Ever turn on a YouTube video and watch with amazement as the words appearing at the bottom of the screen sync accurately with the speaker? Or giggle when YouTube subtitles—the ones generated automatically—get it completely wrong? Then you’ve experienced the ups and downs of one of the most powerful tools for inclusion in the video medium: effective captions. 

Whether you’re targeting the hearing impaired or expanding to a global audience, YouTube subtitles are an essential micro-skill to master.

Why Add YouTube Subtitles?

Before you set every video to auto-generated captions by default, let’s ponder why it’s worth considering adding subtitles in the first place. Why add YouTube subtitles when you can otherwise spend your time on video production or other valuable YouTube tools, like creating YouTube playlists? There are three big reasons:

Greater Reach

In 2019, research found videos with subtitles accumulated a 12% higher view time, which is essential for boosting your clout in YouTube’s algorithms. In other words, you’re not wasting your time by building your own captions. Adding clear captions to your videos produces statistically significant benefits in terms of audience reach. 

Even better, YouTube videos with subtitles had higher rates of view-to-completion than ordinary videos, which also impacts your quality score in YouTube’s algorithms. In short, quality subtitles will help promote your new Youtube channel.

Broader Inclusion

Not everyone can hear you. In the U.S., about one in eight people have hearing loss at some level. And about 28 million adults across the country could benefit from hearing aids. Adding captions isn’t only about enhancing clarity, but broadening the inclusiveness of your videos. This is especially important if you have an older demographic, as hearing loss tends to accelerate over time.

Audience Service

cooking video subtitles
Source: youtube
Adam Ragusea’s painstakingly accurate captions are just one of the many supplementations making his YouTube cooking channel more accessible.

Sometimes, it comes down to being mindful of your audience. Consider YouTube cooking influencer Adam Ragusea, who optimizes almost every aspect of his YouTube presence. He converts temperatures and measurements to Celsius and liters for his international viewers. He addresses FAQs in his pinned comments. He even painstakingly calculates how many times he said “chop” so hearing-impaired viewers can get a sense of his voice with captions. 

There’s a reason many of his videos have reached millions of people: He cares about the information he delivers. That quality shows in everything from the production value to the time he takes to lay out the captions.

How to Upload Subtitles to YouTube

man building hut
Source: youtube
Even if you never speak, like the man behind the Primitive Technology channel, you can still use YouTube subtitles to add context to your content.

All right, you’re convinced: YouTube subtitles are great for improving your channel. Now what? Let’s lay it out the essential steps:

  • Sign in to your YouTube Studio account
  • When uploading a video, select “Subtitles” from the menu on the left

You’ll notice you can’t upload a Google Doc or Word file here. Instead, you’ll upload SubRip (.srt) or SubViewer (.sbv) files with time cues. You can create these with popular video editing programs like Adobe Premiere Pro or simple text editors like Notepad, as long as you follow the proper format, including timestamps. It should look like this:


>> Welcome to the Skillshare tutorial on YouTube subtitles


>> In this video, you’ll discover how to add subtitles to YouTube videos.

Once you get the hang of it, it’s relatively straightforward. But if that gets a bit too complicated or confusing, you can always use a more direct method.

How to Auto-Sync Your YouTube Subtitles

video with subtitles
Source: youtube
Auto-syncing does the work for you—but potentially at the cost of punctuation and clarity.

If you want to avoid manual labor, you can always turn on auto-sync. With auto-sync, you can upload a transcript of your video and let YouTube’s AI synchronize the words in your transcript with your video content. This may cost you some accuracy, but it also saves time. Here’s how to use this feature:

  • Select “Subtitles” from the menu.
  • Choose a language for your subtitles.
  • Click “Add” to generate your subtitles.

Auto-sync will work if you’ve copied and pasted a transcript of your video into the subtitle details. YouTube’s AI will work to sync the text with the audio file associated with your video. If you want to make any adjustments to the timing of when your subtitles appear on the screen, simply adjust the timestamps associated with each subtitle.

Type Your YouTube Subtitles Manually

What if you don’t want to sacrifice accuracy? Good news here: you don’t have to write complicated code to get perfectly-accurate YouTube subtitles. 

  • After going into YouTube Studio and clicking “Subtitles” on the left, you’ll notice an option to add subtitles directly into a video by clicking the button that says “Type Manually.” 
  • The “Type Manually” button will open a text box that allows you to add in text synced with specific points in your video. 
  • As the video plays, you can add in your captions one line at a time to make sure they sync with what you’re saying on the screen.

Voilá! If you have to type from scratch, this is probably the easiest way to ensure your videos have accurate and helpful subtitles. For a little extra fun, you can also use this feature to lay “Easter eggs” for any viewers who turn on captions—the way Ragusea makes sure he types out every time he says “chop.”

How to Use Auto-Translate on YouTube Videos

people moving boxes
with subtitles
Source: youtube
Though this language-learning video’s audio is in Spanish, the YouTube subtitles conveniently provide English context.

What if your videos have global appeal, but you don’t speak anything other than English? Auto-translate to the rescue. There are a couple of options here:

  • Add your own translations. If accuracy is priority #1, you might hire translators on sites like Upwork to handle this for you, for example—but this can get costly.
  • Use auto-translate. Enabling auto-translate will require uploading subtitles first to give YouTube’s algorithms something to work with. From there, you can enable auto-translate and allow YouTube to do the guesswork.

And yes, it is sometimes guesswork. However, if you attract an international audience, even a patchwork translation can mean a world of difference to people who don’t speak your language.

Making Your YouTube Account More Accessible

YouTube subtitles are a great gift to anyone in your audience who is hearing-impaired. But they’re also a gift to your audience in general. Before you build an enticing intro for your next YouTube video, consider what you want your captions to say first.

You can use YouTube subtitles to add context, clarify words, or have a little fun with what’s on-screen. This not only makes your videos more accessible, but it adds an extra layer that helps you tell a story. Chances are, people (as well as YouTube’s algorithms) will appreciate your efforts to make your entire account more useful and inclusive.

Share Your Story With a Wider Audience

Social Media Success: Video Storytelling on YouTube & Beyond

Written By

Dan Kenitz

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