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Your Viral Video: Does Length Really Matter?

It’s often taken as a rule of thumb that if you want your explainer video to go viral, keep it 30 to 60 seconds long–like an average TV commercial. But is shorter always better? How much does length really matter? Some studies show that it doesn’t matter as much as we always thought.

In a recent study on viral videos, Genius Rocket found that the most popular viral vids on YouTube were longer than one minute long, proving that viral vids are moving away from the traditional 30-second spot touted by TV and online advertisers.

Viral video marketing company Unruly Media posts a Top 20 Viral Videos chart that lists the most popular vids–for the previous day, week, month, year and all time. Taking a look at this week’s picks, you’ll find that they range from about one-and-a-half minutes to five-and-a-half minutes long.

It’s a perfect example of how imperfect a science viral video optimization can be.

There really aren’t any hard and fast rules for predicting the success of your vid. That said, content is king, but there are certain time factors to consider to heighten your chances of people watching and sharing your videos.

Unruly Media Founder Sarah Wood recommends content-specific guidelines, like:

  • Keep the vid between 30 and 45 seconds to encourage sharing activity, but longer than 60 seconds if you’re looking to maximize your viewers’ time spent with the brand advertised.
  • Funny clips are great, but 45 seconds can seem too long for a viewer to wait for the punch line.
  • If you’re looking to optimize your viral video’s click through rates, keep the content to a maximum of 30 seconds.

Viral video views are mostly dominated by trailers and music videos, put out by major industry corporations whose creative content and production quality appeal to people. It's rare to see an explainer video production rack up tens of millions of views, especially a B2B video, but it can happen. Either way, once viewers hit play, they’re hooked, and they tend to share it forward when they’re done watching. But user-generated content doesn’t always have the benefit of high production value.

A good rule of thumb, therefore, is to front-load the most important information in the first 30 seconds of the video in case users stop watching. And don’t go over a minute unless the content is really golden, or, like Wood says, you need viewers to get more familiar with your brand. This tends to work no matter what corporate video production type you're cooking up.

We've seen some clients get some good traction recently, including AWeber and Sealed. AWeber has over 1.5M views for their live action explainer, while Sealed has seen over 7M for their animated explainer video.

None of these rules are set in stone, so it’s always a good idea to test the video out in front of a few friends and family to see how long you hold their attention. You could also try split testing – posting several versions of your vid online to see which one does better, and running with the winner. At the end of the day, optimizing your viral video is a process of trial and error, so roll up your sleeves and get to work!

How long are your viral videos? Did these tips help you achieve your viewing goals?

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Written by Iquo Essien
Iquo is a Demo Duck blog contributor and a professional writer.