Why Viewers Start (and Stop) Watching Videos

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With so much video content online, how do you get viewers to watch your videos? And once you’ve won that battle, how do you keep them watching to the end?

If you’ve ever seen watch rates plummet and wondered why, or if your videos are struggling to get traffic, brushing up on your video consumer behavior knowledge might help you find some solutions to your video-watching problems.

Here’s how understanding video-viewer behavior can help you create more attractive videos that keep people watching longer.

At TechSmith, we’ve been collecting data about why people stop and start watching YouTube videos for nearly a decade. We’ve used this information to create a free guide – “Video Viewer Habits, Trends, and Statistics You Need to Know,” to help you understand where viewers find value in a video, and what makes them go elsewhere. 

This study collected data regarding informational and instructional videos, but the information could apply to other video types. The findings from this study have helped us understand and provide information about how viewers consume video, from finding the right content to the factors that make them stop watching.

[You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…]

Before you find out how to stop making videos that viewers don’t finish, you need to have viewers. How do you get viewers? You have to help them find your videos.

How viewers find videos

Why Viewers Start and Stop Watching Videos

According to our study, most people (nearly half of those asked) find video content through a search engine. The majority of people find that when they have a problem or aren’t sure how to do something, their first instinct is to “Google it.”

However, if you’re a visual learner or are looking for something easier to digest in video format (for example, how to fix a sink), you might turn to a video website such as YouTube, first. 

It’s no secret that YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine, and its owner, Google, will even return snippets of YouTube clips that could help answer your problem. 

Video content is very popular with online users, especially within the instructional and informational content space, but it means that there’s tough competition. 

The videos that a search engine will show viewers are mostly chosen dependent on the viewer’s search terms, search history, and how the videos have been search engine optimized. So, if you want your video to appear as an option, you must do keyword research to find the best search terms and optimize your video for them.

To put it simply: if viewers can find your video, there’s a much better chance of them watching it.

How viewers choose videos

Reasons for Watching Videos

In our study, over 60% of people said that their top reason for watching a video was because “The title and description were interesting/intriguing.”

Suppose you consider that the title and description are where SEO keywords appear. In that case, there’s a good chance that people found these videos interesting because the title and description had included the exact terms that they had searched for.

Titles and descriptions should make it obvious who the video is for and what problems it solves. For example, if you’ve made an instructional video about “how to make the best oat-milk cappuccino,” you need to include this information in the video title, thumbnail, and description. However, if you’ve named the same video using general terms, for example, “how to make coffee,” then at best, you might get some confused viewers, and at worst, no viewers at all. 

There is a lot of competition online, with over 500 hours of new video content uploaded to YouTube every minute. The more you can make your video relate to someone’s exact problem, the better chances you have of someone choosing to watch your video.

The second top reason for choosing a video was that “The video length was acceptable.” While “acceptable” is a subjective term, our study found that most viewers preferred their instructional video length between 3-4 minutes and 5-6 minutes long.

Preferred Length of Videos

It is important to note that these video lengths aren’t suitable for all videos. Depending on your content, you might need to create a far longer or shorter video to achieve the goal you’ve set for your instructional video.

Why viewers stop watching videos

Why Viewers Start and Stop Watching Videos

Once you’ve attracted viewers to your videos, how do you make sure they keep watching? First, you need to know why they stop.

The top reason viewers stop a video is that they weren’t getting the information they expected. 

Why Viewers Stop a Video

If you’re a viewer looking for how to make an oat-milk cappuccino, and the video you’ve chosen starts talking about how to make an almond-milk mocha, you’ll probably stop the video and return to your search to find a more relevant video. 

It’s important to be clear about what exactly is in your video, or else you may attract the wrong viewers who won’t find any value in your content and won’t stick around. While you might get an influx of initial viewers, the view rate will steeply decline once people realize that this isn’t the correct video for them.

The other common cause of stopping a video is competition for the viewer’s attention. Most people are now so busy they’re constantly being distracted, whether it’s by screen notifications, other people, or even a short attention span, so your video needs to work hard to keep the viewer’s attention for as long as possible.

The factors that keep viewers watching

Why Viewers Start and Stop Watching Videos

The two main reasons people keep watching a video are a genuine interest in a topic and relatable content.

If your video has been correctly search engine optimized, the viewers who find and watch your video should be genuinely interested in it. It’s the perfect match of keyword and SEO that’s where viewers will find value in your content, and that value will keep them engaged throughout the video.

If you can relate to your viewers’ needs and pain points, they’re more likely to continue to be interested in what you have to say. You don’t have to be the world’s best professional speaker, but if you can communicate clearly and effectively to another person, you’ll be more likable and relatable. 

While having a professional style in your video is also considered relevant, this doesn’t mean that your videos have to be Hollywood-quality. Your videos can still be professional and successful without being “perfect”. Professional could mean how you address your audience, even if you’re recording through your smartphone.

Investing in good quality technology will also help keep your viewers watching. Lousy quality audio is a big no-no, so invest in a microphone, and from there, you can invest in lights or a camera, but if you’re making screen recordings, we strongly advise investing in audio first.

The common elements that good instructional videos share

Our research study asked video viewers to send in examples of what they believed were good instructional or informational videos so we could research what common elements they all share. 

Why Viewers Start and Stop Watching Videos

It’s beneficial to know that these elements can make instructional or informational videos great for viewers. However, you don’t need to use all of these to make a successful video. Be selective when using these elements. Your videos will be more successful if you use features that work for your audience and only those that make sense for your video.

Why Viewers Start and Stop Watching Videos

Ultimately, a successful informational or instructional video is one that helps its audience achieve something. Think about what your audience needs by considering these final four things when creating your video.

Relevance is key

Your video must be relevant to your audience. If your video isn’t relevant to the viewer, they won’t start to watch it, let alone finish watching it.

Make it good enough

Informational and instructional videos don’t have to be perfect to help a viewer. They only have to help. As long as your video can do what you want it to do, then it’s successful.

Focus on audio and visuals

Video is all about audio and visual, so make sure that both are clear, engaging, and have a purposeful place in your video. Real-world context can be a great addition to your videos, but it’s unnecessary to shoot it on an impressive, expensive camera. If you want to include real-world footage, try shooting it on your smartphone or webcam first, and see if it works.

Connect with your audience 

Consider what your audience will and won’t want to see in your video. It’ll help you eliminate irrelevant content and keep your audience engaged throughout the video. By keeping your audience top of mind during the video creation process, you’re setting it up for success. 

How to know if your video is a success

Think about what you consider a successful viewing. Is it a viewer who watches 100% of the video? What about 90%? Is it a viewer who found the answer to their problem in your video, but only watched the first 5%?

You have to keep in mind that you’re not creating videos for yourself. You make videos to help your audience, and if that’s what they do, then the job is done! Vanity metrics might look impressive, but if you’ve helped someone achieve what they wanted, that’s what makes your video a success.

Learn more about video viewer preferences in our Video Viewer Habits guide, available as a free download. You can also discover how to create better videos that people won’t want to stop watching at the TechSmith Academy.

For more expert advice and tips visit TechSmith Academy on YouTube or listen to the Podcast.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

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