Closed-captioning for YouTube: easy and powerful

Closed Captioning logoOf all the YouTube features that communicators overlook, one of the most valuable is closed captioning.

We’ve been doing it for broadcast TV ads for years, but it’s remarkably easy and powerful on YouTube. By uploading a simple text file, you can have complete control over when closed captions appear, and what they say. That can help you reach hearing-impaired audience members, as well as viewers who’d rather keep their devices muted to avoid disturbing their cubicle-mates.

But closed captioning will even help you reach the folks who crank the subwoofers to 11. That’s because the text in those captions gets read by Google – making closed captioning an essential part of your search engine strategy.

You could just rely on YouTube’s speech recognition technology to transcribe it automatically. But that’s a risky proposition.

Here’s an ad from Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, ending with him saying “I’m Barack Obama, and I approved this message.”

And here’s what YouTube thinks he said:

caption: unbridled bomber rifles this message

You really don’t want your message mangled like that.

Fortunately, uploading a closed-captioning file is quick and easy. Even a plain-text transcript of the words spoken in the video will do the trick. This is one place where YouTube’s speech recognition technology rises to the occasion; it synchronizes the captions for you.

You can force new captions with blank lines, specify background sounds with square brackets, and indicate who’s speaking with angle brackets and the speaker’s name. So your transcript might look something like this:

>> MIKHAILA: It’s about time our union started using closed captioning.

[applause and cheering]

The formatting isn’t hard, it makes our videos more accessible,

and it’s great for SEO.

>> LOUIS: What’s “SEO”?

>> MIKHAILA: Search engine optimization.

>> LOUIS: Oh. Not “squishy eel omelet”?

[crickets chirping]

To upload your transcript file, make sure it’s in plain text. Then:

  1. Choose the video from YouTube’s Video Manager and click “Edit.”
  2. Click the “CC Captions” link in the menu bar across the top.
  3. Click the “Add Captions” button on the next screen.
  4. Select the appropriate language, and then either paste in your transcript or upload the transcript file.

(If you’re feeling more ambitious, or if your video includes particularly complex or unclear audio, Google offers formatting instructions as well as a list of captioning services and software.)

The result? A video that’s accessible to the hearing-impaired, easier to find for all of us, and free of unbridled bombers.

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