Interview with Tim Schmoyer: Adding Captions to YouTube Videos to Increase Views and Engagement

April 11, 2014 BY LILY BOND
Updated: June 3, 2019

Tole Khesin of 3Play Media had a great interview with Tim Schmoyer, the YouTube personality behind VideoCreators and ReelSEO. 3Play Media integrates directly with YouTube to add closed captions and subtitles quickly and easily.

The two had a great conversation about the undervalued benefits of adding captions to YouTube videos. They discussed the main reasons you might want to consider captioning, as well as some suggestions for prioritizing which videos you caption.

Captioning YouTube Videos Increases Views

The first reason you might want to consider captions for your YouTube videos is to increase your views. Obviously results will vary based on the type of content as well as other factors, but YouTube recently conducted a scientific A/B test with one of their channel partners and found that just by adding English captions, they saw a 4% increase in views. This makes intuitive sense, because search engines can’t watch a video. Search engines have to rely on the text metadata, which is usually limited to a title and tags (and sometimes a description field) for a video. YouTube gets a much deeper and broader understanding of what a video is about if you upload captions, which are a complete text representation of the spoken words. This makes for a lot of content: typically, video has 150 spoken words per minute, so even a 5 minute video would have about 750 words, and an hour-long video would have close to 9,000 words. By not adding captions, you are missing out on the benefit of having search engines index that text. Note, too, that captions are indexed by Google, as well as YouTube.

The Effect of Captions on User Engagement

Captions tend to increase engagement, which includes likes, comments, shares, and time watched. Engagement metrics are an important part of determining how your video gets ranked. We’ve been working with Revision3 to study the impact of captioning on their YouTube channels, and one of the preliminary findings is that their engagement metrics for captioned videos have shown a significant uptick compared to the uncaptioned ones. We’re continuing to collect more data on this and will publish it once the study is complete. We’re also conducting studies with some other YouTube channels that show similar trends.

Tim chimed in to note that he’s been finding the same thing: the videos that he has captioned have been performing better than his uncaptioned ones.

User Engagement and Accessibility

One of the main reasons why engagement metrics go up is because captioned videos are accessible to a much broader audience. Often people assume that accessibility is solely an accommodation for people with hearing disabilities, but in reality it covers a lot more ground than that. A recent study published by the BBC concluded that 80% of people who use captions don’t have any hearing impairments whatsoever. In many cases they know English as a second language, and captions help with comprehension. In fact, a lot of people who know English as their primary language use captions, as well, because it makes the content easier to follow. Captions also allow you to watch a video in a sound-sensitive environment like a library or office without having to play the sound. The point here is that captioning your videos makes them accessible to a much broader audience than you may ever know – and certainly accessibility and engagement are high on the list of objectives for every video creator.

How to Prioritize Captioning Your YouTube Videos

What kind of videos benefit most from caption files? Well, that’s a tough question. We tend to think of prioritizing videos for captioning based on your goals for the video rather than the content.

Highest Priority: Videos that require captions by law. This usually includes videos that were broadcast on TV. It may also include videos that are used for educational purposes, or for videos that belong to a federal government agency or to any organization that takes federal subsidies. There are three federal laws that require captioning video content.

2nd Highest Priority: Videos that are public facing and you’re trying to maximize viewership (e.g., product marketing videos). Or, maybe viewership isn’t that important, but the videos are critically important for everyone to be able to consume and understand.

Lowest Priority: Videos that aren’t critical or that are outdated and don’t get much viewership. An example of this would be user-generated content.

On the flip side, some of our customers strategically avoid adding captions to YouTube. Say your YouTube videos are mirrored on your own site, where you’re using a different video platform. If your objective isn’t to maximize viewership, but to monetize your videos, it can only be done on your site. In that case, adding captions to the video on YouTube would actually help YouTube cannibalize traffic from your site. It would make sense to place captions on the video on your site, instead, in that situation.

Comments and Suggestions from Viewers

There have been a lot of really great comments on the video so far, and some of them give good suggestions to consider if you’re thinking of captioning your YouTube videos. One person suggested that if you have a script for the video, you can upload that to create captions, which saves a lot of time. A couple of people brought up that they have had a number of viewers who know English as a second language who have greatly appreciated captions. One even found that, though he added captions because someone had requested it, his viewership from non-English speaking countries grew a lot, and overall his views increased. Another suggestion is to add the option of subtitles, as many YouTube viewers are not from English speaking countries. Finally, one viewer mentioned an important point: keep in mind the quality of your captions. In fact, although YouTube has introduced automatic captions, they are too inaccurate to be indexed by search engines.

Many of these topics will be covered in three subsequent video interviews with Tim Schmoyer, which will air over the next few weeks.

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