Video Accessibility, Closed Captions, and Video SEO 153px closed captioning symbolsvg Many videos on the net simply aren't seen because they cant get discovered. This can be due to lack of promotion, search engine optimization or effort on the part of the creator. But adding closed captions to a video may be one way in which to get some additional traffic to it as well as make the video accessible to those without sound-capable PCs (e.g. many office workers) or those with hearing impairments. Using translation techniques to provide multiple language captions can also drive additional traffic to your content from non-English speakers.

In addition, there can be benefit for video search optimization when adding external captioning and or external media transcripts.

What are Closed Captions?

Closed captions are a technique of displaying synchronized captioned text only when it is desired by the user. 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. Plus all of this must be in the same language as the audio or in an entirely different language..

Common web accessibility guidelines indicate that captions should be synchronized, equivalent to that of the spoken word, and accessible to those who need it.

Typically closed caption makes one think of what should be referred to as "embedded captioning." In other words, captions are added to the multimedia file itself as opposed to external placement of the captions. However, there is a benefit to having external caption media transcripts as we will address below.

User Benefits

You and the users are really the ones who benefit from adding the Closed Captions. You make your videos far more accessible to people who would otherwise have tuned out or would be unable to understand the content of the videos. The users benefit from being able to utilize the information in the videos making their time spent watching far more useful and valuable.

The Video SEO Benefit - Caption Transcripts

Often SEO principles and those of online accessibility issues go hand in hand. Many times, the tips and techniques for search engine optimization are the same guidelines that webmasters following accessibility guidelines follow. This is partially due to the way in which spiders rely so heavily on textual elements within pages.

However, some advanced SEO principles often do not cross-over with many advanced accessibility issues. Closed captioning, while good for accessibility and driving traffic from those who rely upon accessible content, does little for SEO when embedded within a multimedia file itself. Although this may be the easiest way in which to add closed captions (while in post-production, editing), search engines still have difficulty with multimedia content and closed captions and subtitles done this way do not aid search engines much in terms of understanding the content for indexing purposes.

Actually, having the media transcript separate from the media itself is far superior than "embedded" captioning from the perspective of indexing and SEO. Full text transcripts and captions external to their media can extend the life of the video beyond that which simple meta-data can provide alone.

Transcripts also provide an important part of making web multimedia content accessible and they provide users that cannot access content from web audio or video with access to read a text transcript instead. They can contain additional full text versions of the spoken audio content, descriptions, explanations, or comments that may be beneficial.

Not only do transcripts provide a textual version of the content that can be accessed by anyone, but the also allow the content of your multimedia to be more easily indexed and searchable.

A number of companies have emerged that even go so far as to use the caption/transcription file's time-stamping to 'surgically' arrive at a specific point in a video, allowing for precise search and retrieve capacity. The best example of this is a company called - EveryZing, which we tend to cover often at ReelSEO.

So, even if you are doing closed captioning within the video, adding closed captioning to your page, or even better, full text transcript, can do a long way towards search optimization of video content.

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As for what search engines currently use for indexing multimedia content?

  1. Google - According to Google Video their Googlebots actually read through closed caption files. Additionally videos hosted on Google Video can contain closed captions. You can upload your closed captions to Google Video in either .SUB or .SRT format. Both utilize a simple subtitle protocol where every subtitle includes a timecode, the captions and a blank line. For more on putting captions on Google Video hosted videos see their help page.
  2. Yahoo - To date Yahoo Video does not include a Closed Captioning option which some attribute to there being no legal requirement for them to do so. Regardless it leaves them behind in the race.
  3. blinkx - states they go beyond just a caption file and actually do speech recognition, video analysis and conceptual search that they developed in-house in order to index videos. So the full benefit from an SEO varies depending on which search engine you are optimizing for.

How to add Closed Captioning?

This can be a daunting task for the online video newcomer.

You can accomplish this through "embedded captioning," presenting transcripts (text versions of content) on page with the video, external subtitle/caption files, or you can even add an audio file as a separate option for disabled users. For most web video, both captions and a text transcript should be provided. For content that is audio only, then a transcript will usually suffice. However, as we stated above, adding text transcripts can go a long way towards video visibility and searchability.

There are a few ways of placing closed captions with a video when not directly embedded within the video:

  1. Embedded Captioning
    1. 'Open captions' - synchronize it with the video. Open captions include the same text as closed captions, but the captions are a permanent part of the picture, and cannot typically be turned off. The drawback of this is that the text is always shown regardless of whether the user requires it or not.
    2. Closed captions -closed captions that are part of the video file itself.
  2. Link - link to the script of the video (text-based transcript or text-based cc). This link should be located towards the top of the video.
  3. On-page display - offer a means to display the text transcript of captions on the page just below the video.
  4. External subtitle file - utilize an external timed text file or a similar subtitle file.
    1. For video on the web there is a W3C TimedText file format.
    2. There is also SMIL/QTtext for Quicktime and ASX/ASAMI for Windows Media Player.
    3. But if you embed an FLV player with subtitle and closed caption display availability then it would be best to use the W3C format.

