Wondering What YouTube Has to Say About Captioning YouTube Videos?

Updated: June 3, 2019

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We spoke with Brad Ellis, a YouTube Product Manager at Google (FYI: YouTube is Google’s video platform), during a session at Streaming Media West.

He explained YouTube’s automatic captioning to us, as well as why captioning is so important. Here’s the low-down:

Why Caption?

Um, why not caption? Google thinks that all video material should be universally accessible, and introduced YouTube automatic captioning so that channels with users who do not upload their own captions will have some level of accessibility – though the consensus is, particularly among accessibility advocates, that auto captions are not accessible. Note also that YouTube’s automatic captions do not get indexed by Google because they are so error prone. The only way for your captions to be indexed is to upload them yourself.

There are three really good reasons to caption: accessibility, searchability, and engagement.

  • ACCESSIBLE: 20% of Americans over age 12 experience significant enough hearing loss that it interferes with daily communication. Not captioning means that your videos are not accessible to 1/5 of your potential audience (in America, at least).
  • SEARCHABLE: Also, Google and other search engines can’t watch a video. Not captioning means that your videos can only be found based on their titles. What about all the incredible keywords and search terms you have in your video? Google has no idea about those.
  • ENGAGING: At its core, captioning helps people understand more. If English is not your viewer’s first language, they’re more likely to follow if there are captions. Regardless, captions help all users engage more, which keeps them watching your video longer – which search engines reward in rankings.

Pros and Cons of Automatic Captioning

So YouTube can caption videos automatically, right? Well … yes. As Brad said in our panel, automatic captions are there because “something is better than nothing.” It’s Google’s way of providing at least a minimum level of captioning to all videos. YouTube’s automatic captions tend to be pretty error prone, but they do provide some level of benefit (accuracy rates can be as high as 80% under good conditions and as poor as 50% under bad conditions%). YouTube does allow users to edit their automated captions, which can improve accuracy a lot, but it takes time and effort. Basically, Brad suggested that the best use of their automatic captions is as a starting point for users to build higher quality captions from.

Another option is to upload captions yourself, which YouTube lets you do quite easily. Uploading high quality captions is the best option for creating highly accessible, searchable videos.

Speaking Of … Can You Search for That?

Well, the bad news is that if you use YouTube’s automatic captions for your video, Google/YouTube does not index them because of their inaccuracy rates. BUT the good news is that there is a way!

If you upload your own captions, Google will index them. That means that all of the content within your videos … can suddenly be found!!!!


Can You Translate That For Me?

Brad told us that 80% of views on YouTube come from outside the US. WHOA. Does that give you an idea of how important captioning is? Without captions, it’s much harder to translate! And if you don’t translate, you’re missing up to 4/5 of your potential audience. At the very least, captions help a lot for people whose first language is not English. Being able to read what is said in the video helps them understand it better.

Also, if you do add translations, your video will pop up when people search for related content in a language other than English! Even better!

So What Should I Do?

The main thing to get out of this is that basically, captioning your videos is really important. How you do that is your choice, but be aware that YouTube’s automated captions are not indexed by search engines and might provide for some pretty humorous takes on your content. However, you can always go in and edit the automated captions to make them better.

Or: we can do the work for you, and you can upload captions that will be indexed by search engines! When we caption YouTube videos (even ones with significant background noise, accents, technical content, music, or multiple speakers), we provide almost 100% accuracy! No fear of vast misinterpretation here.

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