may have seen the Resumable Lab in action at Mixergy, whose longform interview videos are a perfect example of high-value content that might be a bit too long to consume in one sitting.


You’re not going to get the same engagement rate on a 45-minute video as a 45-second video, and that’s okay: longer video content is still super valuable. There are many things you can do to make longform content more user-friendly, such as:

  • Finding passionate speakers and letting them practice on shorter content.
  • Enticing viewers with great titles, descriptions, and previews.
  • Including full transcripts for accessibility.
  • Splitting the content into smaller, more digestible segments.
  • Allowing viewers to pick up where they left off.

And if you do get someone to stick around for 45 minutes or more, you’ve probably just created a super fan. A few of these are more valuable than 10,000 viewers who watch three seconds and then get bored!

Alyce Currier


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