Video is the future of content.
In a recent HubSpot survey, 55% of respondents said that they watch video content all the way through as opposed to skipping through it. All other content types, including social media posts, news articles, blogs, and podcasts lag behind. Video is clearly becoming the most important web medium. Cisco expects that by 2021 81% of all consumer Internet traffic will come from Internet video streaming and downloads.
Making video accessible and easy to consumers has become a huge priority for businesses and content creators. One of the best ways to ensure your videos are watched is by adding closed captions. In this article, we will discuss the reasons closed captions are so important and the best ways to create them for your current and future content.
How Are Closed Captions Different Than Subtitles?
The short answer is: they do not need to be. It is just a matter of definition. According to the HTML5 definition, subtitles are a transcription or translation of a dialogue for people who can hear but cannot understand the audio.
Closed captions, on the other hand, include all sound effects, musical cues and other audio, in addition to the dialogue, to make the video accessible to both people who can hear the audio and those who cannot.
Definitions, however, vary wildly depending on where you look. Some introduce Subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing (SDH), while others claim that subtitles are always in a different language than the original audio. For all intents and purposes in this post, we will use subtitles and closed captions interchangeably.
One thing to note is the difference between closed captions and open captions. Closed captions can be turned on and off at will, while open captions are burnt into the video file and cannot be turned off. Regardless of whether you decide to only include the dialogue or also transcribe sounds, where possible, aim to give your visitors the option to turn the subtitles on or off depending on their preference.
6 Reasons to Add Closed Captions to Your Videos
Closed captions have numerous benefits for both UX and SEO. They also make the video look better put together. Here are some of the major advantages of having closed captions.
This one is obvious. Subtitles allow everyone to understand and enjoy your video, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing. If your audience needs them, make sure to add captions for all the sounds and musical cues. It will make their experience fuller and richer. Also, you should clearly indicate who the speaker is, in case it is not obvious in the video.
Related article: 21 Tips for Building an Accessible WordPress Website
2. Language Barriers
Research has shown that 70% of Internet users are not native English speakers and this number will only increase. A lot of those are actively learning English and may be interested in your videos. Non-native speakers usually find it easier to follow videos if they have captions.
Even if the video does not have subtitles in their native language, they will often watch it if they can follow the written text. Native English speakers, interestingly, also turn captions on. Often, it is to help them understand the video better, especially if the sound is poor or there are strong accents.
3. Social Media News Feeds
Most social media platforms these days have the sound turned off on their news feed videos. This is done, generally, by default and users have to actively turn the sound on. Most users don’t, because their environment and/or situation won’t allow it (scrolling through Facebook at work or on the bus without headphones on) or because the video does not interest them enough.
A 2016 survey revealed that 85% of all Facebook video is watched with the sound off. By adding captions to your video you increase your chances that users will stop and watch it instead of just scrolling past.
Related article: How to Use Marketing Videos to Drive Traffic to Your Site
4. Social Media Engagement & Reach
Since users generally watch videos on social media without sound, it makes sense that the ones that have captions will generate more interest, be understood better and, thus, improve engagement.
Facebook has discovered that captioned video ads increase video view time by an average of 12%. Even more impressive, an Instapage experiment on Facebook showed that captioned videos perform better on all counts. The average viewing time and interaction are higher. As a result, their reach is better, mostly due to Facebook’s algorithm which takes engagement into account, striving to show its users content that is as relevant to them as possible.
This makes video the content of choice for many marketers, who are advertising to a newly created audience that needs to be quickly and effectively engaged and entertained.
Related article: Social Media Strategies for E-Commerce to Boost Your Lead Conversion
Google cannot “read” videos. As a result, videos are normally indexed based on their title, description, and tags without their actual content being taken into account. You can massively improve the performance of your video if you add captions to it. Once you do, Google’s crawlers will be able to read the captions file and will get a better understanding of what the video is about. Users will also be able to find it when they search for keywords that are present in the video itself, but not in the title or description.
