Annotations are an often overlooked aspect of YouTube videos. They can lead the viewer to a number of actions, whether it's directing them towards other videos you've created or brings attention to a call-to-action such as liking, favoriting, subscribing, or commenting. However the annotations are used, these messages that pop up in the video are a good way of directing traffic and keeping viewers informed, and good ones can create active responses that lead the YouTube algorithm to take a look at your video and say, "Hmm…lots of activity here, I kind of like that."
The Playbook overview:
Strategy: Use annotations on your video to increase viewership, engagement, and subscribers.
Why It Works: Annotations are a unique feature to YouTube and can help you keep viewers watching more content, increase community actions on your videos, and acquire new subscribers.
How To Do It: Add relevant and helpful annotations to all your videos after upload.
Annotations Grab Viewer Attention Where Content May Not
Way back in the first sections of the YouTube Creator Playbook, the idea has always been to have great content, and create calls-to-action that are compelling that lead the viewer to respond to your video. Getting a response in any way is a huge deal. You might strike up some controversy, or have people debate a controversial topic. Really, you can do those things with text overlays in post-production, but annotations have an advantage in that they can be used as clickable links. And you want to get people to click those links as much as possible, because there is no doubt that the YouTube algorithm notices when a bevy of activity surrounds your video.
The Philip DeFranco Show uses annotations in a not-so-overbearing way. One usually greets you at the beginning of the video with his special opening, and it encourages you to "like" the video. DeFranco will verbalize that same message later, but saying it and having it written out can have different contexts and it's good to have both. And with annotations, the message can place emphasis or make the message more clear. For instance, if I never have seen a YouTube video before, and someone asks me to "like" a video, that may not be something I quite understand. But being told to press a "like button" makes me search for that button and makes the message more coherent. Here's one of his videos (warning – he can be abrasive at times):
DeFranco also puts two annotated links in the top left and top right of every video, leading to either one of his other shows, a future episode (if he's retroactively added annotations), or to a previous episode, and they stay there throughout. These annotations are out of the way, don't distract from the content, and are there to whisk you away any time. You might have reached "The Philip DeFranco Show" in error and wanted to see "Stuff Phil Likes," one of his other shows. The annotated links give you an easy "out" and you don't have to go back and search for it. Philip DeFranco certainly won't be upset if you cut him off in one video to go to another. You increase viewership of another one of his shows, and at the same time, the video you just clicked away from gets more love from the algorithm as being a "video that leads to other videos." It's magic.
Reviewing the Playbook: What Are Annotations?
Annotations are text overlays that you can place on YouTube videos. There are numerous uses for annotations and producers are consistently finding new, creative, and strategic ways to apply them to their videos.
Annotations can increase engagement and make your video conversational or interactive. They can supply additional information to the video, be an effective means to gain subscribers, increase community activity or engagement, cross-promote content, and drive traffic from your back-catalogue to your newest videos. Additionally, YouTube's search algorithm favors videos that drive traffic to other videos, playlists, channels, or subscriptions via linked annotations. Tip: adding links to annotations is a powerful traffic and subscriber driver.
Some Simple Guidelines for Annotations
There are a few things you'd like to avoid when creating annotations. First off, you should realize that your video could have an ad at the bottom third of the screen that will completely cover an annotation that you think is well-placed when reviewing what your video looks like before uploading. Generally, you'll try to avoid placing annotations in that bottom block.
Also, you don't want to stick annotations in a place where it is distracting to what is on screen. So place it in an area that does not block the main subject of the video. Basically, use common sense. If you watch the video and your eyes are taken away from a crucial aspect of the content, then that annotation needs to be placed elsewhere, and perhaps at a different time.
Like all attention-grabbers, annotations, if abused, can appear to be overbearing and just like junk mail, or since we're in the internet world, "spam." Remember you created a video, and the content in that video should be something that people want to watch, and not get distracted by several million calls-to-action that lead them away from the video–or even worse, leaving your video entirely to go watch something else. Be strategic, and use them sparingly.
And this is something that gets overlooked, but be clear. Don't write something people can't understand, and make sure the annotation doesn't clash with anything else on the screen.
Reviewing the Playbook: General Notes on Annotations
- Be aware of the lower-third ad overlay – these can obscure annotations placed in the same region.
