Watching rather than reading is becoming the norm online, but how can localisation via subtitles improve the impact and reach of video content?

‘In the last two years we’ve seen a big increase in requests for our subtitling service from clients.’
Katrine Ataman, Project Manager at YBD

From GIF animations designed to grab your attention as you spool through your Twitter timeline to short films on YouTube and company websites, video content is now a central element of the online experience. Facebook generates upward of eight billion video views per day and, according to a report by Cisco, video will account for 80% of global internet traffic by 2019 with nearly a million minutes of video content shared every second.

Why is video growing?

There are a multitude of factors powering this global megatrend. On the supply side, it is getting simpler and cheaper to produce high-quality video content and social networks are making it easier to post and share videos. Concurrently, there is increasing demand among consumers for audio-visual information with very little reading involved. YouTube now runs a close second to Google as the world’s most popular search engine and people of all ages are regularly accessing video content. A 2016 survey of global consumers by Hubspot revealed that 32% of 18-24 year olds watch 1-2 hours of YouTube content per week, with 19% viewing 3-4 hours and 30% over four hours. Predictably, these percentages fall as you move up through the age groups, but the viewing figures for older people are still significant, with a quarter of 55-65 year olds watching YouTube content for 1-2 hours per week (8% watch four hours or more).

Complementary subtitles

So in a virtual world where video rules, what place is there for the written word in a company’s social media offering? Lengthy online articles may be becoming less important, but impactful text to complement audio-visual content can be valuable in the quest for target group optimisation.
Many companies go to great lengths to perfect the sound on their videos, but if you want to maximise the shareability of a video, you must also bear in mind that silent autoplay is common feature of many social networks. Subtitles or captions aligned to impactful opening visuals can be a very effective way of breaking through the silence and capturing people’s attention. For instance, the Canadian arm of fast-food restaurant chain A&W made a video highlighting the fact that the chicken they use is raised without antibiotics, and adding automated captions to this video increased watch time by 25%.

Subtitles vs. voiceover?

Videos can be more compelling if they are localised with the addition of subtitles. But hang on – why opt for subtitles when you could use voiceover (aka ‘dubbing’) to provide target viewers with audio in their own language? Indeed, voiceover has the advantage of keeping the screen clear of text, differentiation of voices if there are multiple people appearing in the video, and it also allows the user to look away and continue to listen. However, to execute voiceover properly incurs considerable additional production costs beyond translating the transcript of the original recording i.e. the expense of hiring recording studios, recording engineers and voiceover artists.


Also, bear in mind that potential viewers may not be in an environment where they can listen to the voiceover at all – for example, at their workplace. Subtitles mean people can watch the video with the sound muted and are less likely to give up and move on to the vast amount of alternative, silent online content available.

SEO: the golden opportunity

Another key advantage of subtitling is SEO. Search engines can crawl caption text and, consequently, subtitles can boost your search ranking. Facebook’s own internal tests in January 2016 revealed that captions increase video views by 12%.


An alternative to on-screen subtitles is to provide a transcript for the video in the description field on YouTube. You are limited to a maximum of 4,850 characters including spaces in this field though, and if that isn’t sufficient to accommodate all the text, you will need to add a link to the full transcript on your website. So long as your keywords are loaded up front in your video (and, therefore, also appear at the start of the description field) as they should be, you will also get a SEO boost this way.

Grundfos for Engineers: watch, read and learn

‘In the last two years we’ve seen a big increase in requests for our subtitling service from clients,’ says Katrine Ataman, Project Manager at language solutions company YBD. One such client is Denmark-based multinational pump manufacturer Grundfos. Grundfos has websites serving over 50 countries with selected content translated from English – the company’s corporate language – into 25-plus languages. In 2015, for example, Grundfos launched a new ‘Grundfos for Engineers’ hub to support engineers who work with its pumps. The hub includes informative videos that feature a Grundfos expert speaking (in English) about featured themes such as ‘Safer pumping in pollution-sensitive areas’ or ‘Protecting your pump from seawater’.

The company turned to YBD to handle the subtitling of the videos. ‘Grundfos always talks to their local markets to find out what they are interested in having translated,’ says Katrine Ataman. ‘The Grundfos for Engineers hub has 13 languages in total, but some markets have chosen to have the videos in English with no subtitling, so to start with we are only translating subtitles into some of the languages.’

In the videos, subtitles of a maximum length of two lines appear on screen, synchronised to the audio and for long enough to be read at a comfortable speed. The Grundfos expert is sometimes seen standing next to and referring to flowcharts with captions in English. ‘In some languages, it might be relevant to translate those captions as well and overlay them on screen, but you have to consider the aesthetic aspect,’ explains Katrine Ataman. ‘If you plaster the whole screen with text it could be confusing. What the speaker says, captured in the subtitles, usually explains the diagrams anyway.’

Grundfos for Engineers is frequently updated with new videos and these are shared via Grundfos’ YouTube channel and Facebook. They are proving a valuable tool to communicate with engineers around the world, and subtitles have helped to increase accessibility.

‘Time is an important issue for engineers, so information and tools must be easily understandable,’ says Grundfos Marketing Coordinator Susan Kley. ‘In many countries, engineers do not understand English. Therefore we prioritise translation of all content – including videos – to make the information as beneficial as possible so that engineers can get their jobs done, and fast.’

Clearly, Grundfos is seeing the value of subtitling video content. Has your company discovered the benefits yet, too?