Last week, Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s Head of Culture & Trends, announced 2020’s top-trending videos and creators.
If you are a social video showrunner, video content strategist, or audience development exec, then you’ll need to spend more than three hours watching all of this year’s top 10 trending videos in the U.S. to unlearn what you have learned about creating “snackable content.”
Heck, if you’re a YouTube video creator, content marketing strategist, or social media marketing director, then you’ll at least want to read this article.
It explains why a lot of conventional wisdom about how long a YouTube video should be is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!
That’s right. The shortest of the top 10 trending videos is 7:59 and the longest is 41:47.
The average length of the top-trending videos 18:33 and the median length is between 15:43 and 17:13.
And I’d bet dollars to donuts that the vast majority of the video content that your company or clients are currently creating, optimizing, and uploading to YouTube is significantly shorter.
So, you’ve got to ask a counter-intuitive question:
“If YouTube’s algorithm considers engagement metrics such as how long and how much of a video users choose to watch, then is longer stronger?”
Well, according Allocca:
“While engagement was up across YouTube, these 10 videos resonated with U.S. viewers the most. Collectively, they were watched more than 356 million times and for around 48 million hours. The channels behind them total more than 175 million subscribers.”
I’d call that a big “yes.”
Now, if you’ve got 183 minutes and 30 seconds, then you can judge for yourself by watching all 10 of 2020’s top-trending videos, which are embedded below.
But, if you’re pressed for time, then scan my comments about each video to learn how creators not only adapted quickly to the unforeseen challenges of 2020 but also addressed the unique, personal needs of their communities.
1. Netflix Is a Joke – “8:46 – Dave Chappelle”
This top-trending video, which is 27:20 long, was uploaded on June 11.
The description from Chappelle says, “Normally I wouldn’t show you something so unrefined, I hope you understand.”
This is not a special but rather an impromptu purging of feelings and thoughts delivered by Chappelle during his show in Ohio on June 6, 2020, shortly after George Floyd’s death.
His enlightening video has 29.1 million views, 895,000 Likes, and 87,000 comments.
2. Mark Rober – “Building the Perfect Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder”
This video, which is 21:39 long, was uploaded to YouTube on May 24.
The description says, “Squirrels were stealing my bird seed so I solved the problem with mechanical engineering :)”
This educational video has 50.4 million views, 1.8 million Likes, and 79,700 comments.
3. SNL – “First Debate Cold Open”
This top-trending video, which is 13:40 long, was uploaded on Oct. 4.
The description says, “Chris Wallace (Beck Bennett) moderates the first presidential debate between Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) and Joe Biden (Jim Carrey).”
This entertaining video has 30.0 million views, 560,000 Likes, and 60,700 comments.
4. JeffreeStar – “We Broke Up”
This video, which is 17:15 long, was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 11.
The description says, “Thank you all for the love and support during this difficult time. 💔 I’ll be back to filming and creating with makeup soon. My heart is trying to heal and repair. I love you guys so much.”
This enlightening video has 33.1 million views, 1.5 million Likes, and 243,000 comments.
5. MrBeast – “I Bought The World’s Largest Firework ($600,000)”
This top-trending video, which is 11:08 long, was uploaded on July 3.
The description says, “I can’t believe I spent this much money on fireworks lol.”
This entertaining video has 57.3 million views, 2.5 million Likes, and 153,400 comments.
6. NikkieTutorials – “I’m Coming Out”
This video, which is 17:13 long, was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 13.
The description says, “I love you all so much…”
This inspiring video has 36.4 million views, 3 million Likes, and 356,500 comments.
7. Dream – “Minecraft Speedrunner VS 3 Hunters GRAND FINALE”
This top-trending video, which is 41:47 long, was uploaded on Aug. 7.
The description says, “Minecraft Speedrunner VS 3 Hunters GRAND FINALE. You asked for it. This was absolutely insane.”
This educational video has 52.1 million views, 2.6 million Likes, and 233,200 comments.
8. NBC – “Ricky Gervais’ Monologue – 2020 Golden Globes”
This video, which is 7:59 long, was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 5.
The description says, “Watch Ricky Gervais’ hilariously biting monologue from the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards.”
This entertaining video has 16.6 million views, 495,000 Likes, and 59,300 comments
9. Dude Perfect – “Quarantine Stereotypes”
This top-trending video, which is 9:42 long, was uploaded on April 27.
