Want to increase user engagement and search engine optimization in YouTube? Then you should consider adding closed captions for YouTube videos, and the easiest way for most people to do that is simply by leveraging your own transcripts. Follow this step-by-step tutorial on how to easily create closed captions or subtitles for your YouTube videos with a simple text transcript. We've also included a set of tips for getting the maximum benefit of closed captions in YouTube in terms of both usability and Video SEO.
First, let's start with a finished product. Here's an example of a transcript I added to an existing video in my own LegalVideoGuys YouTube account.
Text Transcripts = Easy Closed Captions for YouTube
Having to create a closed caption file with a complex time code along each word group is simply not feasible for most people to create on their own. Fortunately, YouTube can take a plain text transcription (in English) that you upload for any video in your own YouTube account; and it uses its own beta speech recognition technology to provide all of the necessary closed caption data. This includes inserting all of the proper time codes, which allows for automatic timing for your English transcript, and gives you a excellent quality closed caption and interactive transcript that run in sync with your video playback.
One nice thing about this is that if you already have a script that was used in production, you can merely upload this script to YouTube and have them automatically create closed captions for you.
How To Create YouTube Closed Captions from Text Transcripts
Step 1 ► Create your transcript.
While you can opt to hire transcriber or pay for a professional speech-to-text solution, transcripts are simple enough to do yourself. Of course you'll have to weigh the DIY method against the other options with considerations such as: What your budget is, how much transcription work you have to do, if you or someone else is available, how much time is available, how fast and accurate you can type, and if it's the best use of your time. Personally, I have both my own software and a freelance transcriber, and I'm a fast enough typist to handle shorter jobs and leave the larger ones to a freelancer.
There are many transcription software programs that you can test out. I personally use Transcriva for the Mac, which I think does a great job of capturing what I need for YouTube closed captions. I can save my files as plain text, and include the names of people speaking. You can even get transcription software as a free download, although I recommend spending a for a professional level software tool which you can get for around $30.
YouTube's Guidelines for Creating Acceptable Transcripts
- YouTube recommends that you start off each change in speaker with two "greater than" symbols, then the speaker name or group, an a colon. (Example: ">> GRANT:”) This appears to allow YouTube to distinguish between a new speaker without having to mistakenly try to sync it as part of the audio itself. Granted you can still try to format this other ways if you want, but this way appears clean enough on screen.
- YouTube also requires a double line break to force a caption break. Otherwise, you may have run-on text with strange breaks in the flow of the audio conversation (or wind up with multiple speakers occupying the same caption space at once.) If you have the time, I recommend reviewing your text file for wherever would seem to be an appropriate break in the text for your audience to more easily follow, and insert double returns in each instance.
If you have other things going on in my video besides conversation, you could also separate those out with a double line break and a description of that thing in brackets. Here are a couple of examples:
- [pause] – YouTube recommends adding this bracket whenever you have a pause of 3 seconds or more in the audio.
- [description of any activity not captured in speech] – you can do the same for anything that would offer a good description of the activity that's going on, which helps with deaf or hard-of-people keep with the flow of your video . This can be things like [laughs], [birds chirping] or [applause].
Step 2 ► Save Your Transcript
A transcript file must be saved as a plain text file (.txt). Trust me, if you try uploading it in a word processing file format like Microsoft Word, you'd wind up with a lot of gobbledy-gook in your video's caption. (See my screenshot attached. Not pretty.) Remember that you can always edit either your original transcript file or the plain text file after it's saved, so it will read better on screen.
Step 3 ► Upload Your Transcript to YouTube
Now you can to your YouTube account and select the video you want to have a transcript added to. Here are YouTube's instructions for uploading a transcript file:
- Login to your YouTube account
- Mouse over your username located in the upper right corner and Click My Videos.
- Find the video to which you'd like to add captions/subtitles to, and check it in the selection box to the right of the video thumbnail. Then select the arrow on the Edit | Insight bar to the right of the thumbnail, and select the Captions and Subtitles button from the drop down menu.
- Click the Add New Captions or Transcript button on the right hand side of the page. You will be prompted to browse for a file to upload. Select a transcript file from your desktop to upload. (Note: Here you will be uploading a transcript file with no time-codes, so be sure to select Transcript file. Otherwise, if you actually did have a pre-made caption file, you would select "Caption file.")
- Select the appropriate language (English for our purposes here). You can also enter a track name, which I recommend doing as well.
- Click the Upload File button.
- Click Save, and you will see YouTube take over. Usually all it takes is a few minutes your caption will be a new "available caption track" that can run along with your video.
Step 4 ► Review your Transcript
You can watch this in action by having closed captions turned on. (You will see the CC button, which is in your player bar, highlighted in red to show that it's been selected.)
