Why video is actually all about the written word!

26th February 2021

It may sound counter-intuitive, but one thing that many people miss is just how important the written word is when it comes to video production – for SEO, as well as user experience and accessibility.

For SEO in particular, get the text right and you’ll have many more clicks leading to much better results and a stronger return on your investment – whether that’s sales leads, news coverage or simply awareness of an important issue.

So what do you need to consider when it comes to the written copy that’s about, in, or inspired by your film? In this article, our MD Jon Mowat explores four text ideas that will kick start your success.


A transcript is simply a word-for-word copy of the video’s audio, all in one place. Ultimately, a search engine can’t listen to audio or watch a video, so whether you’re hosting your film on your website or via YouTube, including your transcript will make it more scrapable by the search spiders, thus improving SEO. In fact, when the makers of the hit US podcast series This American Life hosted transcripts of their entire back catalogue online, they found that a significant 6.26% of all unique visitors who came via search landed on a transcription page.

So how do you go about this in practice? If you are hosting a video on your website, you can simply copy and paste the transcript onto the page, or include it as a <div> or resizable <textarea> box to ensure it doesn’t take up too much space.

Alternatively, to keep things focussed on the video itself, you can link to the transcript on a different page. An additional web page gives the search bots more content to crawl, and this has the added advantage of letting you cross-link between the video and the transcript page, and link out again to other relevant information on your website – all of which will build your SEO credentials.

If you’re hosting your video on YouTube, Vimeo, or other hosting sites, the process of adding your transcript is fairly easy. YouTube for example gives you clear instructions.

Regardless of where you’re hosting your film, be careful to create good quality, accurate transcript. Many online audio-to-text tools are, as you’ve probably seen for yourself, not particularly accurate, and Google will be quick to judge your transcript as spam if it doesn’t read well, which is bad news for your SEO.

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Tags, Titles and Descriptions

When you’re looking at tags, titles or descriptions on YouTube or other hosting platforms, the usual SEO best practices still apply. For example, make sure you’re using plenty of keywords, without disrupting readability. This comprehensive study from 2017  found that YouTube videos with an exact match keyword in their title do better in the search results.

Popular wisdom points to the fact that on YouTube, tags aren’t as important as the video’s title, thumbnail and description. Even YouTube themselves are quite clear on this. One exception to this is that tags are useful if your subject matter is commonly misspelled (just add the most common incorrect spellings as tags).  When adding tags, do your research – there are free browser extensions like VidIQ that enable you to see the tags being used for other videos that rank highly.

A good description on YouTube can make your video more easily discoverable, and also gives you an opportunity to connect with your viewers, and provide more information and background. One point to bear in mind – in your description, try to link to other YouTube videos as much as possible, as the search function will penalise anything that tries to take viewers away from the site itself (God forbid…).

When it comes to titles, YouTube offers some good advice that really applies across the board, regardless of where your film is hosted. Keep it short and concise – ideally no more than 60 characters – so that your title doesn’t get cut off in search results. Put the most important information first, and leave series and episode numbers till the end.

Open and Closed captions

It’s important to understand the difference between open and closed captions, so you can make the right choice about which to use on your animations, brand films or social media videos. Closed captions come from a text file that’s separate from the video, and can therefore be read by search engines.  This obviously has a positive impact on SEO – for example, this study found that videos using closed captions generated 7.32% more views than those without. Closed captions have also been found to increase engagement and specifically watch time, which is an important metric used by search engines, YouTube in particular.

In addition, closed captions can be turned on or off by the user, so are best used when you want to give the viewer the choice – non-native language speakers for example, or the deaf and hard of hearing. YouTube, Vimeo and most other video platforms make it very easy for the user to turn closed captions on.  Preparing and uploading the text takes a while but the benefits to your organic search make it well worth it.

Open captions are encoded into the video itself and therefore aren’t searchable. Also, as they’re embedded, open captions can’t be turned on or off by the viewer. Although closed captions offer more help with your SEO, open captions have some important advantages. The main one is that the viewer doesn’t have to do anything themselves to activate the captions. This is especially useful for a video that, for example, you want to appear in a social media news feed where the sound almost always muted by default.

The example below is a film we created for Shelter that shows open captions in action


Open and closed captions are terms used interchangeably with subtitles – especially here in the UK. However, there is a definable difference, and it’s important to understand it to ensure you’re using the right text in the right way. Captions assume the viewer can’t hear the audio – due to anything from a hearing impairment, to being in a busy place with lots of background noise, or simply because you don’t want your colleagues (remember them?) to know what you’re watching online. Subtitles on the other hand assume the viewer can’t understand the audio – if it’s in a foreign language for example. In practice, this means that captions contain audio cues you might otherwise miss (‘doorbell rings’), and subtitles generally don’t. Subtitles are a translation of the spoken words in your video, captions are a written version of the entire audio track.

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Video SEO is an ever-changing beast, however one constant is the importance of the written word as you create and market your video. At Hurricane, we are obsessed with making your video marketing content as good as it can be. We want to show your brand in the best light. But we also have to take a brief, so if we can help you make your video more successful, we will.

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