How Closed Captions Increase Video Views, Rankings and ROI [Study]

How Closed Captions Increase Video Views, Rankings and ROI [Study]

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How many times have you thought to yourself, “I wish there were an easy way to get people to find my videos”? While many people assume that the sole purpose of captions is accessibility, in fact, captions also provide an easy way to boost your video SEO. Recent studies conducted by Discovery Digital Networks, SafeNet, and the radio show This American Life have proven that adding closed captions and transcripts to videos increases search traffic, page views, search rank, and engagement. In this article we’ll examine how these studies help to understand the impact of captions and transcripts on SEO, as well as how we can use them to do an ROI analysis.

Increasing Views by Adding Captions to YouTube Videos

Discovery Digital Networks was interested in adding captions to their YouTube channels, but wanted to determine the validity of doing so before moving forward. Over a 16-month period, they conducted a controlled study of captioning across 8 of their channels. Through 3Play Media, they captioned 125 of 334 videos published between January 2013 and April 2014, measuring the effects of captioning against the 209 uncaptioned videos.

impact closed captions

Discovery Digital Networks found a significant increase in views attributable to captioning, as well as proof that captions improve SEO. In the first 14 days after adding closed captions, they documented a 13.48% increase in views; the lifetime increase in views was also significant, at 7.32%.

Further, to test the SEO value of closed captions, they searched on YouTube for keywords that appeared in the caption file of a video but did not appear in the description, title, or tags. They found that their video ranked 4th for the term, proving that captions influence search rank and improve keyword density and diversity.


Improving Traffic and User Engagement with Audio Transcripts

This American Life, a weekly public radio show, began transcribing their audio archive in 2011 through 3Play Media. With data collected over a 36-month period, they were able to analyze the impact of transcripts on SEO. The effect of transcripts on user engagement was assessed by measuring the percent of unique visitors who viewed a transcript.

They found that 7.23% viewed at least one transcript. Further, they found a 6.68% increase in search traffic attributable to transcripts.


Improving Search Engine Rank with Transcripts

Transcription has been a core part of SafeNet’s video SEO strategy for years; recently, they were curious to see how quickly video transcription made an impact on SEO. Using competitive keywords, they searched one of their videos over a 3-week period.

By the end of the third week, their video ranked on the first page of Bing and Yahoo (Google tends to take longer to rank new content). Their study shows that even in a short amount of time, you can make a dramatic impact on video SEO by adding transcripts.


ROI of YouTube Captioning

The metrics of monetizing a video on YouTube are complex, and many factors (including those documented in the studies above) influence how much you will earn as a partner on YouTube. The data from Discovery Digital Networks helps to understand how much someone could expect to make off of the increase in views attributable to captioning.

The following is an ROI analysis based on the 7.32% lifetime increase. Again, keep in mind that factors other than views will affect your CPM, and it is likely that the increases in user engagement, search traffic, search rank, and keyword diversity recorded in the case studies above would further improve your ROI.

ROI_analysisFor the purposes of this analysis, we will consider CPM earnings of anywhere between $1 and $10. Most partners earn on the lower end of this range, but some YouTube channels can earn closer to $10 CPM.

Captioning a 2-minute video through 3Play Media or would cost $5. If your CPM is closer to $10, you would need about 6,800 lifetime views to pay back the cost of captioning.


On the low end of the CPM range, you would need 68,000 lifetime views to reach a positive ROI.

Potential Earnings Attributable to Closed Captions

Given this ROI analysis, it is easy to determine from an economics standpoint whether or not it is worth captioning your YouTube channel. Of course, the case studies above prove the worth of adding captions for other reasons. Let’s analyze two Discovery Digital Networks channels to better portray the potential earnings of adding captions to your YouTube channel. Keep in mind that these are hypothetical estimates, and were not part of the Discovery Digital Networks study.

A channel like DNews, which has around 130 million views, could expect to gain about 10 million views as a result of captioning their videos (given the documented 7.32% increase). DNews has about 1100 videos, each around 3 minutes long, so it would cost approximately $8,250 to caption their entire channel. Using the $1-$10 CPM range, the 10 million views gained from captions would equate to earnings anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000. Subtracting the cost of captions, the ROI would be between $1,750 and $91,750.


A smaller Discovery Digital Networks channel, Shots of Awe, has just over 7 million views and could expect to gain over 500,000 views by captioning the whole channel. Shots of Awe has almost 50 videos, each approximately 2.5 minutes long, so captioning the whole channel would cost about $312.50. Using our CPM range of $1-$10, the 500,000 views gained from captions would equate to earnings between $500 and $5,000. Minus the cost of captions, their ROI would be between $187.50 and $4,687.50. Again, the cost of captioning would be paid back and more.


Quantifying the Benefits of Closed Captions

The SEO studies conducted by Discovery Digital Networks, This American Life, and SafeNet help quantify the benefits of captioning and transcription. The documented increases in views, search traffic, user engagement, and search rank represent exciting measures of the impact of captioning on video SEO.

Further, the Discovery Digital Networks data on percent increase in views allows us to estimate the ROI of captioning YouTube videos, which has been difficult to quantify until now. Deciding whether or not to caption your video content depends on a number of factors; however, the positive results of these case studies are hard to ignore, and many people find that the benefits of captioning are well worth the investment.


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