Born profoundly deaf, I’ve depended on captioned videos since getting my first big clunky decoder in 1983. It was a box about the size of the older VHS and DVD players.
Back then, captioned shows and movies were hard to find. Few things excited me more than seeing the caption symbol on the cover of a movie or at the start of a TV show.
Thankfully, they’re easy to find when it comes to TV networks, streaming services, and movies.
But the same can’t be said for the many, many videos companies and individuals put out on YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, and elsewhere.
In recent years, captioning has gotten so much easier and more affordable. This guide will dive into why captioning matters, how it provides a huge ROI, 10 rules for creating great captioned videos, and how to caption your videos.
Captions Guide Table of Contents
- Why you want to caption your videos
- Statistics about captions
- 10 Rules of Great Captions
- Caption Videos FAQ
- Software to add captions
- Other Caption Topics
- 3 C’s of successful videos
- When you can’t caption a video
- How to turn on captions: Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube
- How to caption videos with YouTube (Separate post)
- Upload a caption file on YouTube (Separate post)
- Automatically caption videos on Facebook
- Caption videos with
- Add closed-captions on a LinkedIn video
- Fix SRT error on LinkedIn
6 Reasons Why You Want to Caption Your Videos
Do you caption your videos? Why or why not?
World Health Organization reports that more than 5 percent of the world’s population is deaf or hard of hearing. [Source WHO]
And guess what.
The main users of captioned videos are NOT the deaf and hard of hearing! So, captioning your videos reaches far more than those who are deaf like me.
For some businesses, accessibility isn’t enough of a reason to add captions. But you know what? Accessibility can make you a profit as you can learn in this video.
Though it’s the right thing to do and good for business, they still want reasons that help them reach as many people as possible and yield ROI.
Here are six reasons you want to caption your videos.
1. Reach far more than the deaf and HoH
An OfCom survey has found that 80 percent of the people who use captions are not deaf or hard of hearing. Many people who aren’t deaf or hard of hearing tell me they don’t watch videos with sound. Part of this is because more people are watching videos in public without their headphones. LinkedIn finds that 80 percent of video views occur with the sound off.
A study by Verizon Media and Publicis Media reveals that 69 percent of people view videos without sound in public places. What about when they’re in private places? Still, one-quarter watch videos without sound.
2. Clarify what the speaker says
Sometimes other noises get in the way or the person may have an accent like I do.
Friends and colleagues tell me they turn on the captions when watching videos because they catch more of what’s said. They say that some programs have actors or speakers who are hard to understand. Or there’s a lot of noise interfering with the voices.
3. Capture more viewers
Just like everyone has a different learning style that works, everyone has a different preference for how they like to watch videos.
- Some prefer sound only.
- Some prefer captions only.
- Some prefer the text only. (The text that accompanies the video.)
- Some like two or all three options.
You give people options for consuming content, thus giving you greater reach.
4. Helps viewer focus
In Why Gen Z Loves Closed-Captions, Lance Ulanoff explains how Gen Z tends to multitask. Captions help them focus. This is especially true for people with ADHD and auditory processing disorders.
Gen Z also likes captions because they can text while they watch. For many folks, captions help them catch things they miss without going back.
5. Boosts overall brand awareness by almost 19%
Captions increase brand awareness by 18.8 percent according to research from AdColony and Millward Brown. Furthermore, a LinkedIn survey reports that marketers’ No. 2 priority is to build brand awareness, only 1 percent behind the No. 1 — no surprise! — the priority of driving more leads.
Several companies have been hit by not one, but two lawsuits. It hurts their reputation as customers boycott their brand. And adding captions costs very little compared to the cost of a lawsuit.
6. Benefit from search engine optimization
This only applies videos that contain a text file — such as .SRT — with the captions. You can caption one of two ways: open or closed. And in some cases, SEO does not matter. For example, posting a video on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Tik Tok.
Open captions are also known as burned-in or permanent captions. They always show up on the video. You can’t turn them off and on. The captions turn into an image. The viewer can control the captions. If the captions aren’t readable, they’ll move on.
The advantage of open captions is the captions always work. You don’t have to upload a second file (the SRT text file). Not everyone has captions turned on, so they may not realize a video is captioned.
Closed captions only appear if you have the captions turned on. Unlike with open captions. anyone who doesn’t want captions can turn them off. Many video services allow you to change the font, color, and style of captions.
They also require a text-based file like the .SRT file to work. The text file has time codes to tell the video when to show each line of captions. Search engines can read this text file, which optimizes your video for search engines.
For a deeper dive into this topic, see What You Need to Know About Types of Captions.
For me, I choose open captions over SEO. Why? Because captions have disappeared or not shown up for the viewer. That’s unacceptable.
There are many more reasons, such as helping second language learners. When a company says its target audience has no deaf people or second language learners, here are six reasons that do apply to them.
