Repost from IBM Social Business Insights Blog: Video captioning (Part 2 of 2): Win/Win for accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO)

  Earlier this year I started blogging for the IBM Social Business Insights blog as part of a team of IBM Redbook Thought Leaders. I'll be reposting those blog posts here on my personal blog. Video captioning (Part 2 of 2): Win/Win for accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO) was originally published on August 8, 2012, and is owned by IBM. I recommend checking out the IBM Social Business Insights blog for some compelling and though-provoking content.

Video captioning (Part 2 of 2): Win/Win for accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO)


By Holly Nielsen, Social Media Manager and Webmaster, Human Ability and Accessibility 

In part 1 of this two-part series, we reviewed some of the statistics supporting the skyrocketing usage of video, for both personal and business use. Now let’s get to the heart of why you’re missing out if you’re not captioning your videos. 

Captioning videos for accessibility  

Have you ever tried to watch a video without speakers, or with your sound off? Annoying, isn’t it? You might be able to catch a little of what’s going on, but you know that you’re missing most of the action. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, non-native language speakers, using mobile devices, or in a noisy area run into this problem constantly. It’s estimated that the majority of videos on the Internet are not captioned, and therefore inaccessible to these audiences.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) defines captioning at its most basic level:
Captioning is the process of converting the audio content of a television broadcast, webcast, film, video, CD-ROM, DVD, live event, or other productions into text and displaying the text on a screen, monitor, or other visual display system. 

There are two elements to making videos accessible.
  • The first element is the captions themselves. For a full explanation of the requirements for creating captions, see the IBM web accessibility checklist Checkpoint 1.2a: Captions, or the WGBH, NCAM Guideline H: Multimedia.
    Captions can be open or closed: Open captions are burned into the image, similar to subtitles, which the user cannot turn off. Closed captions are a separate data stream that is synchronized with the multimedia. The user can turn these captions on or off. (IBM has developed an enterprise-level research technology, IBM AbilityLab Media Captioner and Editor, which automatically creates open captions and transcripts.)
  • The second element is a text version (often called a transcript) of the video content. The IBM web checklist, Checkpoint 1.2b: Audio and Video (Prerecorded), describes the requirements for creating a text version of the content that can be accessed by anyone. It was created as a way for blind or visually impaired users to access the visual information, and for hearing impaired or deaf users to access the audio information in the content.
    A full text alternative describes everything that is happening in the video. In addition to the visual information, the text alternative also includes a transcript of all dialogue, and also textual representations of all of the video, audio, and interaction from the video.
Videos that include both captions and a text alternative can reduce or eliminate barriers to rich media access for many potential users.

The sweet spot: Where videos, accessibility, and SEO meet

Where does SEO fit into this picture? Right here. After all, if your customers can’t find your videos; they can’t view them. And if search engines can’t find your videos; they can’t rank them. But after you’ve captioned a video and included a transcript, you’ve now created exactly what the search engines require for indexing – making that video searchable – impossible to do with an uncaptioned file. Both users and search engines can search for and find keywords from your video; enabling video SEO.

The sweet spot of SEO: A Venn diagram showing where Videos, Accessibility and SEO intersect.

SEO has been around as long as there have been search engines, web sites for the engines to search, and site owners wanting to increase traffic to those sites. It’s constantly changing as search engines evolve and become more sophisticated. Video SEO is a relatively new, but growing field, and will continue to gain in use and importance as Internet users continue to watch videos and new video captioning legislation is signed into law and enforced, such as the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 in the United States.
As a competitive advantage, captioning your videos is a winning strategy – both for promoting your messages, products, and services to a much broader audience by enabling more of your customers to find your content, and by making the content accessible to all of your customers, regardless of disability, device, or native language.

There's Always a Flip Side, and Sometimes It's Dark — Online Bullying and the Price It Exacts

I saw a tweet yesterday that caught my attention; yet scared me at the same time.
I took a deep breath, and clicked on the YouTube link.
My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm

I watched a beautiful young woman tell her story — pouring out her heart about some stupid mistakes she made, and how miserable she'd become from the incessant bullying that had taken over her life, even through multiple school changes. Of course I was crying before the end of the 8 minute and 55 second video. And with a heavy heart, I googled her name to find out that she committed suicide last Wednesday.

And I'm heartbroken. And discouraged. And finally, outraged.

How did we get to this? I've been an outspoken advocate and supporter of these amazing new technologies that enable us to connect, person-to-person, with others around the world: fighting injustice, toppling evil regimes, collaborating, crowdsourcing and sharing news, ideas, solutions, projects and money, encouraging words, and yes, even funny cat photos.

But when and how did this instantaneous connection and documentation of our every memorable moment flip to this dark side where bullying and the never-deletable online mistakes can so haunt our youth, leading some of them to believe that their lives are ruined, and no longer worth living?

If you were a teenager who never did a single stupid thing, please step forward or raise your hand. Yeah, that's what I thought. We all did it — it's part of growing up and self discovery. Of course, our mistakes were usually kept small and local, and not publicized to the world at large.

The first glimpses we've had at this public outing of teenage growing pains were with young stars — actors, musicians — who did their growing up in the bright and unforgiving lights of the public view. Could anyone forget Britney Spears' or Lindsey Lohan's breakdowns and mistakes paraded for us all to see? And. awful as it is, that public exposure of foolish or thoughtless moments that should be private are considered one of the costs of fame and fortune.

But Amanda Todd? She wasn't famous. Or rich. She was just a confused teenager who made a few bad decisions, including her selection of "friends". And was bullied and harassed until she felt like her life was not worth living, and ended it.

And that is wrong. Morally reprehensible. Unforgivable.

So how do we stop losing any more of our children and teenagers to the public humiliation that makes them choose to leave us?

I have three suggestions:
1) Education and awareness
2) Activism
3) Legislation

Education and Awareness

Education is critical. Education for teens and for their parents. Your digital footprint and shadow are permanent. Once a photo or post is out on the Internet, it's not retrievable. Last year IBM created some activity kits — amazing resources that are free to the public to use and share. I presented Control Your Online Identity. Help teenagers learn to protect their personal data online to two groups of middle schoolers attending a summer camp at the IBM Almaden Research Lab. I'm a pretty savvy social media user, and I still learned a few things. There is a second activity kit available for parents and/or teachers on Cyber-bullying.

Both kits can help concerned adults help this generation navigate a safe path through this uber-connected and uber-documented online world we now live in.


Raise your voice. Use your social connections to inform the corporations who create and own these social media tools and platforms that privacy is of utmost importance, and is not to be ignored or minimized. Bullying and harassment need to be dealt with harshly.

Tweet, send emails, make comments on their brand pages, sign petitions. These companies are listening — of that you can be assured.


The Children's Online Protection Privacy Act of 1998 was the last time a federal privacy law for minors was enacted. And it only protects children under the age of 13. Hello? 1998? With all of the changes that have occurred online in just the last three years? Contact your legislators and tell them that new, stricter legislation is critical to protect our youth, all of our youth, against bullying, harassment, and unathorized usage of images. Today.

Amanda Todd and her potential are gone. Her family's hearts are broken. But maybe we can save other lives.

October 16, 2012 Update:  Amanda Todd's Alleged Bully Named By Anonymous After Teen's Tragic Suicide