How to use closed captioning for improved video SEO

A tutorial and examples of adding captions and subtitles to videos

In the past, there were four main things that needed your attention in order to optimise your online videos for search engines; video title, description, category and tags. These things still apply but now there is another really useful tool. Closed captioning means that the content of your video is available in written word format which is something that search engines can read and identify.

What is closed captioning?

Closed captioning is the process of displaying text on a screen (e.g. on a TV programme or online video) to provide additional information to what is already being presented.

The reason it is termed ‘closed’ captioning is that only viewers who choose to activate them will see them. ‘Open’ captions are visible to all viewers.

Some people use the terms ‘captions’ and ‘subtitles’ interchangeably. However, captions are slightly different as they aim to describe what is on screen in more detail. For example, captions can capture sound effects, narration and other information, as well as dialogue.

This video was made by a deaf person to show fellow deaf people how closed captioning works:

Two BIG reasons why you should use closed captioning

1 Including captions and/or subtitles in your videos is good practice because it makes your videos accessible to people with visual and hearing impairments.

2 Captions and subtitles are rich in keywords. Unlike the audio/visual content of a video, captions and subtitles can be indexed and understood by search engines, like any other text. This means that your videos are more likely to be found if you use closed captioning.

There are other benefits of using captions, depending on the purpose of your video. If your video is a learning or training tool closed captioning is useful because it enables the viewer to see written terminology as well as listen to the spoken word version of the information. It is also useful for rebellious people who want to watch video on their devices without anyone noticing at work and so can’t have the audio! Video with captioning is easier to follow if there is a language barrier too.

This video uses closed captioning and also explains closed captioning. Ignore the fact they are trying to sell you their closed captioning services because we are about to tell you how to do it for yourself.

A step-by-step tutorial on how to used closed captioning in YouTube

Adding captions and subtitles in YouTube

1. You need to have either a caption file or a transcript file ready

  • A caption file contains text and information about when each line of text will be displayed
  • A transcript file contains text alone

2. Log in to your YouTube account

3. Go to Video Manager (mouse over your name in the top right corner)

4. Find the video you want to add captions to and click on the downwards arrow next to the EDIT button for that video. Select ‘Captions’

closed captioning - image 1

5. Click on the ‘Add New Captions or Transcript’ button

closed captioning - image 2

6. You will be prompted to upload you caption or transcript file. Search for your file and then click ‘Upload’.

closed captioning - image 3

Preparing a caption file for YouTube

You have a few options. You can

  • a) create caption files yourself
  • b) use an online captioning site
  • c) use some caption software

We are going to tell you about one really simple option for creating your own caption files using an online captioning site.

CaptionTube – an online captioning site (http://captiontube.appspot.com/)

CaptionTube is an online captioning site, enabling you to create closed captions for yourself. You can log in to CaptionTube using your log in details from your Google or YouTube account and CaptionTube will immediately find your existing videos. The interface is simply laid out and extremely easy to use.

closed captioning - image 4

You will see that once you have imported the video you want to add captions to, you are taken to the editing page. This includes a playback screen, controls and a timeline. You simply select an in-point and an out-point for each caption that you will type into the ‘Caption text’ box.

When you have added captions for your entire video you can export the captions file using the Export button. This creates a caption file which CaptionTube allows you to email to yourself or someone else. You can then upload this file to your video in YouTube as explained above.

Note: CaptionTube doesn’t create or keep a copy of your videos. They are still hosted in YouTube and CaptionTube just keeps a bookmark to it.

Some tips for writing closed captions

1 Don’t put more than two lines of text on the screen at any one time
2 Make sure that the text is displayed for enough time so that people of differing levels of ability have a chance to read it
3 Divide the text logically e.g. into sentences or other obvious breaks

Closed Captions and links in videos

I thought that it was worth quickly mentioning how closed captioning differs to links in Youtube: Closed captioning is for text based details on the video content whereas if you want to add additional functionality to your video in the way of links then you will need to use the annotations function in Youtube.

A restriction on this is that with Youtube annotations it is not possible to link to external domains (anything outside Youtube) so you can just link to your other videos or your Youtube channel.

However, there are a couple of free tools called Linkedtube and Viewbix that both allow you to add external links into your Youtube videos. I have had problems using Linkedtube when embedding videos but I have not actually tested Viewbix yet.

Here is a video comparing the two:

What are auto-captions in YouTube?

YouTube have introduced an auto-captions feature. They have combined Google’s automatic speech recognition technology with the YouTube caption function which means that automatic captions can be generated. The system isn’t perfect and it is therefore the responsibility of the owner to check the captions that have been created to make sure they are accurate. This technology should only improve over time making all video more accessible and making the lives of video producers a lot easier.

Watch Rhett and Link test out Youtube auto-captions with “hilarious results”!

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