Statistics About Captions
- 80% of the people who use captions are not deaf or HoH. [Source: 3PlayMedia and OfCom]
- 80% of viewers react negatively to videos
autoplayingwith sound. So now, many social media outlets now autoplay videos on silent[Source: Facebook]
- 80% of video views on LinkedIn occur with the sound
- Video content designed for silent viewing is 70% more likely to be watched all the way through to the end [Source: LinkedIn]
- Increases overall brand awareness by 19% [Source: AdTechDaily]
- 40% using Instastories have the sound
- A study by Verizon Media and Publicis Media found that 69% of people view videos without sound when they are in public places and 25% in private
- 80% more likely to watch the entire video with captions available [Source: Verizon Media]
- Increases engagement [Source: Instapage]
- Avoid potential lawsuits and negative publicity [Source: The Hollywood Reporter]
- Awesome captions data charts from 3PlayMedia
- Gen Z prefers captions: no stats, but here’s why.
10 Rules You Need to Create Great Captioned Videos
Before reading the #Caption10, what do you think makes good or bad captions in videos? Please share it in the comments!
With more do-it-yourself software hitting the market to caption videos, we’re seeing a new problem. And that’s the quality of the captions. Yes, we want more videos with captions. However, it sometimes interferes with the user experience.
When you watch captions for decades, you learn what works and what doesn’t work. The key to great captions is invisibility.
Invisibility? Meryl, are you kidding me? If they’re not there, how can you read them?
By invisibility, I mean that I won’t notice anything about them.
If I notice something about the captions, that’s usually not a good sign.
Captions up top? I notice. (Unless it’s when the credits appear.)
Captions hard to read? I notice and quit watching.
Captions riddled with typos and clearly inaccurate? I notice and quit watching.
You get the idea.
Even though it’s been more than 30 years since I got hooked on the Carrington and Colby family feuds on “Dynasty,” the components of excellent captions haven’t changed much.
That’s because simple works.
And simple leads to effortless captions.
Why Good Captioned Videos Are Important shows you some of these #Caption10 rules in side-by-side videos. One video follows the rule. One breaks it. See what a difference great captions make.
(If you want to watch all the videos of the 10 rules, jump here.)
If you only follow one rule, make it this one:
*** Captions should be readable ***
If they’re not readable, nothing else matters.
The accuracy, the position, nothing.
Four things factor into readability:
Small captions can be tiring to read even for people who don’t wear glasses.
Large captions can cover up too much of the video.
Goldilocks learned the hard way. You want to aim for just-right, not too big or too small.
The key is contrast.
White text with no background can make or break the readability.
The thin, white font strains the eyes because it tends to blend with the background. Like in this example.
The interesting thing about this example is that if you expand the video to full size, the readability is so much better.
Remember to check your captions on small and large screens. People may be watching on mobile devices. Or they don’t expand the screen to full size.
A little bigger, a little bolder white font can work because there’s enough contrast like this one:
I’ve seen some videos with more than one color in the captions.
The recommendation is to use one color mainly because many people are colorblind.
According to the National Institute of Health, about 8 percent of men have red-green color blindness.
Using one color ensures a consistent and effortless reading experience.
Remember, captions need to be invisible. People will notice the captions when it has more than one color. You want viewers to grasp what the captions say, not what they look like.
Background is the color behind the text. Standard captions use a black background with white text. It works well.
It’s my personal favorite.
But some think it hides too much of the video.
A possible compromise is to use a transparent background like this one.
After creating the video, I saw a video with transparent captions. The action behind the transparency from the person’s movements distracted me so much that I missed the content.
If you use transparency, use it wisely. Verify nothing behind the captions distracts the viewer.
White font and black background work well because of the strong contrast and muted colors. Some colored backgrounds like red and yellow feel harsh.
In short, A solid background *beats* a transparent one. Those using standard captions with an .SRT file may have slight transparency. And that’s OK.
The Goldilocks rule applies to fonts too. The font needs balance in that it’s neither too thin or too thick that the letters blend together.
As for the font style, aim for simplicity because fancy fonts can hurt readability.
Captions will never win beauty contests because pretty and colorful defeats their purpose.
The readability of great captions are effortless. It allows the viewer to quickly read the captions while watching the action on the screen.
That’s why readability is the No. 1 rule of great captions.
Why does readability get dibs on No. 1 over accuracy in captions???
Because accuracy won’t matter if it’s not readable.
So, No. 2 of #Caption10 to create great captions is Accuracy.
Great captions correctly capture everything that’s said word-for-word. Even bad words. Would you believe some captions have swapped out bad words with clean words?
Accuracy also means completeness. I’ve seen captions that paraphrase what’s actually said instead of showing every word. The paraphrasing misses important things.
Why should the viewer reading captions get a different script than those listening?
