Add Captions To Videos To Improve SEO and Increase Engagement
Adding captions to videos on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn can dramatically increase audience engagement, and dramatically improve SEO (search engine optimization).
What are captions?
Captions are the word-for-word text-rendition of all the spoken words of a video. They appear on either within the video or overlayed in front of the video, and appear in real time as the video plays, matching the spoken words.
There are two types of captions. There are “closed captions,” and “burned-in captions”. Closed captions can be set to visible or invisible by the viewer, whereas burned-in captions are always visible because they are “burned in” to the video and are as much a part of the video as any other visual element.
Closed captions are written into a separate file (usually a .srt file) from the video itself and can be created with a variety of online and offline tools, including YouTube’s own caption-creator.
Burned-in captions must be added to video as text-graphics.
One final important note: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram do not support closed captions, so if you want to add captions to videos on these sites, they must be burned-in captions.
Benefit 1: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) (closed captions only)
Note: I will occasionally use the brand-names Google and YouTube interchangeably when discussing search algorithms and the like. This is because they are the same company and their search technology is linked.
Google cannot crawl through the content of videos in the same manner as it does the text of the internet. Though it’s bots can devour the text millions of scrolls of webpages in mere seconds, put a cat video in their way, and all they can tell you is that the background music is copyrighted. In order to determine the content of a video and enable searchers on YouTube and Google Search to find it, Google must rely on the text-components of a video. Google will read the title, the description, the tags, and the closed captions in order to determine what the video is about.
Your videos will have the best search result rankings if searchable phrases and words appear in the title, tags, description, and closed captions. The closed captions need to match the real words of the script and dialogue, or Google will penalize you, so you need to start by having searchable words and phrases in your script and dialogue.
Although YouTube does allow you to use their auto-caption-generating tool after you upload your video, it is important to note that this will not work for SEO purposes. YouTube has determined that these auto-generated captions are unreliable and has chosen not to count them for SEO purposes.
So, if you want SEO results from closed captions, you need to create them yourself. At the end of this article, I will list a few resources that will show you how to do this.
Benefit 2: Engagement
Anything you can do to make content easier to comprehend and effortless to access will increase engagement.
Here is how engagement is improved through the use of closed captions on major social networks:
Captions for Facebook (can be closed captions or burned-in captions)
Benefit 1: Captions provide viewers the option of watching the video without sound.
Many viewers on Facebook watch videos without sound. In fact, an analysis by Digiday found that 85% of Facebook videos are viewed without sound, and Facebook’s internal tests revealed that adding captions to videos increased view time by 12% on average for Facebook ads.
These statistics may no longer be completely reliable because Facebook recently updated their mobile app to enable sound by default. It is likely that more people are now listening to the videos with the sound on than were doing so before the changes. However, many people use Facebook on their phones without headphones on, oftentimes in crowded and noisy environments, and almost all Facebook users use the site without their full attention fixated on each piece of media. Though the volume may be on, that doesn’t mean people are listening to every spoken word of videos as they scroll through their feeds.
Benefit 2: Captions help the viewer comprehend the video.
Semi-distracted Facebook users need to be kept constantly engaged and intrigued if you want to keep their attention. Captions can help with this. The best is burned-in captions, which can be stylized, and will always appear, regardless of whether the sound is on or not. This helps the viewer follow along.
Captions for Instagram (burned-in captions only)
Benefit 1: Engaging Muted-Viewers
Video volume is muted on Instagram by default, and the viewer must click to turn the volume on. Captions help engage the viewers who either never turn the volume on, or perhaps only turn the volume on once they are already engaged. Videos with captions are more likely to grab the viewers attention than those without captions, since a viewer can scroll right past a video and never hear the sound.
Benefit 2: Style
On Instagram, captions add flair and style to a video that fit with what has become standard and expected. Many images have captions, and captions have become somewhat of a standard for videos. Most of the heavily followed and engaged-with accounts that use video have captions in their videos.
In addition, the format of the videos on Instagram encourages captions naturally. Most videos on the site are in square- format, as opposed to landscape-format, because they look better on the app in square-format. Captions look very good in square videos.
Instagram captions should be fun and look good. Success with Instagram in terms of engagement and channel growth comes down to standing out visually. People do not go to Instagram for the words – they go for the visuals. So make your words visual, and make them look good.
Captions for Twitter and LinkedIn (burned-in captions only)
Twitter and LinkedIn, like Instagram, keep the sound muted by default until the viewer clicks to turn it on. Many people will watch videos without turning the sound on at all. Adding captions allows muted-viewers to enjoy your videos, and they also help your videos stand out in cluttered newsfeeds, and make it easier for audiences to understand the content of your video.
Captions for Youtube (can be closed captions or burned-in captions)
On YouTube, attention spans are longer, and adding captions is primarily an issue of SEO (detailed in length earlier in the article). In terms of engagement, it is primarily a stylistic choice. Some videos look really good with stylized text, and good looking videos will engage viewers more. Other benefits to captions include helping the hearing impaired, and foreign-language support. You can upload captions in multiple languages, and you can also let YouTube auto-translate your captions into other languages for you.