Good news from Vimeo: their updated videoplayer supports closed captions and subtitles! Subtitles are not just handy, they are powerful. Usually they are added to make a video available to a greater audience. Not unimportant but there is more to gain from good, smart subs. Here are some basics and a look at the opportunities.
Closed Captioning (CC) vs subtitling
It’s simple. Subtitles are tekst replacing dialogue. Closed Captions are tekst replacing all audio (‘phone rings’, ‘knock on door’). Subtitles are best for transcripts (reading along) and translations (käännökset). Closed Captions are best for deaf or hard of hearing people.
Hard vs soft subtitles
There are two ways to add subtitles: hard and soft. Hard means that the titles are burned in with the video. The letters are part of the image. Hard subtitles can be stylized and look exactly the way you want to. Soft subtitles are text overlays. The video itself is clean and the subs are a text layer that the video player places on top of the video. This text information can be used in more than one way.
From transcripts to ..
Every cc or subtitle is based on a transcript; a written version of what is being said on screen. Sit down, listen to the video and write down what you hear. There is some flexibility to change spoken words to proper written text, but not a lot. With your transcript, you can make subtitles. Timing is key. Make long sentences shorter. Use dot-dot to end an unfinished sub and start with dot-dot te finish it in the following sub. Don’t put too many words on screen. Read along. Add key audio descriptions to the transcript and you have Closed Captions.
So now you have your transcript and your subtitles, translate them. Some languages use more characters than others so you might have to re-time your subtitles. Or don’t and add a third line. If you’re lazy. I’m doing the art of subtitling a bit short here but these basics can get you started (and appreciate subtitle professionals).
Search engines such as Google will index soft subtitles. With subtitles you are adding a stream of meta data. You are basically telling Google what a shot is about. This is great for video SEO. Video’s with subs will be judged more relevant than video’s without subs and will do better in search results. On the other hand, the basic meta-information is still the most important. Always add a good description, title and tags for best SEO results.
Deaf and hearing disabilities
Many governments are obliged to make their information available to people with hearing disabilities. Subtitles or CC are mandatory. Some corporations have this policy too. And it is just the right thing to do. From a social and from a commercial perspective. You increase your audience and you actually follow up on your social commitment. Adding subtitles or CC is not very difficult or expensive so that should not hold you back.
At work: no sound
Not to disturb their co-workers, office people tend to mute their computers. These people will bow at your feet in praise of your glorious and informative subtitles.
Youtube offers excellent support for closed captions and subtitles. In the player the user can turn the subs on or off or select from multiple languages. YouTube can even automatically translate subtitles. Not a perfect translation but it will get the message across.
Youtube also has very usable tools to write, time and add subtitles. It takes some time to get the hang of it but it works and it’s free. Another benefit: you can download the subtitles to use on other video websites or in media players like Windows Media player and VLC player.
Heyhoo, the 2014 update of the Vimeo player supports subtitles too! Very usable and they look good. Simply upload your subtitles with your video and you’re done. Vimeo does not provide tools to produce the subtitles but you could use Youtube to do that.
If you want perfect subtitles: hire a subtitling specialist. They have the professional tools to make well written, good looking and perfectly timed subtitles.
To wrap it up: subtitles have grown from a service to a powerful tool for video-SEO. And now well supported too.