Understanding video engagement

Nearly every online video platform now provides video engagement metrics. We depend on video engagement data to tell us how well our video has performed with its audience.

How much of the video has been watched, if watched at all?

Understanding video engagement can also help at the strategic and planning stage of a video project. Knowing how past videos have performed with an online audience can inform future work, saving you both money and time. It can also ensure that your video meets specific objectives and is successful.

Fundamentals of video engagement

Video engagement is normally conveyed as a graph, with engagement loss as a percentage represented on the y-axis and video length on the x-axis.

Typical engagement chart
Typical engagement chart

A typical engagement graph slopes downward to the right. As viewers leave throughout the length of the video, the graph moves closer to zero, with the exception of peaks and troughs caused by people rewinding or skipping around the video.

As a general rule, there is a relationship between video length and engagement rates - the longer the video the less engagement. However, as research conducted by the team at Wistia demonstrates, it is a bit more complicated when dealing with a really short or a really long video.

Breaking down video engagement into parts

When looking at a video engagement graph, it is helpful to understand it in parts: the nose, the body and the tail. Understanding what’s happening at each part provides insight at each stage as to what your viewers are doing.

Wistia define the nose and tail as the first and last 2% of a video. They suggest the body makes up the remaining 96% of the video. I’ve found it is generally useful to follow these percentages, however, it is also important to note that for some videos, particularly when comparing videos of dramatically varying lengths, using the 2% benchmark might prove difficult. For example, the nose section of a one minute video is dramatically shorter than that the nose of an hour long video, and therefore engagement rates might not be directly comparable. Regardless, approaching video engagement in defined parts makes a lot of sense and provides some focus on where you can take actionable steps to improve engagement.

Nose, body and tail
Nose, body and tail

Let’s look at these three parts a little closer.

The Nose

The first few seconds of video footage are critical to setting the tone of your video and getting your viewer interested in the main content to follow. A steep drop in engagement at this point is often an indication that your video is not getting to its message soon enough.

Creating attention grabbing scenes at the beginning and minimising text and logos can dramatically help keep people interested. Most importantly, typical drop off rates during the nose demonstrate how critical it is to get your most important messages at the beginning of a video.

The Body

The body section of the video engagement graph is the area of engagement you should be most concerned about. Having a high engagement rate here (the more horizontal the graph the better) means the main content of your video has been well received and viewers are interested in what your video has to say.

A steep drop in viewers within the body area, can often suggest the video was misleading, poorly executed or simply too long.

To improve engagement rates in the body section of your video, consider adding in more visual variation, mixing in different shots and making sure the content is as concise as possible.

The Tail

How many people are sticking around to the end? My experience is that most often, engagement levels drop quite dramatically at the tail end of a video. Endings need to move fast and end quickly, as people don’t stick around long once they've watched what they intended to watch and know the ending is coming.

Using phrases such as “in conclusion” or “to wrap up” tells people you’ve told them the most important information already and indicates to the viewer it’s time to leave.

The tail
The tail


Taking time to analyse video engagement is often a neglected part of the video process. Video projects move on and time is often then dedicated to other projects. However, taking even a short amount of time to look back at how your video has performed can be extremely informative and dramatically improve the impact of future videos you produce - potentially saving you a lot of time and money.

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