If you count on video content a lot and some of your most valuable content is in video form, creating captions will help Google index and factor them in its ranking algorithms for a more accurate result. Otherwise, you may lose conversions simply because users are not taken to the correct content when they use Google. Provided that the topic of your video matches the title, you will likely have a much better chance getting found if Google can index the whole transcript.
Related article: The Top 15 Benefits of SEO to Your Business
6. Looks More Professional – If Done Right!
There are a lot of things that make a video look professional: good lighting, quality audio and video, the background, the editing. In addition to the video itself, captions play an important role. Well-timed, intuitive captions, without any errors, give a video a polished appearance. Subtitles which look good and help the viewer instead of taxing him or her give the impression that you know what you are doing, are serious about your content and respectful of your visitors.
Related article: 10 Ways Content Formatting Can Hurt Conversions
How to Create and Add Closed Captions to Your Video
Creating closed captions is a straightforward if a bit time-consuming, process. There are several options to choose from depending on whether your video is already uploaded, on which platform you plan to upload it and where you plan to use it. Most platforms will allow you to add subtitles as closed captions but there may be a case where you will need to first burn the captions into the video and then upload it. While this is not recommended for the reasons we mentioned above, it may sometimes prove useful.
If you would rather outsource this part, skip to “Ordering transcripts and captions” to see a few examples of companies that offer that service and some of their rates.
YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google. Moreover, it also offers a very simple process for creating and downloading captions. If you already have a YouTube account and plan to upload your video there, you are in good hands. You can transcribe the video directly on YouTube or, if you already have a transcription, you can copy and paste it.
Check the transcript with Grammarly (available as both a Chrome extension and desktop app) for mistakes before you upload it to avoid having to fix any grammar or spelling errors in the subtitles later. Then you can let the platform automatically create the time stamps and transform the text into captions. You should then review everything, making sure that the captions make sense before saving them.
YouTube does a pretty good job if the audio quality is good and there are no heavy accents. It also follows some simple rules about the length of subtitles. There are a few other rules of thumb that you should ideally follow when adjusting the subtitles:
- Keep subtitle length to about 42 characters and avoid more than 2 lines per subtitle.
- Subtitles should not last less than 1 second or more than 7 seconds.
- Keep the reading speed between 8-25 characters/second.
- Describe meaningful sounds and music that are relevant to the plot.
- Use parentheses to indicate when someone is speaking off-screen.
- Transcribe the meaning in context but not necessarily word for word.
- Subtitles shouldn’t start more than 0.5 seconds before or after the audio begins.
- Exclude things like “um” “ah” and other disfluencies.
- When two speakers talk in the same subtitle, each speaker should have one line, and both lines should start with a hyphen.
- Only break a subtitle line after a linguistic “whole” or “unit”.
- Ideally, the lines in a two-line subtitle should be more or less balanced in length.
Follow the quick steps in the video below and try it yourself:
Once you are happy with your subtitles, you can download them into a .srt file and use them on other platforms, Facebook, for example. We find YouTube’s caption timing functionality is as user-friendly as can be. This is why we recommend it to be used instead of or in addition to other platforms and software.
How Much Time Will Creating Captions in YouTube Take You?
It typically takes our team, transcribing directly into YouTube with decent typing speed, about 6 minutes per 1 minute of video. Once done, improving the timing of subtitles takes us about 3 minutes per 1 minute of video. As you see, adding caption can definitely be time-consuming. Depending on your content goals and available resource, you might consider ordering your transcripts online.
One thing about auto-generated YouTube captions: they are deceptively accurate. If the audio is easy to understand, the captions are quite accurate and that gives one a false sense of comfort. As it has often happened to our team, once we start fixing them, we find out there are a lot more mistakes than we had initially noticed.
Moreover, the mistakes had been difficult to spot and we would have had certainly missed some. Also keep in mind that, subtitles often turn out too long and need to be split manually. Check our guide on how to professionally split subtitles above.
