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What’s the ideal length for a YouTube video?

Stark Insider TV is closing in on 1 million YouTube views (eta: this summer) and we’re celebrating by publishing a weekly piece on our experience — good and bad — with video on the web.

Welcome to the second article in our Road to a Million Views series. Stark Insider TV is closing in on 1 million YouTube views (estimate it will happen this summer) and we’re celebrating by publishing a weekly piece on our experience — good and bad — with video on the web.

Stark Insider YouTube Channel Views: 888,060 (weekly change: +6,664 views, +24 subscribers)

The Little Loni and the JCB: My partner in crime, Loni Stark, interviews wine personality extraordinaire Jean-Charles Boisset. In my experience wine is one of the most difficult subject matters to make interesting on video.

The Little Loni and the JCB on location in Sonoma: My partner in crime, Loni Stark, interviewing wine personality extraordinaire Jean-Charles Boisset. In my experience wine is one of the most difficult subject matters to make interesting on video.

The ideal video length on YouTube is between 3 minutes and 3 and-a-half minutes. That’s what a couple of Google researchers from the YouTube team told me when they visited me a few months ago at our Silicon Valley office.

I’m always trying to improve our Stark Insider videos – and we still have a ways to go in terms of story-telling and integration of compelling information and interesting ideas. No doubt, if you’re like me and concerned about maximizing your reach and views then video length should be at the top of your list. It’s all about retention; keeping your viewers engaged by using quality content, and forcing yourself to edit out non-essential content (do as I say, not as I do – more on that in a sec).

So what is the best length for a YouTube video?

It’s probably not 12 seconds (remember them?), or — the new, new short video trend  — 6 seconds. Though it could be, at least if your subject matter can be covered in the same amount it takes to load this web site.

It’s probably not 90 minutes either. These days, American audiences can barely sit through movies that long.

The real answer is: it depends.

There’s a number of factors that should go into your thought process when thinking about video length.

According to the Pew Research Center local news stories are 41 seconds long on average. Evening news come in longer at 2 minutes and 23 minutes.

Interviews are a different beast. It’s commonplace on YouTube for interviews to span multiple 10-minute segments. Our all-time views leader, an interview with comedian Christopher Titus, is over 10-minutes long, yet has still received 91,000 views. Though I’d like to think it’s because of the remarkable Stark Insider production value, in reality it’s obviously because of his core fan-base  They will seek out any of his stuff, and consume the content to the extreme.

Music videos… well, that one’s easy. The length of the song will probably work!

Travel and entertainment pieces (non interview) are more difficult to figure out. That’s generally where our videos are categorized. We’ve done short “Gone in 60 Seconds” segments years ago that never took off. The subject matter was not specific enough, and there was no clear message – aside from the fact that Stark Insider was “quirky” and running all around the San Francisco Bay Area. On the other hand, a lengthy 10-minute piece such as our coverage of the “Star Chefs and Vintners Gala” has taken in 7,000 views (again, not earth-shattering, but decent enough for a regional entertainment site). Admittedly, even I’d have a tough time slogging through that, watching the Little Loni drink and eat and kibitz with Chefs. But perhaps those who are interested in attending a future one, want to see what’s it about – or maybe we’re just siphoning some of the juice out of the foodie craze.

Stark Insider Average Viewer Engagement

We have 379 videos, and 888K views. I pulled up YouTube Analytics (which is a superb tool) to check some of our stats. Here they are:

  • Average view duration: 2:25
  • Average percentage viewed: 43%
  • Best video for average viewed is “DIY tips: Caulking baseboards”: 63.2%
Viewer retention for the top 10 videos over the last month on the Stark Insider YouTube channel.

Viewer retention for the top 10 videos over the last month on the Stark Insider YouTube channel.

The results are … okay. Far from spectacular, but I’m satisfied. Some will watch a video through to the end, others will stop after 15 seconds if nothing grabs interest, while (most) will fast forward (making the beginning and end of a video particularly important).

Remember I said do as I say, not as I do? Here’s why. My videos are too long (even ones I just cut recently are 7:50 and 6:16). I find the process of cutting my footage down difficult. It’s so sad to let go of the Bokeh. I must remind myself over and over that less is more. Quick tip: have someone review an early cut of your video. Better still, have someone else edit the thing – that way there’s no emotional attachment to the footage. The objectivity could help generate a more engaging result. Yes, there’s a reason why “Director’s” cuts are always longer (and usually worse).

Is there a magic bullet when it comes to determining the ideal length of your YouTube video?

No. Shorter is typically better. But depending on your subject matter — an interview, speech, or investigative expose — you will need to go longer to properly convey the story.

Unless you can just call up Justin Bieber, what I’d recommend you do is focus on quality of the content: the narrative, the story, the compelling idea. All are more likely to result in more views, and better viewer retention. Here’s one of my recent examples where I try to string together interviews, and run ‘n gun event coverage in hopes of illuminating the viewer about truffles (no, they’re not chocolates):

STARK INSIDER TV: Truffles in America

Well that’s it for this week – keep in mind this is just one guy’s experience operating a small channel in a regional market. One thing I know for certain: there’s far more people out there with more experience, pragmatic suggestions, and (far) better videos. I’m no Guy Caballero.

Now, time for me to re-read this article and learn how to follow my own advice!

Stay tuned for more Road to a Million Views, growing your YouTube Channel – sharing everything I know, the mistakes I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned. We’ll discuss monetization, traffic sources, editing technology, demographics, distribution and promotion, mobile, and a lot more. Every Wednesday – until we hit 1 million views on Stark Insider TV.

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Clinton Stark
Clint is based in Silicon Valley and co-founded Stark Insider. A new media venture, the goal was to fill the increasing gap in arts and food & wine coverage. This site has consumed his every fiber. Yet, he still has time to talk Android, praise Pebble, and shoot videos. More: Clint's story...