They lead to a confusing and tiresome user experience because the viewer must work harder to figure out what’s said. It’s not simply filling in the blanks of a word here or there.
In her awesome weekly Marketing Minute tip email, Marcia Yudkin shared a story about an ad that claimed: “Learn 80% of Chinese in 3 months.” Even if this is true, this is a terrible accuracy rate.
She gave the following example:
“That’s two out of every ten _____ that are _____.”
“It’s the 20 percent missing words there that indicate the real meaning, the critic said, and if that’s as far as you’ve gotten, you’re barely out of the gate,” Yudkin wrote. “You’re not amazingly near the finish line at all.”
I assure you I did not say birth disrupting the utopian. Sounds like a bad scene from The Handmaid’s Tale.
That’s why it’s better to skip watching a video with autocraptions otherwise a person walks away frustrated from a lousy captioning experience.
You can use automatic caption files as a starting point. They can save time for some folks and reduce editing time.
Damn (sorry, y’all!) good captioning is about capturing everything that’s said correctly. When captions show everything that’s said and happening, we enjoy the experience knowing that we’re getting the same experience as those listening.
Muddled and incomplete captions create a crummy experience.
That’s why Rule No. 2 of good captions is accurate.
*** Just say no to autocraptions ***
Yes, we can tell when the captions are not in sync with what’s being said even with the sound off. That’s why the third element of #Caption10 for creating great captions is synchronized.
It could be the captions do not match what’s happening on the screen.
It could be the speaker’s lips say something completely different than what the captions show.
You want to ensure the timing follows the action as closely as possible. YouTube makes it easy to set the timings with its slider tool.
If you watch the video … wait until you see the example clip. Boy, talk about a headache. If you want to challenge yourself, turn the sound off.
I tell ya, when the captions and the video are out of sync, it’s dizzying whether or not you can hear it. Your eyes see one thing happening, but the captions say something else.
That’s why Rule No. 3 of great captions is synchronized.
You want to ensure the timing follows the action as closely as possible.
Clip source: ABC’s 20/20 “The Dropout”
Yes, size matters …
Really, really matters …
… in great captions
Oh … my … goodness! I’ve seen some videos that use an app, which shows the captions …
Here’s a short clip.
Mine is slower than some of the one-word-at-a-time captioned videos I’ve seen. Picture a two-minute video showing captions one word at a time … FAST.
Exhausting! Even for fast readers.
It takes away from the video. You’re so focused on following the captions that you ignore the action on the screen. It also makes it harder to take in the message.
Then there’s the opposite problem. Captions that run 3, 4, 5 lines long and take up the entire length of the screen. It’s easy to lose your place. They disrupt the experience.
Check out the next example.
This one block of captions would work better when split up into four blocks.
You also want to avoid making them so wide that they take up the full length of the screen.
The reason you want them shorter is that it keeps you from losing your place or reading from the far left side to the far right side like you’re watching a long tennis match.
Good captions tend to run about one or two lines long with up to 60 characters. Viewers follow along better. Bonus points if you make the two lines about even in length depending on the text as per the next tip.
Another tip discovered after the filming series: watch where you cut-off the captions.
Let’s say you have one or two lines of captions. And the last word is of, to, the, and, or something similar that leaves you hanging. Try to avoid leaving people hanging by ending with a preposition, conjunction, or another short word.
Sometimes, the top line may be longer. And sometimes the bottom line is longer. It depends on the cut-off. They don’t have to be identical in length, just balanced.
Here are two examples where the two lines are NOT balanced.
You can make these two lines more even by inserting a break to split the captions like this:
I overcame the first one
by making a short video.
The second one is better but could use a little more tweaking by moving “about” to the second line. First, because it’s a preposition. Second, because it’ll make the two lines more even.
Also, check your captions on a mobile device. (I need to work on this!) They sometimes turn a two-line caption into three. Here’s an example of how two-line captions went to three on mobile. It was not like this on a monitor.
I now make both lines shorter to avoid the mobile problem of it turning into three lines. Then, I check it on mobile to ensure it looks right.
I just finished re-captioning one of my first videos because it had too many characters 😱 I’ve learned a lot about captioning since I first started creating videos.
How long should captions be? The rule of thumb is fewer than 60 characters.
But who has time to count all the characters in all the captions?! Copy, paste, and do word count take too long! 👎👎👎
Great news! Here are two shortcuts to figuring out if your captions are short enough.
Get a 3″ x 5″ index card and mark one inch from both sides. Or cut a strip of paper that’s three inches (7.62 cm) long. (You may have to test and adjust based on your caption app.) 📏
Put the strip of paper on the screen where the captions are to see if they stay inside. If they hang over, then it has too many characters or the line is too long 📏
Tested this and it worked great. The longest line was 63 characters. Good deal! 🙌🙌🙌
Deborah Edwards-Onoro uses another method. She set up a text editor to hold 60 characters and uses that as her guide. Great tip, Deborah!
