Animated Video Production

Your Guide to Video Captions… And Why You Need Them

Shawn Forno 06.07.2017

Captions aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a great video, but they’re more important than you think. As more people switch to mobile video the dependence on voiceover and sound is diminishing. If your video isn’t optimized for the social feed, you’re leaving potential leads on the table instead of adding them to your sales funnel. But video captions aren’t just about crushing it on Facebook.

By adding captions to your video, you automatically boost video SEO by making your videos text searchable and bot friendly (captions include a text transcript). Search engines love video captions, users like video captions, and social media feeds practically demand video captions—especially for mobile viewers. Bottomline: Video captions add significant organic search and SEO value all for a pretty minor investment.

In this video caption guide, we’ll show you three simple ways to add captions to your existing videos on YouTube and your own website, and explain why video captions matter for social media, video SEO, and increasing your organic reach.

Video Captions Make Videos Searchable

The primary reason to include captions for your video is simply that Google search algorithms can read text. That’s it. If you take nothing else away from this article, remember that as great as your video is, it’s worthless (from an SEO standpoint) if the bots can’t “read” what it’s about. Adding captions to your video changes that, because captions include a written transcript of the video’s script.

B2B video seo long tail

Video SEO is all about optimizing your video for Google’s search algorithm. You add metadata, keywords, and all sorts of information to your video to make it show up when Google’s magic bots scrub the internet for search queries, so why would you hide the bulk of the keyword relevance from those algorithms?

“Search engines have no idea what’s in your videos. This is slowly changing with the rise of algorithms that can interpret images but, fundamentally, search engines are built to read text,” claims writer, Andrew Childress.

Video Captions are for Mobile Viewers

In 2016, 85% of Facebook video is watched without sound. Most mobile viewers watch turn off the sound on videos—especially autoplays. and as of January, the majority of videos are viewed on mobile devices now. Videos that don’t rely on captions are now in the (ever shrinking) minority. Facebook likes captions so much that they’ve even introduced automatic video captions because “including captions on video ads increases the amount of time people spend watching them.”

Facebook has spent thousands of hours teaching AI to translate and caption video, but it’s still not quite there. The best captions are still your own, but more on that in a bit.

Video Captions Increase Your Audience Size

People assume that video captions are only created for the deaf community—and they definitely are. However, it’s worth pointing that according the FCC over 34 million Americans report some level of hearing impairment. That’s 15% of the entire country. Video captions are for everyone, not just deaf viewers. Facebook even reported that “captioned video ads increase video view time by an average of 12%.” Everyone looks at ads—elderly people, international viewers, and mobile users alike. Captions hold their attention for long enough to hook them with your video.

In fact, Google’s own YouTube Product Manager, Brad Ellis, likes video captions so much that he announced their importance to the future of YouTube at a Best Practices for Implementing Accessible Video Captioning panel:

“I want to encourage everybody who has power over this to make their videos accessible, to add captions, and to focus not on excuses or reasons why not to do it or what’s required, but how you can have the biggest impact and reach the most people.”

Video Captions are Crucial for Translation

One of the fastest ways to increase your reach in international markets is with captioned video. Why? Because captions equal swift translation. Adding captions in multiple languages simply means more pages with your content, more inbound links, and higher keyword rankings.

Text to text language translation is getting faster all the time (not to mention pretty dang good). The biggest stumbling block right now is translating human speech. When you caption your video you allow viewers from all over the world to watch your video with the click of a button. Subtitled videos aren’t common in a lot of languages, so video captions open your videos and your company website up to potential customers around the world.

How to Add Video Captions

Ok, captions are important for reach and SEO. Here’s how you add captions to your video using a third-party platform like Amara (Free / DIY) or Dotsub.com ($250 for 10 min video):

Video captions require the same four basic steps:

  1. Upload your video — You need a public URL to create a captions file, so upload the video to YouTube or Vimeo, then copy the url. Don’t worry, you can keep the video “Private” during this process.
  2. Paste the URL to the whichever captioning service you’re using.
  3. Watch and transcribe the video — This is the grunt work, but the tools make it easy to transcribe and sync the captions to the video.
  4. Download the .txt caption file — This is your transcript for your blog post or website (usually available in .txt file format)

video transcriptions

.Txt Files and SEO

I used Amara, and the whole thing only took about ten minutes. That includes signing up, learning the tools, creating the captions, syncing it, and downloading the caption .txt file. It’s fast and easy. However, the big upside of creating captions is the .txt file. This file lets you cut and paste the full transcript of your video onto any blog post or video page. For reference, here’s what a .txt file looks like:

video captions

All those keywords are now searchable—by you and Google bots. Adding a text transcript is a great way to instantly boost your SEO with all those juicy keywords, just like Moz Whiteboard Fridays (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

How to Add YouTube Video Captions

If all that seems to complicated or time consuming, you do have another simple option for adding video captions—YouTube’s built-in caption service. Here’s how you enable captions for your YouTube videos:

how to add video captions

  1. Go to the Video Manager tab
  2. Select “Edit”
  3. Select “Subtitles/CC”
  4. Choose your language
  5. Upload a transcription or type one out as your video plays
  6. Wait for YouTube to sync and update your video captions

video captions

Adding captions in YouTube is actually really easy. Once you’re in the caption editor, just type everything you hear in the text box as your video plays along. YouTube automatically pauses the video for a second or two as you type what you just heard, so you can actually get a pretty good clip going without stopping and starting the video every few seconds. I was kind of shocked by how easy it was.

Oh, and remember that .txt file you made earlier? You can just upload that straight to YouTube and let YouTube figure it out. Done and done.

YouTube Video Caption Updates and Changes

Starting in June 2017, Google will no longer offer paid translation or captioning services for videos—which is kind of a big deal. It’s Google’s way of saying that their captioning capabilities are getting a lot better, and they believe that captioning is something that every video should benefit from—not just creators with big budgets. Or it could be because Google wasn’t making enough money off it. Either way, glass half full. Better, free translations and video captions are coming to YouTube.

In fact, Google’s video captions help page says Google is “working to develop tools that benefit the broadest number of creators, such as a our free translation tools. Same language captions (transcriptions), translated captions (subtitles), titles, and descriptions for your videos help you reach a more global audience and make your content more accessible.”

They even have a request form for video translations in bulk in Video Manager, but it’s “coming soon.”

Video Captions: Your Complete Guide

Mobile users love captions, captions boosts your video SEO strategy, and it’s valuable to have a text record of your videos for a number of reasons ranging from searchable text to international translations.

Contact us today to find out how to make your next big animated explainer video (with captions, of course).

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