Use Subtitles To Boost Viewer Engagement

Maybe you’re already using voiceovers when creating your explainer videos.

But a disembodied voice can only go so far.

While many marketing videos use the format of “a voiceover giving information over a series of images” to create an emotional response, this strategy could actually lead to viewers misunderstanding your message.

Change things up by adding subtitles. Whether it’s throughout the entire video or just at important moments, using subtitles adds a ton of engagement to your video. Here are the five reasons to consider using subtitles.

1. Subtitles Improve Memory

Studies have repeatedly shown that people remember messages that they both read and hear better than if they only do one or the other. Studies have found that reading and listening have different advantages in terms of memorization — combining the two gives you the best of both worlds.

This is especially useful when there are key phrases or facts that you want viewers to remember. All you have to do is add subtitles during these key moments to emphasize those words and you’ll automatically force viewers to pay more attention. It also engages two senses (not just one), which hooks the viewer for longer.

2. Subtitles Trigger Different Emotions

Not only do reading and listening affect memory in different ways, but they also arouse different emotional reactions. It’s long been assumed that text simply doesn’t carry the same emotional weight as audio, but recent experiments show that text has the same potential to impact emotions as audio, just in a different way.

Here is an example of a narrator voiceover:

The HUGE difference is that text carries what is called a “positivity bias.” Basically, this means that people are more likely to get a positive emotional reaction from text than from audio. That’s why dramatic movies, which offer a lot of intense moments of pain or sadness, suffer when you add subtitles.

For marketing purposes, however, positive bias is awesome. You want people to come away from your video with a positive feeling. And by engaging the part of the brain that activates with reading makes you more likely to arouse those positive emotions.

3. People Will Spend More Time Watching

While people tend to avoid big feature movies with subtitles, it turns out they actually gravitate towards shorter videos that feature text as well as audio.

Trials have shown that adding subtitles can increase the amount of time people spend watching a video by over 40%.

Even more impressive, one trial showed that adding subtitles could increase the number of people who watched a video to completion by 80%. That’s pretty incredible. What a boost in attention from such a small change.

4. Subtitles Expand Your Potential Audience

Cover all your bases.

Simply put, when you don’t use subtitles, you’ll limit the number of people who can watch your video. This is especially important if you’re engaged in business-to-business marketing — if someone doesn’t have headphones, they won’t be able to listen the audio of your video in an office setting. Adding subtitles allows them to still comprehend the video, even if they can’t get the full effect.

But it’s more than just B2B. There are countless situations where someone might see your video, but not be able to play audio. Maybe they’re in a coffee shop, on their phone on the train or bus, or maybe their soundcard is broken.

Also, subtitles make your videos accessible to deaf people, which comprise of 2% of the U.S. That’s a significant audience you’re leaving out simply by making videos that lack subtitles.

Finally, you can use subtitles to target people that don’t even speak your language. If your video is hosted on YouTube, users have the option of using auto-translated captions through Google Translate. Obviously, this isn’t perfect, but it could make your video somewhat understandable to someone who never would’ve understood otherwise.

5. Subtitles Improve SEO

For viewers to play your video, they need to find it first. Don’t flop on your SEO. Statistics show that 64% of all web visits come from organic searches so it’s extremely important that your video shows up high on searches.

Unfortunately, the bots that search engines send out to index webpages can’t listen to audio. Subtitles, however, get around that problem by creating text for these bots to read, which makes it easier to index the page your video is on and have it display up for related searches.

Best Practices

Depending on where you host your video, there are a few different ways to add subtitles. This video explains how to add a transcript and subtitles to your YouTube videos in a quick and easy way:

Other video hosts also give you the option to upload a transcript, which will automatically give people the option to use subtitles. If that’s not available, you might have to add the subtitles in the original video file.

If possible, though, offer the option to turn subtitles off. They can be very effective in some cases, but some people just don’t like them. Give everyone the ability to watch the video the way they want to.