So yes, size matters in good captions? That’s why length is Rule No. 4 in the #Caption10.
Do you like
In captions, of course!
Like size … position matters … in great captions!
Where the captions appear on the video matters. And It needs to be consistent.
I’ve seen videos with captions shifting for no reason. This hurts the user experience.
When you use a text file with captions, the text appears on the bottom. It’s standard because it works.
It places the captions below people’s faces. So, the captions are closer to the mouth. And the eyes naturally look upward to view the entire screen.
But when captions show up top, When eyes look upward, they’ll see nothing.
You won’t find data on this. It’s not scientific. When you’ve watched captions for decades, you’ve seen it all.
Captions at the top disrupt the experience. I notice them when they’re up top and feel like I’m missing out on the video action.
Here’s an example.
Yes, there are valid exceptions as you’ll see in No. 7.
You want to stay consistent and keep the captions in one place for the entire video. And the best place tends to be on the bottom.
In an informal survey, everyone has picked the bottom. No one has said top. Some people didn’t have an opinion until seeing the video.
Recently, I caught a video with captions in the middle! The middle! It totally wreaked havoc on the viewing experience!
Not because it’s always been done that way, but our eyes get the best experience reading on the bottom while catching the action.
People viewing your video may have the sound off.
Or they can’t hear it.
Sound plays a critical role in video.
- It foreshadows.
- It reveals what’s happening.
- It explains why someone reacts.
- It makes us dance.
- And so much more.
A simple way to indicate a sound is to put it in [brackets].
This clip shows laughter, music, a phone ringing, and even moves the captions up top during the credits.
It also shows two speakers in one scene.
Take a look.
See how much the captions communicated just by highlighting all the sounds?
Would you believe there are times when a song plays with lyrics, but the captions show nothing or just musical notes? <headdesk>
That’s a surefire way to have unhappy viewers.
But of course, you want to make them happy.
Just caption those sounds and it’ll be music to their ears!
Although I covered this a little bit in the fifth rule, which is position — credits deserve its own rule!
Position covers where the captions show up. Some videos have the captions shifting up and down, left and right, for no reason. There are no credits.
Even when reading the captions, the viewer wants to see credits and any other non-captioned text too.
Way back in 1980-something, I recorded a musical special.
When I watched it, my heart sank.
Fort Worth had bad weather that night.
Naturally, the local station scrolled the weather report on the bottom of the screen.
The captions disappeared.
Now when I watch it all these years later, I still get this weather report and no captions!
The trick is to ensure the captions and the text don’t overlap each other.
A lot of captioning apps put the captions on the bottom.
In this case, you’ll want to put credits or text up top or somewhere that’s logical without hiding behind the captions.
Generally, the credits end up in the bottom and the captions move up top … temporarily.
Here’s how many TV shows do it. It works great.
Again, the important thing is to let viewers see both ✌️
Clip source: ABC’s Modern Family
I shall attempt to speak with a British accent. [Does not sound British #accentfail]
That’s why voice plays an important role in captions.
Voice refers to voice changes. Not who is speaking, but how a person speaks.
Voice changes can reveal when someone …
- Imitates a person, character, or something else
- Talks hoarsely
- Changes their tone of voice
- Uses a different accent
- Screams. A big deal in horror films
The best way to explain it is by sharing these two clips in which one character claims she can do five ranges.
You might want to turn your sound off for the full effect.
Watch what happens.
See what a difference captions make to someone watching it without sound?
I’ve seen captions that reveal a character imitating a person or something else like in this clip.
A voice changes for a reason. And viewers need to know when this happens.
That’s why the eighth rule of the #Caption10 series on how to create great captions is
So caption those voice changes to keep everyone in the loop.
What are some other ways you might use captions with voice changes?
Who said that?!
There are times when it’s not clear who’s talking on the video.
Sometimes the speaker isn’t on-screen or two people speak and the captions show dialog from both in one shot.
Here are two different ways the captions show this.
The first clip uses a person’s name.
Take a look.
The second one puts the captions underneath the speaker.
Letting viewers know who speaks the line is important.
You have different ways to show this with captions.
- Use a
person’s name like this:
- [Caesar: To be or not to be]
- [Brutus sighs]
- Put the captions under the speaker.
two different speakers with a dash as in:
- Are you hungry?
Speaker identification tells us …
- Who apologizes.
- Who is singing.
- Who cracked a joke.
- Who is acting like a villain.
Clip source: ABC’s Modern Family
Live show captions …
Suck … (I’m sorry for such a strong word, but it’s the truth.)
Every year, I look forward to one live TV show.
The Thanksgiving Parade.
What I love about it is watching the performances from the musicals playing on Broadway.
