Captions and Subtitles are a great way to make YouTube videos more accessible and search engine friendly.

They will also make your videos more accessible to people who cannot follow along with the audio – either because they speak a different language, or because they are deaf or hard of hearing.

YouTube Captions & Subtitles

While you can optimize the title, description and tags of a YouTube video for search both in YouTube and Google, unlike regular text the actual content within a video cannot be ‘spidered’ by a search engine.

Adding a transcription of your video provides a written document which is directly associated with its content. This means you get the power of video to captivate and convert audiences with the SEO benefits of traditional text!

Getting Started

The first step will be to transcribe your video. There are professional services available but chances are that your video is short enough to do this manually yourself. Simply type everything into a new document and save it as plain text (.txt).

YouTube would normally require a Caption file which has been properly formatted with time codes. Fortunately, they also provide a built-in service (still in beta) which can take a simple transcription and automatically assign the proper time code information using voice recognition. This only works with English and Japanese transcriptions, for now.

This speech-to-text technology can actually be used to have YouTube transcribe your video from scratch, although the results tend to leave a little to be desired and you may end up spending just as much time in fixing its mistakes.

Uploading Your Transcript File

To add your transcription to an existing YouTube video click on ‘Edit captions/subtitles’ above the video. You will of course have to be logged in to the Google/YouTube account to which the video belongs.

Click on the ‘Add New Captions or Transcript’ button. With ‘Transcript file’ selected click on ‘Choose File’ to select the text file you created. No need to add anything in the optional ‘Name’ field, as this will default to ‘English’.

Modifying Your Caption File

Shortly after uploading your Transcript file, YouTube will automatically create a Caption track using voice recognition technology to match the subtitles to your video. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always get it exactly right so a bit of tweaking might be needed.

  1. Turn on captions in your video by clicking on the arrow in the bottom-right hand corner and then the ‘CC’ button. Watch back your video and you may notice that some captions are just a little early, late or perhaps not on screen for quite as long as you would like. If it looks okay, you can skip these three steps altogether although there are a few other tricks we can now do which could help with SEO.
  2. Click on the ‘Download’ button beside the available caption track which by default should be labeled ‘English’.
  3. Open up the downloaded file named ‘captions.sbv.txt’ and you will see that your transcription has been broken up into smaller pieces and assigned time codes. You can now modify the times associated with the text or any of the text itself.

Often the very first subtitle may start a little early. There may also be instances in between sentences when you could have the previous subtitle stay on screen just a little longer to give the viewer more time to read it, or have the following subtitle start just a little sooner.

Remember that what is being said does not have to match your subtitles word-for-word. You may want to simplify the language a bit or clean up some ramblings. Inversely, you may want to think about optimizing the text for search.

An example of this might be to add keywords to your subtitles. For instance, we may describe ourselves as being a “video production company” in speech but I would modify our subtitles to say “vancouver video production company”. You may also wish to add descriptive text or links, such as “visit as online at…” to mirror what has been shown in any on-screen graphics within your video.

Uploading Your Revised Caption File

You may need to revise and upload your caption file, reviewing your video with captions turned on, several times to get it just right.

  1. Delete the existing Caption track by choosing ‘Remove’ on the same screen from which you downloaded the original file generated by YouTube.
  2. To upload your revised caption file, choose ‘Add New Captions or Transcript’ like before, but this time leave the ‘Caption file’ selected as the ‘Type’ when choosing the new file.
  3. Watch the video back to check your work and repeat and necessary.

When modifying your Caption file, remember that some viewers will in fact see these subtitles while often the search engine may be your only audience, so you should try to find a balance between accuracy and optimization.

Will Captions Help with Search?

It’s still not clear how much weight Google gives to keywords within video Captions compared to its title and keywords and in reality, a complete transcription could even be added to a video’s description.

But since Google has always considered accessibility to be very important it just makes good sense to include this along with your usual YouTube video search optimization.

Another benefit of Captions is that a viewer may now have YouTube automatically translate your video into one of a growing list of languages, allowing your video to achieve a truly global reach.