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Video SEO Series: 5 SEO Strategies for Publishing Short-Form Video Transcripts & Captions

  • Everyone wants their content discovered and it seems like everyone is doing video. According to a study by Cisco, 90% of web content will be video by the end of this year. Whether it is a video tutorial, how-to, webinar, podcast or news commentary, many businesses and savvy individuals are hoping to position themselves as industry experts. Video and audio files further this cause; if those that need the information can find it, that is. After all, if a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound? Apply this same logic to your online video content and you’re bound to have some concerns. This article offers five approaches to amplifying the search presence of your short-form videos with the help of transcripts and captions. We define a short-form video as having a duration of 5 minutes or less.

    In this article we describe 5 different ways to add transcripts and captions to your web pages in order to amplify video SEO. These methods are listed in no particular order and often it makes sense to combine them. In most cases it is best to architect your site such that each video has its own web page.

    example of a video transcript in a text box directly on the web page

    Method #1 – Transcript in the Body of the Page

    The simplest option is to place the transcript directly in the body of the video landing page. You can also place the full transcript in a <div> or a re-sizeable <textarea> text box in order to constrain the dimensions on your page. The advantage of this method is that it’s easy to do and maintain. The disadvantages are that it takes up valuable real estate on the page and diverts attention from the video. Another disadvantage is that Google is more likely to classify your page as a text page rather than a video page. A video page has the advantage of being displayed as a rich snippet with a thumbnail in search results, which drastically increases click-through rates.

    Method #2 – Transcript on a Separate Page

    Placing the transcript on a separate web page creates more web pages and opens up new cross-linking opportunities. Not only can you cross link between the video and transcript, but you can also highlight appropriate text in the transcript and link it to relevant pages on your site. This option makes a lot of sense for long-form video transcripts, but can also be done with short-form transcripts.

    Method #3 – Interactive Transcript or Captions Plugin

    Another option is to use an interactive transcript or captions plugin, which can be embedded below or beside the video. These JavaScript plugins display a scrolling transcript and let users search by keyword or click on any word to jump to a specific point in the video. JavaScript plugins are used in combination with <noscript> tags to house the transcript in a way that can be read by search engines.

    example of an interactive transcript

    How <noscript> Tags Help Search Engines Find Your Transcript

    In order for search engines to index your transcript and for you to get the SEO credit, the transcript needs to be visible when you view the web page source. Simply put, Google cannot index anything it can’t read. When you place a JavaScript interactive transcript on your web page, the transcript is not actually visible to search engines because it isn’t hosted on your web page. However, you can easily fix this by placing the transcript inside <noscript> tags after your video. The purpose of these tags is to display alternate content in the event that JavaScript is disabled. Since JavaScript is enabled on 99% of browsers, most users will be able to see and use the plugins. The remaining 1% of users will see a plain transcript. But most importantly, search engines will be able to properly index the content for SEO. 3Play Media simplifies this process by allowing you to automatically append your transcript housed in <noscript> tags to the plugin embed code.

    Can Google See Your Transcript?

    Perform the exercise below to double-check that your video transcript is exposed to Google.

    1. Right click on any page containing an interactive transcript or captions plugin.
    2. Select View Page Source.
    3. Looking at the code, use the find function (CTRL-F) to scan the code for a phrase from your transcript.

    If you can find your phrase, your transcript is contained in your source code and searchable by Google bots.

    Method #4 – Add Video Markup for Schema (New!)

    Last year Google, in collaboration with Bing and Yahoo, announced support for schema.org video markup. This allows video publishers to add video metadata directly in the body of the HTML. Schema markup is not visible to users, but is readily indexable by search engines. The standard schema markup uses the VideoObject to assist Google in understanding what the video content is about.

    The VideoObject supports a number of properties, including the ability to add a transcript. The schema markup example below shows how a video transcript can be added to a video embed code.

    <div itemprop="video" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/VideoObject">
        <h2>Video: <span itemprop="name">Video title</span></h2>
        <meta itemprop="duration" content="T1M20S" />
        <meta itemprop="thumbnail" content="thumbnail.jpg" />
        <meta itemprop="transcript" content="Text of the transcript goes here" />
        <object ...>
        <param ...>
        <embed type="application/x-shockwave-flash" ...>
        <span itemprop="description">Description of the video</span>

    One significant advantage of adding schema markup is that it facilitates having multiple videos (and their respective transcripts) on a single web page. We typically recommend that each video should be placed on its own web page in part because video sitemaps make it difficult to index multiple videos on one page. However, video schema markup could be an effective workaround, especially in the case where you have multiple videos aligned on a specific topic (i.e. the web page title, description, and surrounding content apply perfectly to all the videos on one page).

    Note that schema video markup does not replace a video sitemap, which is still the most reliable way for Google to discover and index your videos.

    Method #5 – Add Video Captions in HTML5 (Emerging Standard)

    HTML5 is a major step forward for standardizing video across web browsers and devices. Emerging HTML5 standards will make it much easier to add captions as metadata and for accessibility. HTML5 natively supports video without the need for third party plugins. A video can be added to a web page using the <video> element, which makes it almost as simple as adding an image. The <track> element can then be used to display closed captions, subtitles, text video descriptions, chapter markers, or other time-aligned metadata.

    The HTML code below shows how these elements work:

    <video  width="320" height="240">
      <source type="video/mp4" src="my_video_file.mp4" >
      <track src="captions_file.vtt" label="English captions" kind="captions" srclang="en-us" default >

    One of the great advantages of adding captions as metadata is that search engines will be able to index not only the text, but also the associated time codes. This will enable search engines to return search results that point to a specific part of a video (i.e. deep link).

    Although the <video> element is already supported by most browsers, the <track> element is not yet ready for use. The standards are still being refined and it’s now up to the browser developers (Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, and Apple) to adopt them and build in the functionality. That will take some time. The recommended release was set for 2014 and the hope is that it will gain web-wide adoption over the subsequent few years.

8 Responses to Video SEO Series: 5 SEO Strategies for Publishing Short-Form Video Transcripts & Captions

  1. Katherine says:

    Do you have any examples of sites where method #2 has been used?

  2. Maxx Heth says:

    I think a good workaround for loading a transcript onto a page would be to place it within a clickable tab using shortcode so that the user can open it up and read it if need be.

    And the fact that you’re not trying to hide the text using sketchy font-sizing or the “display:none” attribute means that Google won’t force your website to cross through the seven circles of Google hell with a bunch of rabid, pissed-off penguins and pandas at your heels.

    (I guess if you’re a Javascript or CSS wizard, maybe you have a better solution, but for us mere mortals, shortcode’s the way to go…=D)

    I came across an excellent article that lists some awesome shortcode plugins for WordPress. There are a lot, but if you want to keep it simple, I highly recommend checking out both Arconix and Shortcodes Ultimate.

    Anyhow, nice job on the article, Shannon! Will be integrating quite a bit of video content into my website pretty soon, so I’ll be coming back to this page quite often. Cheers!

  3. javier garcia says:

    I want to implement schema markup on my videos but I am worried since it’s not being displayed on the page, it’s different of what the search engine sees. I don’t want to get penalized by Google for having “hidden” content.

    Does anyone know if this would be the case?

    • Tole Khesin says:

      Hi Javier,

      Schema markup is not visible on the page, but it is visible to search engines. It is not considered hidden content and does not get penalized. In fact, Google encourages the use of schema markup because it helps them to properly index content.

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