Video captioning catches hold

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youtube_logoLast week, Google dropped another bomb on the Search Engine Optimization world – automatic captioning in YouTube videos.

Captioning in online video is nothing new – YouTube has offered captions in their videos since 2006. But as anyone who’s ever uploaded a video can tell you, the manual-captioning process is cumbersome and time-consuming.

The new auto-captioning feature aims to change all that. Now you can simply upload your video to YouTube and allow Google’s speech-recognition technology (the same stuff Google Voice uses to transcribe your voicemails and email them to you) to do the work for you.

Why is this important?

First off, captioning obviously makes your video content accessible to those who are hearing-impaired. Since auto-captioning will ultimately aim to caption all videos on YouTube, its addition will give those who are hearing-impaired access to an incredible library of video content that many of us take for granted.

But that’s not all – auto-capping videos will have a tremendous effect on search engine optimization.

Currently, videos are very tough to optimize for search engines, because they’re not ‘machine-readable.’ To put it simply, a computer can read the code for a video, but it can’t translate that to understand exactly what the content is saying.

By automatically adding captions to your videos, however, Google, Yahoo! and other search engines can ‘read’ the video’s captions and index them as they would any other web page. Check out the video link below to see it in action:

Automatic Captions in YouTube Demo

The implications for SEO are mind-boggling. Video is already used as a part of many internet marketing efforts, but auto-captioning will make video marketing incredibly more effective. Companies looking to take advantage of this opportunity will find it much more important to produce and optimize quality video content, just as they would their website. And those that do will see great rewards in the form of increased website traffic and broader reach to potential customers.

There’s just one catch.

Auto-captioning isn’t available yet (well, not to everyone). Google is rolling it out to a few select partner channels to start, but plans to bring it to the masses in the near future (once a few more bugs are ironed out).

For the rest of us, they’ve also launched a feature called “automatic caption timing” which makes it easier to add captions manually. You simply upload a transcript of the video, and Google’s speech recognition technology will figure out when each word is spoken in the video, then use that info to add accurate captions.

(Sure, it’s not ideal…but it certainly makes adding captions easier.)

In the meantime, if you aren’t already promoting your services via online video, you should consider investing in a video camera and starting your own channel on YouTube, Vimeo, MetaCafe or any of the other video search engines. The video camera doesn’t need to be crazy-expensive – you can even start your efforts on a shoestring budget with a Flip Mino if you like.

The key is to get started now – as soon as automatic captioning is rolled out to the rest of us, those who already have substantial video content will be best-poised to take advantage of it.

Here’s some tips to get you started. Happy shooting!

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