While watching, I do this almost every year.
Because the captions almost always mess up.
Part of the problem is that it’s live. Live shows come with their own challenges.
The other part is that it uses scrolling captions, a caption style commonly used in live programs.
This is one of two styles of how captions flow.
The other is more common and that’s the pop-in. [Crowd cheers]
This video uses pop-in. The entire line or two of captions pops in and stays until I finish saying what you see. Then, it disappears.
In talking to other caption users, the consensus is we prefer pop-in.
But we know sometimes … scroll happens.
A lot of us quit watching live TV because of the flaws and the frustration with scrolling captions. They tend to create a bad user experience.
It’s very hard to get it right.
The problem with scrolling captions is they create a bad user experience.
I looked high and low for a good example of scrolling captions. It took a friend to find this. Thanks, Lee!
Have a look.
Not an exciting topic, but the captions were great for scrolling captions.
If you use scrolling captions, ensure they have these four factors:
- Move from left to right and top to bottom. (Get this! There have been times when the captions moved up. It was dizzying!)
- Keep up with the sound.
- Scroll smoothly.
- Do not fade-in or fade-out.
Why no fading? Because the animation from fading adds friction to the caption experience.
Many times in this series, I mention that good captions are simple and effortless.
The animation from fading adds friction to the caption experience.
As for examples of bad scrolling. They weren’t hard to find.
As you watch these clips, think about the problems you see in the captions.
Here we go.
Can you handle another one?!?
Are you sure?!
Pretty painful, eh? Bet you spotted a lot more problems than the scrolling.
To do scrolling effectively requires satisfying a lot of requirements.
Make it easier on yourself with good old-fashioned pop-in captions.
As hard as the captions try, I won’t let them stop me from watching that Thanksgiving parade!
Make it easier on yourself and stick with good old-fashioned pop-in captions.
Whichever you choose (hint: pop-in!), thank you for captioning your videos. That’s what matters most.
When you post a captioned video online, be sure to add #Captioned so we can find it!
I hope you’ve found the #Caption10 series helpful.
Caption Video FAQ
Thank you for your interest in captioning videos! When you caption videos, You’ll be rewarded with more video views because those with captions reach more viewers than those without captions.
- Who uses captions?
- How do I add captions to videos?
- What is an SRT file?
- A service created captions, but my video doesn’t have captions!
- I uploaded
a videowith SRT, but no captions?
- What are open captions and closed captions?
- Are subtitles and captions the same thing?
- Why isn’t automatic captioning good enough?
Who uses video captions?
Believe it or not, it’s not just the deaf or hard of hearing who use captions. In fact, 80 percent of the people who use captions are not deaf or hard of hearing per 3PlayMedia and OfCom. More and more statistics about captions keep coming out that show many watch videos without sound.
Here are a few more:
- 80% of viewers react negatively to videos
autoplayingwith sound. So now, many social media outlets now autoplay videos on silent. [Source: Facebook]
- 80% of video views on LinkedIn occur with the sound
- 40% using Instastories have the sound
- 80% more likely to watch the entire video with captions available [Source: Verizon Media]
It’s odd how many of the statistics have 80 percent, but that’s what they say.
How do I add caption videos?
Well, you have options. The best one depends on your equipment, budget, and time commitment.
1. Caption service
There are companies that can caption your video for you. Some send you the caption text file, typically an SRT file. In this case, you will need two files to ensure the captions show up. The two files are the video itself and the SRT file. This is called closed-captions.
Some captioning services send your video with the captions glued on. (This is called open captions.) In other words, you don’t need the SRT file to display the captions. Just upload the video and the captions are there.
2. Automatic captioning tool or software
Sites like YouTube and Facebook can automatically caption your video. But this is not as accurate as human captioning. Some people let the service automatically caption the video and then they edit the captions.
People with accents like mine require a lot of editing. So, I prefer to do the captions in YouTube myself or upload a script when I have one. YouTube does a decent job setting the timings.
Tools like iClips (iOS) and AutoCap (Android) automatically caption your videos. They’re also not 100 percent accurate.
Like any other tool or software, each one has features, strengths, and weaknesses. Here’s a list of captioning software and services to help.
What is an SRT file?
A file with SRT extension is a subrip subtitle file. It’s like a text file. You can open it in a text editor to see its contents.
This file contains the text for the captions. It shows the sequence of the captions along with the start and end timecode. This indicates when the captions should show up on the video.
Here’s what the text in an SRT file looks like:
1 00:00:00,200 --> 00:00:02,560 Hey, y'all! Meryl Evans here 2 00:00:02,560 --> 00:00:05,700 with a caption #ValueIn30 tip. 3 00:00:05,700 --> 00:00:10,940 One of the rules of great captions is synchronized.
