Viewers give YouTube videos just 3-6 seconds to impress them before they click away. Simple video production techniques can greatly improve audience retention.
If your video isn't interesting in the first few seconds the viewer is gonna be tapping the 'back' button faster than you can yell "Please don't go, it gets better in a minute, honest!"
So, here are eight production techniques for creating high retention videos for YouTube:
State the agenda and the benefits from the jump
Don't bother with corporate logos. Don't waste time with title sequences. No one cares about lengthy personal bios. Right at the top of the video use the first two or three sentences to make clear exactly what the viewer will take away from watching.
Use those first few seconds to make a great first impression and lay out the reasons to stick around. Make it 100% clear from get-go what the viewer will learn, and the benefits they're going to have gained, by the time they have reached the end of the video. Hook them with the first few words!
Work from a script
Some people put a microphone in front of themselves and deliver the exact message they want to convey - totally freestyle, in a single take! Isn't it sickening? How on earth do they manage to do that? Most of us aren't so lucky as to be either naturally energetic presenters or filmmakers. This makes advance planning and scripting all the more essential. Drafting what you want to say in your video in advance, and reading it aloud several times before recording it, removes the temptation to go off at a tangent. Writing a script also allows you to check that the video will make sense, and deliver its objectives, before you bother investing the time in producing anything.
Get your audio up to scratch. Viewers hate rubbish audio!
Sure, on YouTube anything goes, but if your audio is poor - making voices difficult to understand - viewers will look at the remaining duration and make a quick assessment as to whether they can sustain the patience to keep watching. Most of the time, they'll give up.
A decent professional audio setup is not that expensive at all. You only need to buy a professional condenser microphone and an audio interface to 10x the 'watchability' and professionalism of your videos.
Yes, video quality is also of great importance, but I'd wager that most people are forgiving of slightly sub-standard video if the audio quality and the value of the content itself more than make up for it. But, if I'm going to struggle to hear the information I came for, I'm leaving!
Manually add subtitles
YouTube uses AI to automatically generate subtitles that can be toggled on and off, and they're pretty good (assuming you've recorded a clean soundtrack, see previous rule!) But many people will view your videos, or teasers for them, via other social platforms (such as Instagram) which are sound-off by default.
More than 80% of people browse their feeds with the audio muted. To grab, and maintain, the attention of these viewers you should add burned-in (or 'embedded') subtitles that are added as graphics during the post-production stage.
I prefer videos with subtitles created in this way, often I will view the first few seconds of a video on mute, and if the transcript of the dialogue catches my attention, I'll un-mute it. Professionally designed and embedded subs also scream that additional effort has gone into making the video worthy of a potential viewer's attention.
If you are unfamiliar with Gary Vee, look the guy up - I can positively guarantee you that the very first video returned by the search will have highly compelling embedded subtitles appear within the first few seconds.
DON'T get hung up on duration but DO keep up the pace!
You thought I was going to say, 'Make no video longer than two minutes!' didn't you?
Two minutes is an arbitrary duration that gets copied and pasted across blogs all the darn time. It's fundamentally flawed guidance. Video content should serve the needs of its audience; and your audience might be looking for fuller - more in-depth - content, so maybe a longer duration really is appropriate.
Yes, shorter videos are statistically more popular - but that DOES NOT mean that ALL videos need to be short. There's an old filmmaking maxim, 'Never let anything run a second longer than it's good to watch'. Keep up the pace, always be looking for surplus elements to cut.
If your video is marketing a new product, you'll want to throw any dead-weight overboard and keep your edit as concise as possible. Think about TV ads and movie teasers - 30, 40, 60, 120 seconds - they just show the most compelling bullet-point features and benefits that will attract someone to find out more.
That said, if you're making an in-depth 'ultimate' tutorial you can run as long as it continues to provide information the viewer will find valuable. Check out Taran Van Hemert's World's Most Advanced Video Editing Tutorial - You'll see overwhelmingly POSITIVE vibes in the comments about the incredible 4 HOUR duration.
So, make your video the RIGHT duration for the needs of your audience, but never a second longer!
Watch a LOT of videos on YouTube
Create a playlist on YouTube, and add to it all the videos on your topic that really stood out from the rest. What do you like about them? What made them better than the videos you ditched after a just a few seconds? How could you emulate their success while putting your own expertise and enthusiasm into the mix?
Be prolific. Make LOADS of videos!
Countless marketing 'gurus' promise that their list of tips and tricks add up to a failsafe formula for high-engagement videos that will 'go viral' and deliver huge returns for their creators. That's not how the universe, or the internet, works. Fact is, you can make absolutely no mistakes in your execution yet still not achieve your objective. Video content creation is as much an art as it is a science.
You can objectively get everything right, yet - for reasons you'll likely never discover - some people just won't like what you've made and will click away. The world's most famous artists - in any medium - get known for their breakthrough 'hits', yet almost all of them sit on a back-catalogue of obscure and under-appreciated work; oftentimes HUNDREDS - even THOUSANDS - of creations that failed to take off. The great news is, most people don't bother striving to become prolific - so when their first few attempts are non-starters, they quit. Keep going!
Don't be a copycat
The problem with following random lists of advice (I'm aware of the irony) is the risk of creating cookie-cutter videos that look like they followed the same recipe as everyone else! Following generic recommendations that have been bouncing around online for years is why so many vloggers end their videos with, "Don't forget to like, comment, and subscribe!" You can afford to experiment with your style. If a video fails to gain traction, just adjust your strategy and make another.
Tom Vaughan-Mountford is an expert in television advertising and video marketing for SMEs. He has more than twenty years' experience in production and post-production for broadcasters, major advertising agencies, and name-brands. He is a regular writer on the media industry, an author, and a columnist for Brand Chief Magazine. Tom is a senior creative at JMS Group a long-established Norwich video production company.