If you’re like most, when you hear the word “captions,” you think of the floating words that appear on the screen when you accidentally bump a button on your laptop. Or the last foreign film you watched on Netflix.
But captions and subtitles are more than an aesthetic preference; they’re integral to producing high-performing, accessible content. According to the World Health Organization, 20% of Americans are d/Deaf or hard of hearing.1 A recent study also found that 71% of disabled users leave a website immediately if it is not accessible.2 If you haven’t given them much thought until now, you’re not alone. Captions and subtitles are widely misunderstood, even by marketing and advertising industry veterans.
Implementing captions and subtitles correctly can not only improve accessibility for your content, but can expand your audience, increase engagement and retention, and improve video discovery and search engine optimization (SEO). Adding them to your videos can boost view time by 12 percent, according to an in-house study by Facebook that saw a 40% increase in views of captioned videos versus uncaptioned.3
A recent study also found that 71% of disabled users leave a website immediately if it is not accessible.
Basics 1: Captions vs. Subtitles
They’re often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between captions and subtitles.
Captions are a literal text version of the spoken part of a video. Think of them as digital stenographers, capturing what they hear and displaying it on your screen.
Captions come in two flavors — open and closed. Closed captions have an option to be turned off by a user, while open captions are “baked into” the video itself.
Subtitles are translations of a script into a different language. Standard subtitles assume a viewer can hear the audio of a video. But there are select subtitles created for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences, containing extra information about background sound FX and speaker changes.
Basics 2: The SRT
Subtitles and captions are stored and added to media via SRT Files (SubRip Subtitle files).
These text files contain a time-coded script to ensure the text matches the audio and timing of a video. Many social networks include support for SRTs, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter (with a Twitter business account), YouTube, and Vimeo. If you’re interested in creating SRT files for your videos, companies like Rev produce them for an affordable price ($3 per video minute, per language).
Some platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, do not provide organic support for subtitles directly, but creators can improvise with features like story captions.
Accessibility and Inclusion
Captions benefit everyone, but they’re imperative for a large slice of the population. 466 million people (6.1% of the world) experience some form of hearing loss.4
The demand for a more inclusive and accessible internet is increasing. It can be seen in the increasing number of ADA website lawsuits filed against creators who fail to provide adequate video captioning for d/Deaf and hard of hearing people, those who are blind or have low vision, or other disabled communities.
Age is also a factor, both young and old. Half of adults over 65 suffer from hearing loss; in 2030, 20% of the world will fit in this age bracket. Experts have also seen an increase in mild hearing loss among adolescents due to heavy headphone use. With the surge in remote learning and telemedicine over 2020’s quarantine, this number is only expected to rise.5
80% of users that use captions aren’t deaf or hard of hearing.
Avoiding lawsuits isn’t the only reason to adopt a mandatory caption policy with your content.
80% of users that use captions aren’t deaf or hard of hearing.6 This is because captions and subtitles help clarify difficult language, poor audio, and complicated information for most users.
Research findings from powerhouses like Verizon Media, Facebook, and several universities reveal that captions help viewers focus on and process information. They also support brand awareness and brand recall.7
If that’s not enough, they’ll also improve your SEO! Google and other search engines obtain information via bots that scrape text, including the text included in closed captions. So more information increases your chance of ranking higher on search engines like Google. Neat, right?
The Future of Video Content
The future is video; a Nielsen poll revealed that U.S. adults spend over 11 hours per day connected to media — 6 of them are spent watching video.8
And users are not watching videos one at a time. They’re juggling them, often watching without sound (An estimated 85% of Facebook’s users watch video without sound.), tethering windows between multiple apps and monitors, and scrolling through their feed while watching movies. This means adding captions is integral for stopping users in their tracks while they browse.
An estimated 85% of Facebook’s users watch video without sound.
Since 2017, we’ve also seen an increase in handheld video game devices, thanks to the Nintendo Switch (garnering over 84.59 million in sales) and the highly anticipated Steam Deck announcement from Valve. Ipso facto, the couch is no longer a monotasking zone; gamers are watching movies and television while stomping on Goombas and collecting Primogems. What’s the best way to boost attention and comprehension with a multitasker? You guessed it — captions.
Thank you. What’s next?
The popularity of video content and the increase in hearing loss worldwide contribute to the relevance of captions and subtitles, now more than ever.
The internet is already a colossus of information, and it’s becoming increasingly important for everyday tasks, from middle school homework assignments to applying for work.
It’s not often that doing the morally right thing comes with a smorgasbord of quantifiable benefits, like sharpening video performance, reaching new audiences, and improving brand experience and product recall. We hope the metric carrot is enough to convince you to implement captions moving forward. However, what’s at stake is much richer and important within the internet community.
As builders and creators, it’s our responsibility to make it a safe and accessible place for everyone. Implementing captions and subtitles is an excellent way to start.
- World Report on Hearing. World Health Organization, 2021,
- The Click-Away Pound Report, Rick Williams and Steve Brownlow, 2020
- Capture Attention with Updated Features for Video Ads, Facebook, Inc., 2016
- Deafness and Hearing Loss, World Health Organization, 2021
- Data and Statistics About Hearing Loss in Children, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
- Verizon Media and Publicis Media Relationship of Video, Sound and Captions Insights Study,
- Enhancing television advertising: Same-language subtitles can improve brand recall, verbal
memory, and behavioral intent, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 2016
- Total Audience Report, Nielsen, 2019