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By Thomas Baekdal - September 2014

Stop Thinking People are Shallow

One of the most persistent and also completely misleading behavior online is how media companies and brands think people want shallow content. And this is especially the case for brands trying to reach younger audiences.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen media companies define a new 'young' strategy around short articles or videos that are only about 30-90 seconds long. Or how brands are encouraged to create ultra-short videos to 'drive engagement'.

Part of the problem is a complete failure to use analytics. They are measuring averages for their traffic overall, and the result is always a terribly low number. And from this they conclude that people actually want content that is less than a minute in length.

This is what we in analytic circles call a failure to segment your data. Think about it like this:

Imagine you have 1,000 visitors and a total 'time on page' of 400 minutes. You divide them and you learn that, on average, each visitor only spends 24 seconds on each page. But that's the average. It's useless number.

What if you started segmenting people on three other factors:

You might find something like this:

Fifty people read/viewed the content until the very end (this is your real audience). 125 people started reading/viewing, but lost interest (this is your potential audience, which you failed to capture). And a staggering 825 people didn't even take any time to read anything (this is not your audience. It's just people who randomly clicked on a linked without knowing what to expect).

Then we look at time spent in each group: The 50 people spent five minutes on average. The 125 people spent one minute on average before losing interest. And the 825 people only spent 2 seconds on the page (not enough time to do anything else than read the headline).

This is the real world for most publishers. A substantial part of the measured traffic isn't actually traffic at all.

How would you fix this? Should you make your content shorter? Not really.

The 825 people won't care either way. They spent so little time on the page that it really doesn't matter if the content was twenty minutes, five minutes or 30 seconds long. They have long gone either way.

You might say that you could use deceptive headlines or images to trick people into staying (like what we see from most viral sites), but that doesn't create a usable audience. Trying to convince people who really don't care about you, to stay a little longer by using a deceptive headline, is not a good way to create conversions.

What about the 125 people who started viewing, but lost interest? Could we do something with them? Well... that depends. Why did they lose interest? Was it because the content was too long (highly unlikely), or because the content wasn't good enough or inspiring enough for their liking (very likely).

We see this on YouTube every single day. There is a very simple way to see if people prefer shorter videos over longer ones. Just go to any popular YouTube page and check their most popular videos.

Here is a selection:

Bethany Mota




Kirsten Dirksen

Scott Manley

Bondi Harvest




Monster Energy

Do you see a trend here? Yep, almost none of these videos are short. And, there is zero correlation between how long the video is and how popular it is.

So, why do so many media people think shorter videos are the way to win? And why do so many social media sites encourage you to 'optimize your videos' to be 30-90 seconds long?

Where on Earth do they get that idea from? There is absolutely nothing that even remotely indicates that creating short videos is a particularly good strategy. And there is nothing that indicates that younger people prefer short videos.

Or look at Minecraft, which has 100+ million users. Here are the most popular videos from one of the most popular Minecraft channels, YOGSCAST Lewis & Simon, with 7 million subscribers:

Look at the 3rd most popular video. It's more than 17 minutes long and has more than 11 million views. But not only that, it's 'part 1' of a series of 11 videos, each about 15 minutes long. And each one has been seen more than 3.5 million times.

That's almost three hours of video.

So, tell me again, why do you think short content is the way to go? Where are you getting that from?

The reality is that the length has almost no impact on how well something is received. The differentiating factor is what people gain from it. If it's influential, distinctive, creative, inspiring, awesome and something you have put some effort into, you have a winner.

The put it simply, this is the best way to create a video or an article: Make it insightful and in depth. Base it on a story, a goal, and an achievement. Put some effort into the editing it, but don't go overboard and make it look like an ad.

In short (*smile*), do this:


Read also my two part series about the future of individual media. "The Amazing Future of Individual Media" and "The Economics of Individual Media".


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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