What Makes Good Captions?

by Jay Durgan  20 January 2016

Now that you understand the value of captions for your company’s SEO and SEM, let’s take a look at what good captioning is, and what you can do to get it. We’ve all seen movies and videos with captions or subtitles badly translated from another language, or transcripts that have been misheard by the transcriber, and make little or no sense. These little errors can be amusing, but it also means that the captions aren’t doing their job properly. It’s a sign of shoddy craftsmanship and reflects badly on your company. So what makes for a good caption? The Americans with Disabilities Act has set forth a few guidelines for what captions should be like and how they should appear. They include…
  • An individual caption (known as a caption frame) should have no more than three lines of text, with each line being a maximum of 32 characters.
  • Caption text should be clear and easy to read. It should be in a non-serif font, such as Helvetica. If the background of the video makes the captions difficult to make out, they should be repositioned, or the color changed, so that viewers have no trouble deciphering the words on the screen. Likewise, if the captions obscure some text in the video itself (e.g. a written letter), they should be repositioned so that they do not interfere with the viewer’s understanding and enjoyment.
  • The text in the captions should sync up as closely as possible with the words being spoken on the screen. To accomplish this, a caption frame should appear onscreen for between 3 and 7 seconds.
  • Captions should accurately represent the dialogue being spoken. On the surface, this seems easy—easier, at least, than translating for subtitles. However, you also need to consider spelling. Spelling on captions and transcripts should be at least 99% accurate. This also means no guesswork for dialogue that’s difficult to understand.
  • Accessibility. Captions and transcripts should be easy to access for anyone who wants them. On television, there are services you can subscribe to or buttons you can press on your remote to put captions on the program you’re watching. With online content, however, you should have a clear, easily accessed button to turn captions on or off. If you’re uploading to YouTube or another video hosting service, these buttons are already placed on the video player. However, some brands choose to use their own custom player for video content. If you choose to do this, be sure to include a clearly labeled captioning option.
These are just a few of the standards for proper captions and transcripts. When creating your video content, it’s important to make sure that you’re providing a clear, easy to understand viewing experience for anyone who wants to watch it.

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