So here are some good ways in which to get started:

  1. One option is to download the National Center for Accessible Media's free magPIE. The major drawback is that the installation is somewhat manual and requires a lot of work. You can find the installation instructions along with the application on NCAM's website. magPIE is able to export the text to W3C TimedText as well as the Quicktime and Windows Media formats.
  2. Another free option comes in the form of URUSoft's Subtitle Workshop which also supports the three aforementioned formats as well as many others and over 35 languages. This seems to be a more user friendly option as the installation is straightforward and the application can be easily updated and provides a configurable interface so you can create a layout that is best for you. This might be the best option available at present.
  3. There are also several pay options available including SubBits Subtitler and Captionate for 169€ or $60 respectively. SubBits provides a demo for both Windows and Mac while Captionate does not provide any sort of test code.

I'd love to know what you all think about this post. Does anyone have any metrics that show increases in either traffic or search ranking as a result of adding closed captions? I know that there are tons of examples from using full-text transcripts but there is little information on this subject when it pertains to SEO. I would love your advice…

  • Kimberley Littlemore

    THis is an area we are really interested in at Littlefox Communications... our clients are asking for it so we need to find a good solution. Will let you know how we get on.

  • Mike Michaels

    I try and use live windows media to edit my videos and it never works, all it does is NOT RESPONDING this video B.S. By Microsoft has never ever worked.

  • Nicola Taylor

    Hi Mark, please could you provide a reference for your information regarding:

    "Google – According to Google Video their Googlebots actually read through closed caption files. Additionally videos hosted on Google Video can contain closed captions. You can upload your closed captions to Google Video in either.SUB or.SRT format. Both utilize a simple subtitle protocol where every subtitle includes a timecode, the captions and a blank line."

  • James Douglas

    Good information, thank you.

  • Leonardo David

    hi this is my new web site in the brazil

  • Joost Schrickx

    Thank you for your interesting article. Currently we are executing some practical tests on the effect of closed captions and annotations on the search ranking of a video. (See: An extensive article on the results of this test - (in Dutch) - will be released soon.

  • Bill Hilton

    Thanks very much for all your stuff on closed captions for SEO, Mark. I've just started a big summer project to add captions most, if not all, of my YouTube videos. I'll certainly report back with stats if I begin to see a difference!

  • Sara Croft

    Great post. I did this for for about a year. Here's an easy way around it - create a Notepad with the transcript. Don't bother with timestamps, just write out line by line what the person in the video says. Put spaces and hit "enter" when you want the content to break up the screen so there isn't two full sentences on the screen for someone to read at once. Upload the file manually and BAM you're done! We never found any software that was as easy as this. While it takes time to write out what people say, it was still cheaper and faster.

  • Alex French is worth checking out. You can get captions in just a few minutes for as little as $6.50!

  • data recovery

    Thank you for the useful information. Been looking for ways to add captions to flash videos for a long time now

  • Los Angles Cosmetic Surgery

    This is an amazing feature we hope to adopt for any handicapped clients. We have several instructional videos I want to mitigate to closed caption.
    Thank You

  • Tari Donohu

    Be sure to check out Automatic Sync Technologies' captioning service via email. Takes about 5-7 minutes to get captioning in several file formats for one price. They also provide tutorials on how to lay in the captioning once it's delivered. Great for producers and amateurs.

  • Jason

    I have been spinning my wheels trying to add captions to my flash videos, but gave up and decided to pay 29 bucks for one that also had a playlist at


  • arun kumar

    Hello Mark !! good information ... specifically i like that video

  • Guru99

    Hi Mark Great Post , Very informative. I have a related question . At the beginning of the post you mention that once can take advantage of "ranslation techniques to provide multiple language captions". Can u elaborate how this can be done ?

  • Prem YPI

    Captioning (specially closed) is very important for SEO, but apart from closed captioning. if you talk about youtube, annotations are becoming increasingly useful concept for usability and SEO too.. Google claims to read the annotations for exploring more about the video. Not sure if Yahoo and bing follows the same path.

  • Annette Moulder

    As a curriculum designer, I want to thank you for posting this information. I have been using Captivate with some limited success in providing captioning to our videos. When purchasing videos, I look for captioned videos. When I have to create videos, I write out a script which is then transferred into Captivate. However, the size of the videos can limit whether I can import the video into Captivate or not. As I am not Flash savvy, I was wondering if anyone has found a solution to captioning in Flash? Thanks for the article.

    • Tom Taylor

      with re:to Flash flv captions. Just import your video into Captivate as an flv. Then import a .wav file of the video's audio. In the advanced audio timeline synchronize the flv and .wav. Then add your closed captions using the .wav file as your timing guide. When you are finished highlight all but a very tiny part of the beginning and the end of the .wav file and then insert silence. Publish as usual and there you are. Hope this helps

  • Karen Putz / DeafMom

    Thank you for tackling the captioning topic. Nothing is more frustrating to me than to surf the net and have so many videos, audios and podcasts unaccessible.

    • Guest

      I agree! I am deaf, too, and share the same frustrations with you.