I wouldn't call what you're about to read a rant, really. I think you have to be angry to rant. And I'm not angry. But I'm doing some serious head-scratching at a very simple thing a lot of video creators are ignoring in their quest for viewers: captions. An astonishing number of videos--even many with viral aspirations--are missing the boat and hampering their own efforts by skipping the creation of captions.

It's sad, really, because adding captions has become a relatively easy thing to do, at least on YouTube (which is a place most video creators include in their distribution plan). In fact, there's even a new beta captions process that allows you to simply upload a raw text file with your audio--no time codes or anything like that needed--and it uses detection technology to match the words from your script with the timing of the video. And it's amazingly accurate. Here's a screenshot:

Benefits Of Adding Captions To YouTube Videos

1. The most obvious benefit of captions is that it enables hearing-impaired individuals to better understand (and better enjoy) your video content. That's pretty much why captions for video were invented. And there are millions with hearing loss around the world. Why would any video creator want to eliminate a sizable portion of their potential audience?

2. The second-most obvious benefit to captions is search. It's much easier for YouTube, Google, and other search engines to understand a video file that has captions, which can help that video improve its ranking. And yet there are major brands that either choose not to add captions for one reason or another.

For instance, Warner Brothers doesn't have captions on this trailer for their biggest movie of the year, the final Harry Potter installment:

Nintendo doesn't have them on their recent Robin Williams-starring commercial either:

Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm not scolding these companies. I'm just disappointed. The upside from adding captions is enormous, and yet the task itself now takes mere minutes. It's such a silly step in the video distribution process for people to skip.

3. Finally, perhaps a less obvious reason to add captions: sometimes... even when the stars of the video are speaking English... I can't understand a darn thing they say. Want some examples?

A friend of mine sent me the link to a fantastic music video for Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat's "The Copper Top." It's some kind of spoken word song, reflecting on life and death, and the video is pretty awesome. The only problem is, the singer speaks with a thick Scottish accent that it's nearly impossible to decipher what he's saying--at least... it was for me.

But I could tell there was something interesting going on with that video, so I watched it again and turned the volume up. After a few more plays, I finally had adjusted to the accent enough to understand the words of the song. And they added tremendously to the overall experience. But after having spent so much time in the pursuit of hearing the words better... I felt like I'd missed out a bit on the true viewer experience intended. How much better would it have been for me, as a viewer, to be able to follow along with captions on my first viewing?

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It's still a great video, deserving of far more views than it currently has, so check it out:

Another example? How about the rash of recent baby-starring viral video hits? Like the kid who gave an inspirational speech after riding his bike for the first time or the toddler who caught his first fish? Both videos are adorable, but neither has captions. And there are moments of dialogue with each kid where it's tough to understand exactly what's being said.

Again, I'm not chastising these video creators. Some people don't know about captions... others don't care. That's their right. But with all the upside, there seem to be entirely too many creators seeking video success without taking advantage of the captions.

For an example of what I'd like to see more of, we have another recent toddler in a viral hit--the kid who tells the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. It's a long video, and without captions, it would be nearly impossible to follow. So the creators added their own captions to the video:

Now, in a perfect world, they'd have added the captions through YouTube's system, so the search engines could pick them up. But it's entirely possible they didn't intend or even want to go viral with this clip, but merely wanted the viewers they did get to have a clear understanding of the child's words. Kudos to them for thinking of that ahead of time.

Use The Captions

In summary: please consider using the captions. It takes only a few minutes to create a caption file with YouTube. The benefits, on the other hand, are potentially huge. Viewers who can clearly understand your audio are viewers that are more likely to enjoy your clip... and forward that clip. And the fact that you're giving YouTube (and Google) some text related to the actual content of your video can help it find its natural audience more quickly as well.

So to paraphrase a character in one of my favorite movies: Pretty please, with sugar on top, use the freaking captions. :)