Design & UX
By Georgina Laidlaw

How to Make Your Video Reach More People

By Georgina Laidlaw

Marketers love online video. But few realize how a simple transcript can help their cause.

Last week I won over a marketer who wanted to present her swanky, shiny, high-end company video on its own—without a transcript—using three little words:

“Expand your audience.”

From a brand perspective, she argued, she wanted the words to be taken together with the imagery. A video is an experience, after all, and a carefully crafted one. Visual humour is difficult to convey in a video transcript. So are many non-verbal audio cues and vocal subtleties like stress and emphasis.

From the perspective of My Beautiful Brand, all these arguments may stack up. But from the perspective of exposing as many people as possible to the content of your video, they all fall flat.

Text continues to be the web’s content mainstay, and as long as we have users with even sometimes-slow connections (at home, work or on their mobile devices), that won’t change. So let’s look at how a transcript can help your brand reach more people.


How transcripts build your video’s reach

Transcripts expand the audience for your video in three ways.

1. They’re readable

Well, obviously they’re readable, right? But as we keep hearing, no one reads online. They scan—and that’s something your audience most certainly cannot do with your video.

Offer a transcript and you provide users with a sneak-preview of what they’ll get if they commit to downloading and watching the complete thing.

If that worries you—you secretly think the transcript might actually disappoint or put viewers off watching the video—then you have bigger problems than content format.

Think of it this way: if a user bothers to scan or read your transcript and it doesn’t grab them, you’ll have saved them the frustration of downloading the video, watching it, and then discovering they’d wasted their time.

2. They’re searchable

Whatever wonderful advances search engines are making, text search is still a long way ahead of other search technologies.

A text transcript is eminently searchable, so not only is it more likely to turn up in an appropriate on-site search than will a standalone video, but a page with a transcript is likely to rank higher in Google and other web search engines’ results, too.

Again, that may well mean more, and more targeted, viewers for your video. They might come via the transcript, but at least some will stay for the delicious video goodness.

Of course, that’s not where search ends: a transcript also allows users to search on the page for keywords they’re after. So if your transcript delivers on their specific interest, they’ll likely be pretty impressed—enough, even, to watch it. Without a transcript, they may not have bothered even to press Play.

3. They’re accessible

Once upon a time, “accessible” meant screen readers and color blindness. But these days, I think of it as giving people content they can actually use. Any people.

People using a phone with a broken screen and a bad connection. People in a crowded office trying not to distract others with a video soundtrack. People in a lecture or meeting who are using the web on the sly.

Making your message accessible via multiple content types makes it more accessible to everyone—not just those with what might be considered “disabilities”. It puts users in control of their experience, which means they can use your video in the way that best suits their needs at the moment at which they arrive. And that means a bigger audience for your message.

Consider this simple accessibility advantage of a text transcript: imagine your video contains a term that’s part of your brand vocabulary, but is unfamiliar to your user. If the transcript’s available as text, and your site has a glossary feature that underlines all instances of your brand vocabulary, a user who doesn’t know that term can discover its meaning instantly through the text transcript. For help, support, and product tour videos, this can be pretty handy.

Presenting transcripts: best practices

From a user’s perspective, the best way to present a video transcript is on the page beneath the video. It’s simple, it’s immediate, and they don’t have to click anywhere to see it.

Even those who do watch the video can scan the text at the same time if they like, which could be useful if they’re watching in a high-noise environment. I know what you’re thinking: captions would cover that. But you can’t scan ahead with captions.

Next, include in your transcript everything that’s said in your video, but without the “um”s and “ah”s. If multiple people are talking, identify the person who says the words at the start of the line (or lines) they say, like so:

[Georgina Laidlaw]: See what I mean?

Finally, work to make your transcript as scannable as you would any other piece of text.

For some reason, most transcripts we see online are plain-text replications of what’s spoken in the video. I don’t know why this is. Sure, it might be okay in the case of very short videos, but in others—like a 20-minute TED talk, or even a three-minute sales video, or even a much shorter how-to—plain text is probably going to be too dense to scan effectively.

So if you’re prepping a transcript, take a moment to:

  • break spoken lists into itemized lists in text
  • turn key phrases into subheadings or blockquotes to help break up the text
  • bold in-text terms that relate to words you might have displayed on-screen, as well as emphasized in speech, in your video
  • use paragraph breaks to delineate ideas.

A good transcript really can boost your video’s audience. I’d love to hear your thoughts on transcript—and how you’re using them—in the comments.