The description says, “Quarantine Stereotypes. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we all know ‘em. We dedicate this video to all our heroes on the front lines!”
This entertaining video has 41.2 million views, 894,000 Likes, and 60,900 comments.
10. SomeGoodNews – “Some Good News with John Krasinski – Ep 1”
This video, which is 15:43 long, was uploaded to YouTube on March 29.
The description says, “John Krasinski highlights some good news from around the world, including an interview with Steve Carell to mark the 15th anniversary of THE OFFICE, as well as John’s newest hero Coco.”
This inspiring video has 18.4 million views, 754,000 Likes, and 30,300 comments.
Beyond the longer than expected length of each of the videos in this list, do you notice any other patterns? Allocca didn’t.
In his post on the Official YouTube Blog, he said,
“Like many of you, this is not what we would have predicted 2020 would look like, either.”
But, Allocca added,
“When protests against racial injustice swept the nation, Dave Chappelle channeled his thoughts into an impromptu, socially-distanced show that captured the emotions felt by many.”
Then, he observed,
“When audiences sought out sources of levity, creators provided no shortage of options: Mark Rober constructed an elaborate ninja warrior course for… squirrels; MrBeast celebrated the July 4 with the world’s largest firework; Dude Perfect laughed at the many relatable stereotypes to emerge in quarantine; and John Krasinski shared positive stories through SomeGoodNews.”
And, Allocca also noted,
“Also included among this year’s top trending videos: The most-viewed coming out vlog of all time, a break-up announcement, a new take on playing a popular game, and an election parody from SNL.”
So, yes, the most significant lesson that you can learn by examining this list is that all of these trending videos are significantly longer than 2:00 to 3:00, which is what many self-appointed YouTube gurus and so-called video marketing experts still recommend.
Now, that may have been good advice a long time ago, but it’s been bad advice since “watch time” replaced “view count” in the YouTube algorithm back in October 2012.
And, in case you still have doubts that longer is stronger, then read the article entitled, “YouTube Algorithm: 7 Key Findings You Must Know.”
It included data from a study by Justin Briggs, the Founder and CEO of Briggsby, which found that videos which are less than 2 minutes long rank worse (on average) than videos that are between 2 and 20 minutes long.
The article says
“Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that longer videos – if they use storytelling techniques to maintain and build interest throughout the video – generally rank higher than very short videos. And we shouldn’t be surprised that highly ranked videos get a lot of views….”
And here we are – 21 months later.
So, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that in the list of 2020’s top-trending videos in the U.S. is made up of even longer videos, which are between 7:59 and 41:47 long.
And, as Matt Southern’s recent article, “YouTube Reveals New Details About its Algorithm,” points out, the recommendation algorithm is always going to be “following the audience.”
So, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if the list of top-trending videos in the U.S. is full of long-form content a year or two from now.
Then again, maybe the early beta of YouTube Shorts, which is being tested in India, will be wildly successful, and the new short-form video experience will be rolled out in the U.S.
Then, YouTube video creators, content marketing strategists, and social media marketing directors will rush to read the article entitled, “YouTube Shorts: An Introductory Guide,” and future lists of top-trending videos will include a new category for short, catchy videos.
Of course, whether you create long-form or short-form videos, the trick is making them worth watching.
And to maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction, you will need to create some remarkably compelling or enchanting content.
As you can see from the slide below from my presentation for the 2019 Content Marketing Conference, there are four main ways to create great content that provide intrinsic value to your viewers.
- Entertainment: Entertaining content makes people chuckle, giggle, or laugh out loud.
- Inspiration: Compelling content tells emotional and relatable stories of courage and bravery.
- Education: Informative content – like a tutorial, how-to, or product review – leaves the audience smarter.
- Enlightenment: Unique content – like a documentary – rewrites the rules or defies society’s expectations.
And, as you can see from this year’s list of top-trending videos, this content can be enlightening, educational, entertaining, or inspiring. So, depending on your goals and strategy, you’ll find different ways to pique your audience’s interest and make them care about your content.
But, don’t assume that you need to keep your videos short.
You aren’t creating content for goldfish. You are creating content for a community of people, who have a variety of unique, personal needs.
Don’t assume, either, that making your videos long will automatically make your content more enlightening, educational, entertaining, or inspiring.
Although your video content must provide intrinsic value to your viewers, this value can come in different forms.
So, how long should your YouTube videos be? Long enough to reach a point.
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Screenshot taken by author