How To Use Closed Captioning To Make Your Video Content Searchable

By: Art Morgan
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We have been getting a lot of questions about video search recently. The benefits of making your video content searchable, both across a video archive and within a video, are obvious: as long-form video becomes more commonplace (definitions vary, but let’s consider videos longer than 10 minutes “long-form”), and as video libraries become larger and larger, it becomes essential that users have an easy way to find precise locations in videos where a topic is mentioned. However, what most people don’t realize is that providing video search for your users is relatively simple these days. On many platforms, once your videos are captioned users can use the built-in search features to search both within videos and across your video library.

Until recently, video producers had to use a lot of elbow grease to make up for the lack of video search engines. You could split up your video into small chunks and label each section according to the topic – basically a split-into-chapters approach. You could also add lots of tags, detailed descriptions, or even post a transcript of the video below or near the video. All of these approaches still have their merits, but they are time consuming, and in many cases a simpler and more elegant approach is to simply add closed captions to your video and let users use the familiar search tool bar.

Let’s take a look at an example. In the short demo video below I show how you can search for a specific name on YouTube, and find all the videos where that name is mentioned. You can even click on a link and jump straight to the point in a specific video where the name is mentioned. The snippets of text that appear below the video title and to the right of the thumbnail show the closed caption text where the name was found, providing more context for the user, similar to what you would get with a Google or Bing search. Users can quickly scan the list of videos, find the most appropriate one based on the caption context, and jump straight to the pertinent spot in the video. YouTube gives you all of this “for free” when you add closed captions to your videos.

If you have a YouTube Partner Channel, here is one caveat to be aware of: the “Search Channel” feature is nowhere near as robust as the general YouTube search feature shown in the example. The channel search bar does not search closed captions, so it is pretty much useless for detailed searches. Hopefully YouTube will fix this for partners, but in the meantime fortunately YouTube is not the only video platform that enables video search. Online video platforms such as Kaltura offer similar video search features, and many lecture capture platforms such as Sonic Foundry’s MediaSite, Echo360, Tegrity, and Panopto do as well.

Video search is closely related to video search engine optimization (SEO), which is the process of making your videos more easily discoverable and optimized for advertising and monetization. We will cover video SEO in a future blog post. If you have questions, examples of use cases, or other comments about video search, please add your comments below, and as always feel free to contact us directly at