Notice the last entry has one line of captions. That’s how it will show up in the video. And that’s a tad too long. You can simply put the cursor after “great” and hit “Enter” to break it like this:
3 00:00:05,700 --> 00:00:10,940 One of the rules of great captions is synchronized.
And it’ll be more readable. You can edit the text file to improve the readability.
I used a service that created the SRT file, but my video doesn’t have captions! What happened?
Most likely, when you uploaded the video, it didn’t have the SRT file with it. When you upload it to a site like LinkedIn or YouTube, you upload the SRT file with it.
When you schedule to post a video using a social media scheduling tool, it will post it without the captions. I have not seen a social media scheduler that allows you to add the video and the caption file. If I’m wrong, let me know!
I uploaded the video and SRT file, but there are no captions! Why?
- The file “fell off.” This has happened to me on LinkedIn. I posted it. The captions worked. Then a few days later, the captions disappeared. This is where open captions have an advantage.
- The person viewing it does not have captions turned on in the settings of their device or Mac. Yes, it takes two steps to turn on closed-captions on a phone. First, turn on the captions in the phone’s Settings. Second, turn on the captions in the video.
What are open captions? Closed-captions?
Open captions are burned-in the video. It’s permanent. You cannot turn it off and on.
In closed-captioned videos, captions appear if you have them turned on. Another benefit is that search engines can read the captions.
Should I use open captions or closed captions?
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes open vs. closed captions. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Open captions ensure they show up no matter what.
Closed-captions are not always there for many reasons. The caption file could’ve been swallowed up into the void (that’s what happened a few times on LinkedIn). The user may not have captions turned on in accessibility. The viewer may not know how to turn them on.
Are subtitles and captions the same thing?
Yes and no.
Some countries refer to captions as “subtitles.” They never use the term “captions.”
Subtitles refer to the translated text in a foreign film. If the viewer’s first language in English and the movie is in Spanish, the subtitles display Spanish dialog in English.
Get this. If someone speaks English in the Spanish movie, the subtitles disappear. They don’t show English dialog at all.
Captions show everything including English and Spanish dialog, sounds, voice changes, etc.
Whether your video contains one or multiple languages, caption everything to provide the best viewing experience.
Why isn’t automatic captioning good enough to caption videos?
You should see all the autocraptions (automatic craptions) on the videos I upload to YouTube.
“As you’ll find, YouTube’s captioning doesn’t always get it right. In fact, accuracy rates can be as high as 80 percent under good conditions and as poor as 50 percent under bad conditions,” writes 3Play Media.
If your video is lucky enough to get the 80 percent accuracy rate, is it good enough? It’s better than no captions, right?
Uh … no.
Here are random sentences pulled from various posts with 20 percent of the text removed. Instead of blanks like these, you get completely different words with
- “For years we’ve heard the question ‘____ your ____?'”
- “When you’re too deep in the _____, you often can’t see _____.”
- “Thanks to everyone who gave me a _____ of their _____.”
- “Eighty percent of the people who use _____ are not _____.”
Just how much can you comprehend with 80 percent of the captions or text?
And the reality is that automatic captions don’t achieve an 80 percent accuracy rate especially not with me. Oh, no. More like 50 percent or worse!
That said, would you say an 80 percent accuracy rate is good enough? Better than no captions?
Or does it turn reading captions into a frustrating experience that the viewer is better off without autocraptions? Many of us quit watching out of frustration.
What are the best practices for captioning videos?
Excellent question. Here are the 10 rules of great captions!
Didn’t answer your question? Drop me a line.
What Software Can I Use to Caption Videos?
A lot of people ask me how to caption their videos. What do I use? Personally, I use YouTube’s
transcription subtitles tool. It’s free and provides an excellent user experience. When I finish captioning the video, I download the text file. And then I upload that text file with my video.
That would make it a closed-caption video.
Here’s what’s available. If anything is missing, contact me so I can add it to the list.
Audio or Video to Text
- Adobe After Effects
- Adobe Premiere
- AHD Subtitles Maker (Win)
- Aegisub (Mac and Win)
- CADET (Mac and Win)
- Davinci Resolve
- DivZLand (Win)
- Final Cut Pro (Mac)
- Format Factory (burns in captions with SRT file)
- Handbrake (burns in captions with SRT file)
- Jubler (Mac)
- Movavi (Mac and Win)
- MovieCaptioner by synchrimedia.com (Mac and Win)
- SpeedScriber.com (Mac)
- Subshifter (Shift all the timestamps in a caption file such as cutting out a scene)
- VisualSubSync (Win)
- Wondershare Filmora
Quicc(works with iOS and Android devices)
- Subtitle Edit online
- Subtitle Horse
- Take 1 Transcription
- Take 1 Video
- Y Translator
Special Caption Topics
What’s the Difference Between Subtitles and Captions?