- Be careful not to obstruct the actual content.
- Use your best judgment to determine how many annotations you should include in your episodes. Don't bombard the viewer as it will feel "spammy" and have an adverse effect.
- Make sure to write and place text so it looks nice and reads well on the screen.
General Uses of Annotations
Almost every video that you watch on YouTube that uses annotations will ask for favorites and likes, or link to another video. And plenty of annotations are used to point out something in the video in which you may not be aware, adding information or context to a video. Generally, annotations work like the old VH1 series, "Pop Up Video," only not so intrusive, unless that is the point or you are making a "making of" type of video. Still, if annotations are used in any excessive way, they should serve as content and not crutches to the action on screen. Here's an example of a sketch comedy group using annotations in a funny way (warning – some bad language):
One of the most strategic ways annotations can be used is in your past videos. You can leverage your popular videos to lead to your newest video, which is pretty darn smart. This creates "tent-pole" action on your popular videos to prop up the newest video, or maybe a video you think got shortchanged in views and could use some advertisement.
But for the most part, you see these annotations being used to "favorite, like, comment, subscribe," those types of calls-to-action that all provide feedback to the creator of the video, drives traffic, makes the video interactive, and overall create activity or buzz that a video needs to be successful.
Reviewing the Playbook: Putting Annotations to Work to Increase Engagement
Consistent Annotations for Navigation
- Some channels have found success in using standard annotations for the length of video that appear in the same placement across all of their videos such as:
- Subscribe Button. When clicked, this annotation adds your channel to their subscriptions and makes it easy for viewers to subscribe right from your videos.
- Newest/Next/Previous. Links to another video in the series or to the newest video. Including an annotation in your videos that links to your newest content will leverage your entire catalogue to drive traffic to your newest content.
- Front of Episode Call-to-Actions: Ask viewers to "like" the video, leave a comment, or subscribe.
- Ask a question. Asking a specific question is often more effective.
- Related videos or other content that is referenced in the video.
- Additional or supplemental information about the content.
- Subscribe and other Calls-to-Action repeated at the end of the episode.
- Be creative! Annotations can be used in many ways and you should always consider how to use this unique feature to make your content better and more strategic.
Resources for Annotations
Just like any special feature on YouTube, several people have been kind enough to offer their own video support of annotations, like this guy (this is an older video):
And after this general overview, he made companion pieces covering very specific annotations, such as The Spotlight Tool, Notes Tool, and Speech Bubble Tool. All of these different kinds of annotations can be used however best fits your video.
As you can see, some things have changed since then to make these things easier and create even more options:
A simple "annotations" search in YouTube gives you a bunch of tutorials.
Reviewing the Playbook: How-To Steps for Annotations
Learn How to Create Annotations
- Understand the different types and uses of annotations, as well as how to create and edit them.
Add Annotations to New Uploads After Publishing
- Determine the right uses of annotations for your content and audience. Avoid creating distracting annotations or too many. Use annotations for Calls-to-Action encouraging the viewers to take certain community actions such as favoriting, liking, and sharing the video.
- Decide if any static annotation buttons make sense for your content. Add a "Subscribe" annotation and/or a "Newest Episode" annotation "button" on the video to provide easy navigation for the viewer throughout the entire video.
- Utilize annotations at the end of the video to direct viewers to another video, your channel, or to some other action such as subscribing.
Update Annotations on High-Performing Archive Videos
- Add and update annotations on high-performing archive videos to help leverage these views to new initiatives or new uploads.
- Use annotations to repackage old content for new purposes along with updated metadata.
- Experiment with annotations to use them in new ways that will help you increase engagement, build audience, or simply make your content better and more compelling.
- Produce content or include elements in the video with the intention of enhancing with clickable annotations after upload.
Be Creative and Compelling With Annotations
Annotations aren't going to make or break your video, but that doesn't mean you can't use every tool possible YouTube has in tandem to try to get your video seen and turned into an active experience. Annotations add an interactivity, but they shouldn't overwhelm the video in any way. Great content is always going to rule more than any one thing, but if you can use annotations and any other kind of Playbook tool to add to the chances that your video might be seen, commented upon, liked, or any other kind of activity that drives traffic, you should use it. Find the most entertaining way to use annotations, even make them part of the content if you can, and add value to your already great content.