Captions: Small Print, Big Payoff

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the text beneath that picture could account for a significant portion of that value. In a world with an ever-shrinking attention span, jumping to the pictures and captions in an article is the new “skim.”


A well-written caption not only captures the essence of the article it’s accompanying, but is also in the unique position to potentially be the reader’s only point of contact with your material. According to a recent post by KISSmetrics, captions are read four times more than body copy. It used to be that captions were just an accessory to the body copy — but the digital world (and our expectation for immediate gratification) have flipped that idea around.

Sometimes, the caption IS the body copy. Take Instagram for example. The image-driven social media platform offers an array of filters and “tweaking” options to make photos more interesting, but as blogger Emily VanderBeek points out, “a caption can be the difference between an Instagram post that’s overlooked and one that’s ‘liked.’”

Whether you’re writing captions for the “skimmers,” or to help support the idea behind an image, follow these three guidelines to help ensure you’re getting the most work out of your words.

1. Make the caption a strong stand-alone statement.
Chances are, most people aren’t going to take the time to read the full text of your material. If you’re including images on any marketing materials, a single line of copy beneath each one is more likely to be read, so make them count. A line of copy that communicates a strong idea is all that’s needed to be successful. Try to avoid simply describing the image and instead focus on finding a way to make the image correlate to a single, important sentiment.

2. Make the caption useful.
Even better than a quick read is a quick and useful read. A caption that leaves the reader feeling like he has gained something is a guaranteed way to leave a positive lasting impression. It can be a tip, a motivational quote, or a quirky bit of trivia — the goal is to provide something that gives the reader something without asking them to go through all of the body copy surrounding the caption.

3. Give the caption personality.
The combination of words and images can be a truly powerful way to evoke emotion, so take the opportunity to let your caption convey a bit of the intangible aspects of your brand. Avoid writing captions that feel stiff, label-like, or overly utilitarian. A good caption not only enhances the image it’s paired with, it also makes the reader feel welcome (and motivated!) to read the rest of the story and engage with your brand.

 By Lisa Dolbear, Senior Account Planner