Many marketers and small business people using the web are excited to produce and share video content to communicate and promote their businesses. However, I often see videos published that do not have captions included, and this is often leaving a lot of potential views on the table. Frequently my feeds contain auto-play, muted videos featuring someone speaking to camera, or doing an interview, with no other imagery, graphics, or text to give context. I just keep on scrollin’ because I don’t know what they are speaking about without graphics or text that can give context without any audio on.
Research says 85% of online videos are watched without sound.
Adding captions to your online videos is not terribly difficult or expensive, and can really boost your videos’ effectiveness. Don’t put effort or money into creating a video and forget to use captions! I’ll explain why captions are important and different ways to implement them.
What are captions, and how do they work on modern web video platforms?
First, captions and subtitles are two similar systems that are often confused or used interchangeably. We are primarily speaking about captions in this post, but subtitles can be helpful as well.
Captions are bits of text overlaid on the video that are in the same language as the spoken-word content of the video. Captions are implemented or available when the viewer is expected to not be able to hear the audio. Subtitles work in the same way, but they are for translating spoken content into text in the viewers’ native language.
Captions can be “baked in” to the actual video file that is played so that they are visible to anyone who sees the video, but for many online video platforms, this is not necessary. YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn, and Facebook all have dynamic captions systems which will overlay captions over the video via the video player software on your device if the creator supplies captions data to go with the video file. This gives the viewer the option to turn on or off the captions depending on their needs or taste.
Why are captions important in web video?
Captions in your social media feeds
These dynamic captions can be set on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to be ON by default. When people are scrolling down their feeds on their phones or computers, videos all play automatically with the SOUND OFF. How many times have you scrolled past a video of a talking head or something not super visually stimulating, and kept going without even knowing what it was about?
Captions are visible even with the sound off, so you begin to get the meaning of the auto-played video immediately, even without hearing any spoken word. Assuming the video creator has front-loaded the video with something spoken that has piqued your interest, you have the option to then turn on the sound and watch the rest of the video (or even leave the sound off – you’ll still get the meaning). Make sure people know what you are saying in your videos!
The YouTube phone app has now also started autoplaying the beginning portions of videos in your feed with captions as well, so if you are hoping to get your video viewed via their “algorithm,” this is another platform where this feature is handy.
Captions on “opt-in” video content
“Opt-in” video content is what I call video that is published in a way that the user actively chooses to click the play button to watch it. It did not just pop up in their feed; they decided to start it. These users more often will be ready to hear the audio, and these videos generally play with the audio on by default. YouTube, Vimeo, and videos you place on your website are examples of this type of video. Captions are still important here as well.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, captions will allow those hard of hearing to get your spoken message. It’s great to strive for better accessibility and leave no viewers behind.
Secondly, particularly for YouTube, all of the spoken word content is also interpreted by search engine algorithms. YouTube is currently the second-most searched search engine after Google, and the two talk to each other. Getting accurate caption information associated with your video and links back to your site will allow Google and YouTube to both place your video and your associated website higher in their respective search engine results because Google is more confident it knows what you are talking about.
YouTube DOES automatically create computer-generated captions for all videos, however the resulting text is generally sub-standard. The copy is often without punctuation or capitalization, and usually contains plenty of errors on mumbled words, names, difficult specific vocabulary (which can often be crucial keywords for search engine optimization), and more. I would call those auto-captions a last resort.
How do I add captions?
LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube (and likely many other platforms) all accept multiple different standards of captions files, but the one I find in common among all of the platforms that works and is easy to create is the .SRT, or SubRip Subtitle files. These are very small files that contain lightly-coded lines of your text and the times in the video in which to display them. In fact, you can change the file extension from “.srt” to “.txt” and edit them easily in a text editor. When you are uploading your video file to your platform of choice, there is usually a subtitles or captions tab in the video attributes where you will have the option to upload this SRT file. After you’ve done that, the system has all it needs!
How do I get that sweet SRT file then?
Free options/lots of effort:
- You can use a free browser-based subtitler tool like VTT Creator to load your video file, type along to the voice in your video, and edit the timings of the text. When done, export a .SRT file. This can be time-consuming if your video is more than a couple minutes long.
- Upload your video to YouTube (set the video to private if you are just using YouTube for the captioning and don’t plan on publishing it), wait a few minutes, and it will auto-generate subtitles. When in YouTube studio viewing your video details, under the “more options” tab, you should see “English by YouTube (automatic)” with an ellipses with an option to Edit on Classic Studio. Here, you can go through and edit the work that YouTube’s robots with typewriters have done inside of their own captioning tool. When you are done, you are able to publish your edited captions (if you are using YouTube to publish your video), or download a .SRT file that will work on other platforms.
Cheap option/some effort:
Pay roughly 25 cents per minute of footage for a better team of robots to transcribe your video. Two services that I have used before and that I think are pretty much comparable are Temi.com and Rev.com’s Automated Transcription option. These sites will allow you to upload your video file, or link to it, and they will come back in a few minutes with a transcript in a cloud document-type editor. In this editor, you can play back your video and watch it highlight the words spoken as the video plays. These editors are handy for quickly fixing any errors it has made, and they even have tools for bulk removing “um” and “ah” filler words. You can export a good old .SRT file, but you can also just export a regular document which may be handy if you wanted to make your video into a blog post.
There are other competing services out there, but these are the two I have used and liked in the past.
Most expensive option/little effort:
Use an online captioning service such as Rev.com‘s $1.25/minute human captioning services. There are plenty of competing services out there with competitive prices. They will have a real human transcribe and caption your video, usually within 24 hours. Real humans are better at spelling names, using context to fill in words that are hard to hear, and are generally very accurate. This will save you time, but the expense may not be worth it if you have a longer video.
You can also link your Rev.com system to your YouTube or Vimeo account and have them apply the captions directly to your video you will be publishing, skipping the SRT download and upload step.
Uploading your captions file
Adding captions files to your video upload is pretty simple on most platforms, so I won’t go into much detail. Just look for a tab or option in all the video properties the platform is asking for before the point where you press the final publish button. I’ll include links to basic tutorials for each platform that I’ve found below.
- Facebook (note – your filename has to be formatted a specific way for Facebook: make sure it ends in “.en_US.srt”, so an example filename would be “mycaptions.en_US.srt”)
What about Instagram?
Nope, Instagram does not currently support captions in its player like the rest do. Captions can still be a good idea for Instagram videos, but you’ll have to “bake them in” to the actual video file with some sort of video editing software. This is more of an advanced move, so I am not covering it here. If you are working with a videographer or editor to create your videos, he or she should be able to do this for you.
This is an opportunity to have some fancy, animated, colorful, and eye-grabbing text animation done, however. That is, if you’re editor is up for it!
So, take the quick extra step, and begin adding captions to your videos. Ask your video production company to make sure they provide captions files. You put too much work and/or money into creating it to leave these potential extra views on the table!