Every 10 seconds, 4 jars of Nutella are sold and 4,180 Kit-Kat bars are eaten. Aside from chocolate consumption, 10 seconds is also the average amount of time it takes for a YouTube viewer, after clicking a video, to decide whether or not they want to watch the rest. Since YouTube typically registers that view after 30 seconds of watching the video, engaging the audience right away is necessary for some very important reasons: they might go on to watch more videos or subscribe, and it will boost your analytics regardless.
10 seconds is also the average amount of time it takes for a YouTube viewer, after clicking a video, to decide whether or not they want to watch the rest.
Before getting into creating hooks, it’s good to know how the view count works on YouTube. For the first 300 or so, views register as legitimate just when the video page is refreshed. After 301 views, YouTube employees will manually verify - through a hidden process, of course - if the views are legitimate. This is to prevent artificially-inflated view counts, created when some dastardly devils use bots to automatically refresh the video page over and over again. Likes and dislikes are subject to the same manual verification, hence an occasional discrepancy between that total and your total views. Also, YouTube has the authority to remove any videos with inflated views purchased from a third party, so if some guy down the alley is selling wristwatches and viral videos, keep walking!
Typical audience retention, as demonstrated by the Vlogbrothers, is about 4 minutes. The best tool for tracking watch time is the Audience Retention page in your Analytics tab on YouTube. It shows how long people watch your videos on average, and the average percentage of a video that the audience watches per view. For instance, people usually watch about 2:56 minutes of my videos, and 48% of the video per view; considering that my content is a bit longer than normal, this isn’t terrible! There’s other tabs on the page to see the analytics broken down through video, geography, date, subscription status, and whether the person viewed it through YouTube proper or YouTube Kids.
Keeping Viewers Engaged
A good hook has several elements to effectively engage the viewer (for instance, chocolate). Each element is part of creating a curiosity gap and a value proposition. The curiosity gap makes the viewer interested in clicking on the video, while a value proposition establishes that the viewer will be rewarded by doing so. Both concepts work by 1) positing that you know something the viewer does not, and 2) that this concept is something worth knowing, whether it’s a historical fact, a lipstick color, or a punchline.
When constructing your intro, consider the purpose of your video and what your audience would be looking for by watching it. Are you educating, entertaining or enraging? They’re interested enough from the thumbnail or previous content to watch the video in the first place, but once the video has gotten in front of the audience and someone’s actually clicked on it, it’s up to you to retain their attention! It’s good to keep any intros short to keep it from getting dull.
Adjusting for Different Platforms
These techniques may not function the same across different platforms because of the varying ways that views for native video are counted. YouTube counts views after 30 seconds, but Facebook and Instagram count views after 3 seconds. Those sites also have autoplay, so it even clocks as a view even if someone doesn’t actually click on the video. Thanks, Mark!
Vine counts unique users watching the whole 6 seconds, and Twitter registers the view when a user clicks on the video. So, one could hypothetically be lazier on Instagram and Facebook with cross-promotional clips because the view legitimizer is lower, while Twitter might require a flashy thumbnail and intro to get people to click on the video.
Learning from Others
To focus back on YouTube, the 3-second intro for JustBetweenUs is a simple title card with a flash of peppy music, then right into the sketch. The title card, split between the JBU logo and the episode name, has colors that are bright without being grating, and the turquoise text stands out easily. Since it’s a sketch show, the creators are sure to have a few jokes in the first moment of action to further hook the audience.
Even without a marked visual intro, it’s easy to grab attention through background techniques. For example, Anna Akana doesn’t use title cards, but she typically introduces the gist of the video within 5 seconds. In the clip below, there’s bright lights in the background and her shirt has a cool texture, visually engaging the audience.
On the educational side, CrashCourse begins right away with a joke, followed by a longer animated intro. The animation is a full 8 seconds, but the skilled illustration and onscreen facts keep people entertained. Because their audience is mostly students, their intros can be a bit longer because the viewers are sure to keep watching for the information. Your intro will vary depending on the subject matter, but humor is generally the best tactic to engage viewers.
It’s also up to you to decide whether you have the same intro every time, vary it based on what sort of video it is, or just start fresh each time! No matter what data you find on the Analytics page, the biggest guiding force in your creation should be making videos that you would actually want to watch.
Rhiannon McGavin began making YouTube videos when she was 12, and continues to use the platform to discuss art, literature and lipstick. She interned for 2 years at RED Studios in Los Angeles, and is also the current Youth Poet Laureate of the city.