Tips to Maximize The Benefits of YouTube Closed Captioning
1) Focus on Readability
Here are some of the things you can do to get the best automatic timing results for your transcripts:
- Balance proper grammar with audio accuracy. You certainly don't need to include the "ummms" and "uhhs" and "stutters." (You won't be penalized for leaving this out in your closed caption). YouTube's speech recognition tool appears to be pretty tolerable about allowing some words to be switched out with others. However, I recommend making edits sparingly. Take care not to replace too much in any individual sentence or phrase, and don't switch out an entire section with something else.
- Proof your transcript. Check for any misspellings.
- Do shorter caption breaks if you don't want the speaker in the video to be overshadowed by the text.
- Can't decipher a word? Just leave it blank.
- Get the cleanest audio you possibly can, to allow for the best possible match-up with YouTube's speech recognition tool.
- Identify long pauses (3 seconds or longer) or music in the transcript with a double line break.
- Use double line breaks anytime you want to force a caption break.
- Don't use any special characters like smart quotes or em dashes (Otherwise you'll get a weird character appearing in your caption.) Use double dashes instead.
- If you only have a partial transcript, you can still upload it. YouTube can do a fairly decent job of figuring out where to have it start playing, provided your audio is clear.
- Watch the entire video with captions on. See where you get any weird characters, fix that in your original transcript, and upload again if necessary.
Maximize Engagement with Proper Presentation
Here are some things to do with caption files for improving on your user's experience and engagement level:
- Give your caption track a proper name. Your caption track's name will appear the beginning of your video, so you want something that's either a short match of the title of your actual video, or at least something that doesn't appear unusual to your viewing audience.
- If you have an intro graphic or animation at the beginning of your video. Consider putting in brackets a brief description of that intro, and with proper line breaks after. Otherwise, your caption may start playing before your actual speaker audio begins.
- If you have a closing graphic, consider a closing bracket at the end of your video, perhaps with a thank-you or some call-to-action text.
- If you have a speaker or other important visual in the middle of your video, consider having the captions break early and often, so then don't overlap the important visual. Captions run in the center of the video and can take nearly 60% of the vertical space from the bottom-up. This is why if you're doing lots of captions, a good idea to consider having speakers on the left or right side, rather than always being dead center.
Maximize the SEO Benefit of Closed Captions:
Here are some things do to with transcripts and caption files for increasing the likelihood of performing well in targeted search engine results – on YouTube, Google and beyond:
- Inserting keywords at certain points may be tolerable to YouTube, but again I say do this very sparingly, and not at the expense of readability. Don't use your caption file as an opportunity to do "keyword stuffing." If you want to feature more of your keywords than what the transcript provides, save that for your video's description field.
- If you plan to include part or your entire transcript in the YouTube description area, be sure to eliminate any "greater than" signs you start off with for each speaker. Otherwise your description won't actually be accepted.
- Look for keyword opportunities beyond just the conversation. As we've said previously at ReelSEO,
"Closed captions are more than just text displayed on the bottom of a screen to represent the dialog of a video. They can also include environmental sounds like birds singing, phones ringing, people knocking on doors, etc. They can include a note about when music is being played, where the scene is, when there is laughter and who is speaking.”
Options, Settings, and Other Features:
If you go back to the "Captions and Subtitles," you can do any of the following additional features:
- Exchange multiple caption tracks. You can upload multiple caption tracks, and switch between any of them, or even YouTube's own Machine Transcription feature. (I don't recommend using the Machine Transcription feature since it's still very much in experimentation, and has nowhere near the accuracy you will need.)
- Language settings – in the "Settings" button you'll see a huge selection of any other languages you can have your video translated into.
- Download – you can download your caption file for use with any other online video platforms that accept closed captions.
Five Benefits of YouTube Closed Captions & Subtitles:
As we've reported here earlier at ReelSEO, both Google and YouTubeareindexing videos for text that is contained within closed captions and subtitles. The audio track of a video is one piece of information that can be incredibly valuable to that affect. Closed captions helps Google and YouTube better understand what your video is about. Closed captions help with long-tail keyword searches; and more importantly, with accessibility for the hearing impaired (and for uploading in multiple languages for global reach.
- Fast & Easy - You don't need to create a file with all of the closed caption data – YouTube does it for you! Closed captions from your uploaded transcript can be generated in just a few minutes.
- Improved Accessibility & Usability – helps viewers with hearing disabilities and even those that just cant have audio on (for example - at work). Additionally, if you use them as subtitles, you can help viewers by providing additional information tied to time within the video.
- Better SEO – closed captions helps you generate and display natural language content for search engine indexing and SEO. (Transcripts aren't just for embedding in videos as closed captions. You can also use them for web page copy, formatted for SEO.)
- Engagement – the attention level of a viewer is likely be higher when there's activity of text on the screen, which increases the likelihood that people will stay engaged with your video and watch it through the end.
- Global Reach - YouTube users can translate the closed captions using Google Translate it to one of the myriad of languages available.
So you may be thinking, why does Google do this for free? That's because it benefits Google to know what's actually in the videos, so they know how to index them in their search engine, and provide much more relevant search results.