Importance of Closed Captions for Videos

Many people may think that captions for videos are only for people with a hearing impairment. But captions not only benefit hearing individuals. They can actually help your videos reach more people, increase engagement of your videos and have many other benefits.

What Captions Are

Displayed in a video, captions include text of spoken words, music or important sounds that are required to understand the context, such as breaking glass, a door slamming or a dog barking. They are synchronized with the spoken words or actions as they happen.

Captions usually appear at the bottom of the video in white text against black on a single line or two lines, but they can appear differently.

You can add captions to recorded video or live video such as Zoom meetings or webinars.

Types of Video Captions

There are two types of captions—closed captions and open captions.

Closed Captions

Closed captions are text files, usually in the SRT, VTT or SCC format. SRT is the most common captions format and can be used on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms.

Closed captions are not always visible on screen. They can be turned on and off by the user.

Open Captions

Open captions, on the other hand, are always visible on screen. They cannot be turned off. They may be distracting to users who don’t want to see them. Open captions are also known as “burned in captions.”


Sometimes captions are referred to as subtitles, like on YouTube, but technically they are not subtitles. Subtitles are actually for translations into another language. Their purpose is to allow people who don’t speak the same language as the video to watch it.

Who Captions Are For

You might think that captions are only for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. But, actually, many hearing people use them and benefit from them.

In fact, Ofcom found that 80% of television viewers used closed captions for reasons other than hearing loss. A Verizon Media survey found that 83% of media consumers watch video with the sound turned off.

Cognitive and Learning Impairments

Someone with a cognitive or learning disability who has difficulty processing auditory information or someone who is more of a visual learner may prefer captions.

Learning Aids

A study by 3Play Media and Oregon State University Ecampus found that:

  • 71% of students without hearing difficulties use captions at least some of the time.
  • 66% of ESL students find captions “very” or “extremely” helpful.
  • 75% of students that use captions said they use them as a learning aid.

Noisy Environments

A hearing individual may be in a noisy environment and have trouble hearing the audio of the video. They might be in a coffee shop or on public transportation. There could also be kids playing or someone mowing outside, making it hard to hear.

Quiet Environments

A hearing individual may be in an environment where they need to be quiet. They may be watching a video in a library or at work, or next to a sleeping baby or partner.

Other Languages

Someone who is not a native speaker of the original language in the video may find it helpful to see the words to better understand what is being said.

For example, I have a degree in Spanish and French but don’t get to practice. So I often turn on captions in Spanish-language videos to understand the language better but also to maintain my language skills.

Not only that, but the reverse of that is true too. Captions can help the person watching the video understand a non-native speaker or a person with a heavy accent who is speaking.

Speech Impediment

Captions can also help someone understand a speaker with a speech impediment.

Benefits of Captions on Videos

Increased Comprehension

Captions result in increased comprehension of the content.

Plus, they can help someone understand complex content, such as a complex medical or scientific term being stated. They can also convey the proper spelling of a person’s or company’s name.

If a video has poor audio, captions can help someone understand what is being said or what is going on.

Research by Facebook showed that 41% of videos were “meaningless” without sound.

Increased Reach

Videos with captions reach more people. When your videos include captions, the content is not limited to people with hearing or who speak the same language as in the video.

They can also increase your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) because the captions, which are in a text file, are readable by search engines. They can also get indexed by search engines in search results.

Research by PLYMedia showed that videos with captions get 40% more views.

Increased Engagement

Captions can increase the engagement of your content. Most people watch videos on mute as they scroll through their social media feed.

Research by Instapage found that videos with captions resulted 26% more call-to-action click-throughs.

Your organization can leverage this with the use of captions by getting their attention before they even turn on the audio.

Increased Watch Time

Captions can increase the watch time of a video. Research by PLYMedia showed that people are 80% more likely to watch a video all the way through when closed captions are available. When visitors stay on your site longer, that’s good for your SEO.

Increased Shares

Research from Instapage shows that videos without captions resulted in decreased sharing by 15%.

Enhanced Reputation

Research by Facebook showed that 80% of mobile users had a negative reaction to the platform and the advertiser when videos in the feed played loudly when they were not expecting it. They preferred being able to turn on the sound, if they wished.

How to Add Closed Captions to a Video

It’s not difficult to add captions to a video.

First, you must get the video transcribed. You can do this easily with a service such as Rev, Otter or Temi. You can also upload a video to YouTube and have it auto generate the captions for you.

Some services are free and some paid. The pricing can vary based on whether or not a human is providing the service or the captions are auto-generated.

The quality of the captions is dependent on the quality of the audio and the clarity of the speaker(s). Accents can sometimes result in incorrect words in captions. In those cases, it’s often best to have the captions transcribed by a person. Rev offers this as an option.

With any of these services, you can download the captions in various formats. You can download them to simply have a copy or to reuse them wherever else you may post the video, such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

Automated captions have low accuracy, so it’s important to proofread the captions for the proper words, spellings (especially of any names) and grammar. Oftentimes, a speaker will have paused mid-sentence, and the automatic transcription service will insert a comma where it doesn’t belong, making it more difficult to understand the content.

Even if a person transcribes the captions, you should still proofread them for proper spelling of names and grammar.

Contact us today for help making your content accessible.

Photo by Uriel Mont.

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