YouTube’s Closed Captions – a video ranking signal

As ReelSEO has discussed, there is evidence to suggest YouTube and Google Video are incorporating Closed Captions into their video ranking factors.

Closed Captions are a feature that provides textual information for the audio of videos. They can communicate the words spoken, the person speaking and environmental sounds like a phone ringing and knocking at the door.

ReelSEO provide an example of a video ranking for text, not located on the page, but within the closed caption file, as the screen shot below shows.

The first result rank’s for the text located in the Closed Captions alone. The snippet is text brought directly from the Closed Captions and the search text highlighted in bold. And much like Google search results which has the option of a name anchor link that loads a specific point on the page, YouTube has a ‘Start playing at search term (0:00)’ to begin the video at the search text.

For Video search, this is a great leap forward by adding more depth to the search results. There is obviously a lot of video content on YouTube and it is the second most used search engine. Any features that can improve the analysis of the content are a win for usability. Which leads onto the next question, how can I add closed captions to my videos?

Currently, closed captions cannot be completely automated. YouTube has closed caption option video owners can switch on and upload a Direct Temporal Metadata (DTM) file that contains the text and time to display.

A Direct Temporal Metadata file – in *.SBV format – looks something like this:

with the YouTube APIs. I am
Jeff Fisher,
and this is Johann Hartmann,
we're presenting today.

Each caption needs to be written into the file, with a ‘switch text on’, ‘switch text off’ time.

Now, typing up DTM file may be okay for short videos with little complexity in the audio, but for long videos it’s quite time consuming and irritating. And hence, the reason why it’s difficult to randomly find videos with the closed caption features.

But if videos are now ranking on keywords within the closed caption file alone, providing Closed Captions will  provide more  ranking opportunites.

In March 2010 things were made a little easier when YouTube launched an automated machine transcript feature. The feature aligns a transcript file (supplied by the user) with the audio of the video, adding the necessary time-coding data to create a DTM file. The file can be uploaded in the ‘Captions and Subtitles’ section of their YouTube account.

The ranking factors for YouTube videos do seem a little thin and adding this ranking factor would no doubt give the search results more substance.

But as these technological advances progress, will keywords within videos be given the same weight as keywords within text?

Personally, I think maybe the traditional keyword method of determining rankings won’t be easily applied to videos. Videos offer more ways of communicating messages. In many cases, videos with spoken keywords aren’t necessarily better. You would expect a web article about, for example, Victoria Falls to contain the keyword naturally throughout the article. When a video about Victoria Falls, without any spoken words at all, but well shot images and music played over the top, may provide a better result, and should be rewarded so.

That is all personal theory though, if you are producing videos rich with spoken words, investigating options to include Closed Captions should definitely be considered. At the least, it will deliver you more long tail traffic.

Image by jonsson

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Comments (4)
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4 Replies to “YouTube’s Closed Captions – a video ranking signal”

Just thought i would comment and say neat design, did you code it yourself? Looks great.

We all know that youtube uses Title,description and tags as the basic items to identify to initially rank a video and I know that these captions are actually intended to make the video clip more accessible to different language speakers or to deaf people but it sounds different when they can help in ranking as mentioned above! However, it is good to know the new optimization method. Thanks for sharing!

Terry Van horne

“The first result rank’s for the text located in the Closed Captions alone”

I call BS! No way you can isolate that! I’d argue it ranks first based on the views and exact match in caption. So yes captions could be a “ranking factor” (IMO, pretty insignificant one since it is easy as heel to spam!) that they are the reason for this ranking is not known for sure.

Secondly if you remove the word old it’s way down the results and beaten by vids with no caption or the word line found at all anywhere… so bottom line the ROI for adding captions is likely very low… and the task ROI near 0.


Hey Terry,

Im not as confident as you are in totally discounting the CC information for the ranking of the video, yes it might not be the ONLY ranking factor but without other elements mentioning that phrase, what else could YouTube/Google be using ?

I think that ranking a video (or anything else on the web) is a whole bunch of elements working in synergy to achieve rankings so saying “so bottom line the ROI for adding captions is likely very low… and the task ROI near 0.” is akin to saying having good, keyword rich alt attributes have no ROI just because (and nobody knows for sure except mr page, brin etc) they represent a small part of the ranking algorithm. Every little bit counts.


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