  • Maybe it’s just me, but I never understood why you wouldn’t include a transcript to begin with, other than posting the video in haste and not having the time immediately to transcribe the video. At least it could be updated later.

    All very awesome points, though. Good read :)

  • emcomments

    Links to a few good (or bad) examples would be nice.

  • James Edwards

    Transcripts also have additional accessibility benefits that aren’t immediately obvious. They provide context that make the video content easier to understand for people with cognitive disabilities. And for people using a screenreader, it means they don’t have to watch the video at all.

    A good transcript should also contain text that isn’t spoken — for example, descriptions of visual details, and any text that appears on the screen. Think of it in terms of a video with audio descriptions — the transcript is combination of the audio descriptions, and the video’s own audio, combined and transcribed into text.

    The transcript should also say “END OF TRANSCRIPT” at the end.

    There’s a good commercial video player which includes an auto-generated transcript here: The transcript is a combination of the captions VTT data, plus additional transcript-only cues defined in a separate VTT file.

    • Georgina Laidlaw

      Thanks for this :) Excellent additions.

  • redcrew

    Strange. The comment I added two days ago is gone. Did I violate comment guidelines? Let me know. I didn’t think there was anything in my comment that was negative. It provided additional transcript information as well as resource information from online transcript services and their pricing.

    • OphelieLechat

      Hi @redcrew:disqus — we recently changed commenting systems, and it’s possible that yours fell through the cracks during the migration. I’m sorry about that! It sounds like your comment was very relevant indeed; if you remember it, please post it again.

      • redcrew

        Thanks for the reply Ophelie. I’ve added the comment again. I hope it make it through this time. I’ve included info on resources for transcripts and well as info about what to expect for costs.

  • redcrew

    Thank you for the post about transcripts with videos.

    Not sure if you’ve seen it already, but there’s good information on how to get and format transcripts on the Ohio State University resource site:

    I worked on adding transcripts and captions to videos at the college where I worked. Whenever I mention adding transcripts to videos, the first response I receive is concern over cost. Many web professionals believe it’s expensive to have videos translated.

    Transcription costs have gone down over the past few years. There are many online sites (Automatic Sync, 3PlayMedia, and Cielo 24) offer low-cost, quick turnaround for transcripts.

    Depending on the speaker’s diction, you may be able to use YouTube automatic captions to create a transcript (may be a rough first draft that you’ll need to update).

    I haven’t used Cielo 24 yet, but one of my higher ed colleagues uses it and speaks highly of their service. Their site promotes $1 (USD) a minute with 24-hour turnaround for high-quality transcripts. Automatic Sync offers 72-hour turnaround for $159 USD ($2.65/min) for transcripts + caption (SRT file).

  • Well, transcripts are alight, but they are still only a lazy half measure.

    What so many marketers fail to realise is that people are busy. When faced with a video or long transcript the easiest decision for customers to make is to leave.

    They just don’t have the time nor the inclination to sit thru a video or read a long transcript just to glean the key information. This is true even if they have good intentions to come back later and watch it, they rarely do.

    A far better option is to turn the transcript into a properly constructed and formatted article where the prospect can glean the key facts instantly as they scan and skim the content.

    If the customer reads the article, then they are far more likely to watch the video.

    • Georgina Laidlaw

      Hmmm. Interesting point, Mark, and I don’t disagree that an article around the topic of your video/audio is often the best possible context for the media. But a transcript serves a slightly different purpose than an article, for people who just want to know what said in the video/audio. So I’d include a transcript with the article, not have it replaced by one.

      • Agreed,

        Don’t get me wrong I mean I’d rather have a transcript than nothing at all, but I still think an article is more usable and accessible.

        Alternatively, formatting the transcript better might be a better option. Using subheads and what’s in this story, key points etc. (You highlighted the need to do this in your piece.)

        And I’m talking more about longer videos of 30 or 60 mins.

        EG Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday is always great but sometimes (most times) I just don’t have 60 mins to spare to watch a video, even if I want to, and the thought of wading thru that long a transcript to find the bits I want is loathsome. So I don’t.

        In other words I’m a very interested customer who can’t access the brand’s content.

        Not because of technical reasons but because of time, accessibility and usability reasons.

        And I guess that’s my main point, brands are missing out on connecting with customers by not thinking thru how they present their content.

        Now I know reformatting etc is a lot more work, and may be beyond the resources of many businesses, but hey this is supposed to be the era of re-purposing content and marking it up correctly so that it can be re-used.

Get the latest in Design, once a week, for free.