We advise that you use your own transcripts instead of the auto-generated ones. See below for services that offer transcriptions only. Keep in mind that quality may still vary even with paid transcriptions. This is why writing the transcript first is a good idea – you can proofread it before turning it into subtitles.
Facebook Captions and Other Platforms
Facebook has started discouraging the sharing of YouTube videos on its platform by allowing only videos uploaded on Facebook to play automatically. If you have already uploaded your video to YouTube, you can easily download your subtitles from YouTube and directly upload them to your Facebook video.
Here are a few quick steps on how to do that:
If you don’t plan to use YouTube, you can write captions directly on Facebook and then fix the timing. However, writing captions definitely take us more time than writing a transcript, so we personally prefer making the subtitles somewhere else and uploading them later.
Regretfully, we find Facebook’s auto-generate option still not that competitive compared to the one YouTube is currently offering. Hopefully, Facebook will catch up soon.
Amara is a good online tool to use for subtitles where you can create subtitles for your own videos, purchase subtitles or even contribute subtitles to well-known platforms such as TED. Unfortunately, it requires a URL to your video and does not accept Facebook URLs. So yet again, you can go the YouTube path first.
Another software that is relatively easy to use is Aegisub. It’s free to download and you can add your transcript. It does not automatically add timings but those are easy to change. Here’s a detailed video on how to make subtitles from scratch:
Once you create and download the subtitles in a .srt file, make sure you rename the file before uploading it to Facebook as they have a specific requirement depending on the language the subtitles are in. For subtitles in US English, the correct file name would be “filename.en_US.srt.”
Ordering Transcripts and Captions
A lot of websites offer transcription and captioning services. Most promise about 99% accuracy and deliver within a couple of days. The price per minute usually depends on the quality of the audio and the number of speakers. Here are some examples to get you started.
Buy closed captions:
Buy transcript only:
Of course, there is always the option of hiring a freelancer. However, agencies usually offer better quality control. Whatever option you choose, keep in mind that hired transcriptionists are unlikely to have in-depth knowledge of your industry and will be prone to misspelling names and specific terms. Always check your subtitles for such mistakes before uploading them online.
How You Can Contribute Subtitles to Third-Party Videos
Are videos featuring you or your company already published online on third-party websites or YouTube channels? You might be able to optimize those too. You will obviously not reap the SEO rewards directly. However, content should be primarily about the users so making their experience better by adding captions will translate to them getting a better impression of the video, a.k.a. You.
Related article: DevriX: The Importance of Using Multimedia Content
Contributing captions on YouTube works the same way as creating captions for your own videos does. The channel owner needs to first give permission to community members to contribute subtitles. Once someone uploads subtitles, they are reviewed by the community or the channel owner, approved and published. It is always best to ask the owner to approve them directly to make sure your subtitles have a good chance of being approved and published online.
If the video is on a different platform, it is always worth it to check whether the platform supports user-generated captions. For example, WordPress.tv allows users to contribute subtitles. However, the WordPress community requests that the subtitles be uploaded in a .ttml file or be created using Amara. Once uploaded, they are also moderated before uploading. You can read more about the process on WordPress TV’s website.
For us, it is easy to see why YouTube is still the number one video platform out there. YouTube definitely makes creating closed captions easy for the channel owner, as well as for the community as a whole. Even if you do not upload all of your videos on YouTube, there are tons of other ways to add captions.
Surely, making the effort to have closed captions will definitely work in your favor. Captions will improve the performance of your videos, their social engagement and reach, and will make them look more professional.
Consider how time-consuming each tool or outsourcing opportunity is and the best possible content strategy that fits both your marketing goals and budget. If you are willing to set aside a budget for professional subtitles, make sure to still check the quality, especially when it comes to proper nouns, industry terms and the like. Make subtitles part of your video production process and you will soon notice a positive difference.
Do you have a favorite captioning tool or service? Let us know in the comments below.
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