Although some people say “subtitles” when they mean “captions,” they’re not the same thing. English spoken outside of the U.S. typically refers to captions as subtitles, which is one reason why so many use captions and subtitles interchangeably.
This applies to subtitles that convert spoken foreign language into the viewer’s language.
Subtitles do not show sounds or voice changes. They don’t identify speakers when it’s not obvious. And they don’t show the words when the speaker speaks the same language as the viewer.
Subtitles only show the translation of what the speaker says. Nothing more.
Here’s a unique situation that’s a reverse of what usually happens with subtitles.
So, viewers still need captions in subtitled programs to cover the gaps.
Fortunately, many TV programs and movies are good about it.
Still, captions and subtitles run into problems:
- Captions overlap the subtitles.
- Subtitles are not always readable.
- Subtitles cannot always work alone.
Three things that make great subtitles and captions:
- Are easy to read
- Play well with each other
- Leave no gaps (Captions should cover anything subtitles don’t)
When you apply these three things, your viewers will be happy!
Open Vs. Closed-Captions
There’s no right or wrong answer here as long as the captions are readable, accurate, synchronized, and all the other factors covered in the #Caption10 Rules.
You want to know about both to help you decide which is better for your video.
They have a little war going on like the Cola war between Coke and Pepsi wars. Some folks are passionate about one over the other.
So, the two types of captions are open and closed.
Open is burned-in. It’s permanent.
Closed only appears if you have captions turned on.
Before we dig in, a couple of points. One is that the apps that add captions to video vary on their features.
Some give you more options than others.
Some give you more control than others.
So, this will cover general differences.
Let’s start with open captions.
One plus is that these always show up on the video.
You won’t have to worry about whether the captions work. Sometimes, a social network or website has a glitch that won’t let you upload the caption file. This isn’t a problem with open captions.
Depending on the app you use, it may give you more control over the placement and look of captions.
Another plus is that you don’t have to take the extra step of uploading the text file along with the video. I once had a caption file disappear weeks after I originally uploaded it. (It worked for at least two weeks.)
Viewers can see the captions no matter what. But for some people, this is a drawback. Not everyone wants captions. You can’t turn off open captions.
It’s also not optimized for search engines. Search engines can’t read burned-in captions like they can read a text file.
The other downside is that open captions may not be readable. Remember, some people may view your captions on a mobile device.
The No. 1 rule for great captions is readability. So, check your captions on various screen sizes as well as when the video is small and full-screen.
Text-based captions known as closed-captions don’t run into this problem.
The default is a white font with a black background. They get bigger and smaller when you resize the screen.
Closed-captions require a second file. It’s a text file with a time code. The time code tells the captions when to appear on the video.
Closed-captions also have one huge advantage.
Search. Engine. Optimization.
Because the captions appear in a text file, the search engine can read the captions.
That’s music to marketing’s ears.
Of course, SEO is not always important. For me, captions showing up is No. 1. LinkedIn has lost my caption SRT file at least twice. (And it worked for at least one or two days.) This is unacceptable. So, I started posting videos with open captions.
The other upside of closed-captions is that some networks or services allow you to pick the font, style, and color. Not all of them do.
LinkedIn doesn’t. But Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, and all the major video networks do.
Closed-captions have a standard look and
The disadvantage is that sometimes people may not realize the video is captioned because they don’t have captions turned on. To view captions on mobile requires going into the mobile device’s Settings > Accessibility and turning on the captions.
Not everyone knows to do this. Hopefully, the mobile operating systems will receive an update so that people can see the CC button even if their Accessibility settings aren’t set for closed-captions.
Here’s a clip that uses both open and closed captions. Can you figure out which is which? Take a look.
Did you figure it out?
So, back to the Cola wars. Which do you prefer? Open or closed-captions and why? Please let me know in the comments below.
Captions Revealing Secrets
Should captions reveal secrets?
Sometimes the speaker isn’t on screen, so the captions identify the speaker by name.
That makes sense because most people recognize the voice and know who is talking. Therefore, it makes sense to let the caption viewers know.
But here’s an example when the captions gave away the secret.
“Motown 60: A Grammy Celebration” talked about how Berry Gordy wanted songs that hooked you in the first four bars and keep you listening. That’s when he knew he had a hit.
So, the show put it to the test and challenged the audience and viewers to guess the song. The band played just the first four bars.
Well, the captions gave it away (43-second mark). But, how do you capture the music in captions without revealing anything?
In this case, the captions should not have revealed the song title. Why? Because you may have hearing audiences listening. And some people who wear hearing devices may be able to recognize the song.
In another scene, a character is crying. The captions revealed who was crying as
But, in most cases, you can’t identify a person by the cry. In the next line, the character speaks. It would’ve been better to reveal the character’s name when she spoke as in:
[Amy] Go away.
The trick is to consider whether a person with hearing can identify something or not based on the voice or sound. If yes, then reveal. If no, then don’t reveal.
