The Impact of Subtitles in YouTube Videos on Visual Attention

Daniela McVicker

Daniela McVicker is a blogger with rich experience in writing about UX design, content planning, and digital marketing. She contributes to the online service where she helps individuals and organizations improve their web content writing, design, and planning skills. Her posts are always packed with examples and actionable content that readers can put straight into the action.

Creating a video for your business is an exciting proposition, and to really make it standout from the crowd you need to pay close attention to several key details. The topic and length are the two things that often spring to mind, but what about the different ways you can maximize the visual attention of your viewers?

You want an engaging and insightful video that is easy to follow. This means that you need to pay close attention to how you integrate subtitles into your videos. First, let’s take a look at why you may want to consider using subtitles in the first place. 

Why Do Some Videos Use Subtitles?

There are two key reasons that videos will use subtitles:

  • To avoid having to dub videos into a second language
  • To provide additional clarity and enhance information retention 

Clearly these are two quite distinct reasons, but they are at heart mutually compatible. If you want to take your video to a wider audience then it’s considerably easier to use subtitles than it is to pay for a voiceover artist to dub new speech over the top. The science of how subtitles are made on TV  will give you more of an insight into why they’re preferred to dubbing. 

Many people think that this is the sole use for subtitles, but in the information age videos are increasingly spoken and subtitled in the same language. Whilst this has been shown to increase the retention of information that is delivered orally, you need to be careful to ensure that your subtitles don’t become a distraction from your visual content. 

So, what do the masses think? And how can you best accommodate them?

What Do Viewers Think?

When you focus group subtitles there is a small number of people who say they find them annoying, but that’s true with anything. What you can do is consider several parameters which will enable you to keep the vast majority of your viewers happy:

  • The size of the text is vital if you want it to be easily readable. 
  • The speed of the text needs to match the rate of speaking. 
  • The color of your text is crucial if you want it to standout. 
  • The way in which the text appears on the screen is important for the user experience. 

Carefully considering these four parameters can give you a unique insight into the minds of your audience. 

Placing the Subtitles on the Screen 

If you want your subtitles to be a distraction, then, by all means, put them right across the middle of the screen. Of course that’s not what you want to do, but it makes the point about the importance of placement rather nicely. 

People have come to expect subtitles to be near the bottom of the screen with a small border around them. This ensures that the eye can still take in the majority of the screen using its wider field of vision. The importance of the border can’t be overstated either. If your text goes from edge to edge and is right along the bottom of the screen then it’ll be harder to read. 

To ensure you don’t fall at the final hurdle follow these tried and tested rules for positioning subtitles:

  • Position them near the bottom of the screen
  • Have a gap between the bottom of the screen which is at least as high as the height of the text 
  • Avoid having the text go to the extreme edges of the screen 
  • If you’re creating a promotional video with a key point at the end then kinetic text could be worth considering. Don’t overuse it though as it may prove to be a distraction. 

Mistakes Instantly Attract Attention 

A common mistake that businesses make is creating videos with errors in subtitles. If you’re delivering a live address or speech, then no one will notice if you miss the odd word or pause for thought. The same can’t be said about a scripted video in which the subtitles themselves are in error. 

Take a look at these famous subtitle errors from the BBC. The poor feedback from the viewers tells you all you need to know about what they think about these kinds of errors. 

Taking the time to double check your text before distributing your content is a key step. By having a quick look at editing services reviews you can find an impartial expert eye to give things a final check. 

Watching a Video vs Reading it 

Some people will be instantly turned off by a video with subtitles if they perceive that they’re going to have to read your video rather than watch it. This means that not only do you have to get the length right, you also need to make your visual content work in harmony with your subtitles. Here are a few ways that you can make it clear to your viewers that they’re not going to have to read an essay if they don’t want to:

  • Use a font that matches the style and stone of your visual content. 
  • If you’re creating an explainer video then combine subtitles with onscreen bullet points that emphasize the key features you’re detailing. 
  • Never let your subtitles get ahead or behind of the speech. This will distract your viewers and they won’t engage with your visual offering as they’ll be too busy jumping back and forth to the text.

A key way that you can ensure you don’t give the wrong impression is by showing your video to a small focus group of people who aren’t familiar with your content. Afterwards you can ask them whether they made use of the subtitles, were distracted by them, or thought they weren’t necessary. 

Take onboard the positives and the negatives, and then find the right balance going forward. 

Taking Your Videos to a Wider Audience 

Some businesses regularly use subtitled videos to take their videos to a wider audience. They choose to use subtitles rather than dubbing for several key reasons:

  • Subtitles are a faster and more efficient way to take your message to a foreign language audience. 
  • The accent and tone that you intend your video to be accompanied by will always be altered by dubbing. 
  • Dubbing never quite fits with the pattern of lip movements which detracts from the quality of your visual content. Subtitles avoid this distraction all together. 

Apply these proven tips and you’ll be able to create a video that uses subtitles in perfect harmony with your visual content.

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