Holding your audience’s attention has never been more difficult.

In the age of cat GIFs, trending hashtags, and instant knowledge, people expect entertainment and immediate gratification. And if you…

Cat rolling away

Wait, don’t go!

But seriously, 55 percent of people spend fewer than 15 seconds on any given web page, according to TIME.

And that seems generous compared to what the New York Times published: that the modern human attention span averages a measly eight seconds.

How’s that translate to the world of online video?

Well, Visible Measures found that 20 percent of viewers click away from a video within 10 seconds, 45 percent after a minute, and 60 percent by two minutes.

Hear that? That’s the sound of all your viewers clicking away from your video.

But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Compel Your Viewers to Keep Watching

In this post, you’ll learn how to tame the fragmented focus of your distracted audience. You’ll discover how to hook viewers and keep them engaged through the end.

The secret is actually quite simple, and you can implement it right away.

It’s a hallmark of Hollywood, the cause of those all-to-familiar Netflix binges, the reason you can’t put down a good book…

The cliffhanger.

You know the cliffhanger, right? When you leave your poor audience dangling in sheer anticipation of what comes next?

Just let them hang for a bit. In the meantime, they’ll eagerly wait, watch, and listen. Because they crave resolution.

Let’s unpack that a little more.

Why Cliffhangers Work in Marketing

We owe the power of cliffhangers to psychology — specifically to something called the Zeigarnik effect, which states that we remember uncompleted tasks better than those we finish.

(The phenomenon is named after the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, who studied the effect after her professor noticed restaurant waiters had a better recollection of unpaid orders.)

Filmmakers, television producers, and authors employ the Zeignarnik effect when they build a story and then stop, just short of the climax.

This technique — which, of course, we call the cliffhanger — creates an itch our minds want to scratch. So we predictably rush to the next installment as soon as it’s available.

You already know cliffhangers work in entertainment. What about marketing?

Oh yeah.

But the use of cliffhangers in marketing is typically referred to as something else: the curiosity gap.

Different term, same idea: You get your audience interested — make people curious — and then you delay filling that information gap for as long as you can (without introducing too much discomfort).

But the key is you must deliver.

The curiosity gap has been popularized and abused in the clickbait headlines of sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed. And now people are more skeptical. They’re tired of being duped.

So don’t oversell or sensationalize what your viewer will get for sticking around. Otherwise, she probably won’t next time.

How to Use Cliffhangers in Your Marketing Videos

Put simply, the best way to work cliffhangers into your marketing is to tease at content to come.

Don’t give everything away at once. In the beginning of your video, hint at what you’ll cover. This will create an expectation — tension and anxiety — in your viewers’ minds.

Brian Dean from Backlinko uses cliffhangers in most of his videos. (He calls them “open loops.”) In a recent email to Backlinko subscribers, Brian wrote:

Open loops are where you mention something coming later on in the video. This little preview makes the person watching say: “I better stick around to see what that’s all about.”

Cliffhangers, or open loops, work best when the information you use to hook your viewers teases at a benefit (e.g., “In this video, you’ll learn the real reason your utility bill is so high — and what you can do to get it down”).

This technique will help boost that overall watch time metric, even for lengthy videos. You might be surprised how long a person will watch if she thinks doing so will improve her life in some way.

To Be Continued…

Just kidding. 😉

Can you think of anyone who uses cliffhangers in online video? Did you try this technique in a recent video yourself?

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below!