Facebook Caption File Naming
Facebook won’t accept any ol’ .SRT file. It needs to have the country and language name in the file.
Facebook’s naming convention for SRT files is as follows:
filename.[language code]_[country code].srt
Instead of filename.srt, someone using United States English will name it filename.en_US.srt. En represents English and US represents
Quick Caption Tip: Length
How do you make sure your captions aren’t too long or have too many characters?
I just finished re-captioning one of my first videos because it had too many characters. I’ve learned a lot about captioning since I first started creating videos.
In the #Caption10 series, one of the rules is that length matters. Long captions make it harder to follow,
How long should each caption be?
The rule of thumb is 60 characters or fewer.
But who has time to count all the characters in all the captions?! Copy, paste, and do word count take too long!
Great news! Here’s a shortcut to figuring out if your captions are short enough.
Get a 3″ x 5″ index card and mark one inch from both sides. Or cut a strip of paper that’s three inches (7.62 cm) long. (You may have to test and adjust based on your caption app.)
Put the strip of paper on the screen where the captions are to see if they stay inside. If they
Tested this and it worked great. The longest line was 63 characters. Good deal!
3 C’s of Successful Videos
When you caption your videos, it increases their chances of success. You can’t captivate people without capturing them and you can’t capture them without captions.
Thus, caption your videos to capture more people and captivate them.
What To Do When You Can’t Caption a Video
I know …
Life happens …
Work happens …
And sometimes you can’t caption your video.
It’s disappointing when you push play only to see no captions.
*** Easy fix ***
Just let us know in the intro that it’s not captioned and cover the key points.
It makes a big difference. It erases the disappointment that comes with pushing play.
Stellar example: Stefano Capacchione shared a wonderful music video. In his intro, he mentioned there were no captions and that the lyrics were in the comments (too long for the intro)! Happy day!
Another example: I uploaded a video, but I couldn’t upload the SRT file with the captions. I used Format Factory to burn in the captions. Problem solved.
And when you do caption your video, add #Captioned so we can find it. Let’s start a revolution to use the hashtag to help make it easier to find captioned videos on LinkedIn.
How to Turn on Captions on Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube
Desktop and Laptop
If you do not see the CC on your iOS phone, you’ll need to change a setting before following the directions in the video.
How to turn on captions on an iOS device
- Select Settings.
- Select General.
- Select Accessibility.
- Scroll to Media and select Subtitles & Captioning.
- Toggle the button to turn on Closed Captions + SDH.
How to turn on captions on an Android device:
- Select Settings.
- Select Accessibility.
- Select Captions under System.
- Toggle the button to turn on Captions.
- Change any options to format Captions to your preference.
Now, you should be able to see the caption option as shown in the next video.
The instructions are in the captions of the video.
How Do I Caption Videos with YouTube?
YouTube is a great option because it’s free and you can download the caption text file to use with your video. Some apps that burn in your captions use this text file to do the job.
This tutorial assumes you’ve uploaded your file to YouTube.
Now which option do you want to do?
- Edit automatic captions aka autocraptions.
- Copy and paste a script and set timings.
- Enter the captions manually.
How Do I Caption Videos with Facebook?
Facebook can automatically generate captions for you. But it can only do this for company pages not individual accounts.
Here’s a video guide on how to automatically caption videos on Facebook and edit them.
How Do I Caption Videos with Trint?
Thanks to Andrew Helms for this video and permission to share it.
How to Add Closed-Captioned to a LinkedIn Video
If you burned-in the captions, you do not need to do these steps. Before you post on LinkedIn, be sure to have your video and its
- Select the Video icon to start the new post.
- Select the video file and Open.
- Select the Pencil icon on the video to add the caption file. If you do not see this, try a different browser.
- Find and open
the .SRT file.
- Select Post when you’re ready.
How to Fix SRT Errors on LinkedIn?
Have you been having trouble uploading your SRT file to add captions to your video on LinkedIn?
Do you get this error?
Invalid SRT format at line ##: missing sequence number
Great news! It’s an easy fix! Open the SRT file in a text editor to see this.
You’ll file has two blank lines. Delete the extra lines until the cursor reaches the last visible character. In the following example, the cursor stops after “watching.”
I hope you found this ultimate guide to captioning videos helpful. Please share any questions or thoughts in the comments.
This guide will continue to get updates and tweaks as new apps come out and current apps change.
Here are resources on captioning that you might find useful.
- DCMP Captioning Key: Guidelines for captioning media from Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP). Elements of quality captioning:
- FCC Closed Captioning Rules
- Improving video accessibility with WebVTT: This shows how to create VTT files and format captions.
- WCAG’s Four Principles of Accessibility: Web content must have these four things to be accessible.
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Originally published April 9, 2019
Updated March 6, 2020