ReelSEO's Grant Crowell does an in-depth review of YouTube's annotations feature – offering explanations, excitations, limitations, and recommendations for how to use annotations to enhance your video search optimization.

Previously ReelSEO outlined the benefits to including annotations in your YouTube videos, and the new "collaborative annotations" feature. Here are some additional ones to mention:

Benefits to including annotations with your video

  • It gives background information to what is being watched, either at certain points of the video or throughout the video. Where you position an annotation can also provide a good frame of reference to what you are watching, and about a particular person or object.
  • Clickable links to URLs, search results, or channel links to other related videos in the YouTube/Google Video network

· Can have a text reference to an outside URL

Types of YouTube annotations

  • Speech Bubble – a cartoon/comic-book style of text to simulate verbal activities by a character in the video.
  • Note – equivalent of an all-purpose "post-it" notice
  • Spotlight – highlighting a particular area on a video, where text information is displayed on mouseover.
  • Pause – complete freezes a video within a selected time frame, and resumes upon ending of the pause time

Test run of YouTube annotations – "Bindergate”

Google or YouTube search for "bindergate" and you'll see a video example I created with multiple types and uses of annotations. (Or just watch the video right at the top of this post.) Annotations can be fun! (Even the people I made fun of in the video told me they enjoyed watching it. ;)

YouTube Annotations Review – The Good, The Bad, and “Tube Tips” bindergate carpentersville

YouTube's annotations limitations

Unfortunately there are still a lot of limitations with YouTube's annotation feature.

  • The YouTube logo watermark carries over the bottom right. (So that means don't put your annotation text down in the very bottom right, or it will be blocked out by the YouTube watermark
  • You can't copy-paste annotation formats; you have to manually create a new annotation each time. (This can make it difficult to have subsequent annotations appear in the exact same locations each time, such as for run-on text.)
  • Can't move the same annotation to different locations. Have to always create a new one and end the old one.
  • Can't duplicate annotations from one video to another.
  • Annotations are not indexable in any search results – not in Google indexing, not in YouTube, even.
  • Can't include a clickable link to outside the Google Video Network (YouTube or Google Video).
  • The spotlight annotation feature has no solid background for text, which can make it very difficult to read if it's not behind a solid background in the video.
  • Clickable links in videos are not easily indicated. There is just a small square box in the lower right corner of the annotation box
  • The Speech Bubble annotation can't include clickable links.
  • Only a singular font style. You can't make font larger or bold or italic, or any color other than black or white. Just regular text.
  • No "undo" command.
  • No alignment choices for text – only left-align
  • Can't do a copy-paste between different videos! (Need to bring it over from an outside program like Microsoft Word
  • If you're just a regular visitor with no collaborative annotation permissions, you can't copy-paste the text in an annotation (if you don't have access to the collaborative annotations link).
  • Because the text is small, it's difficult to tell if an annotation of the same YouTube's mobile platform doesn't feature any annotations in the video.
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Tips for doing annotations in your YouTube videos

  • Include a "CLICK HERE >" to point to any annotation with a clickable link.
  • If you're doing the pause feature, be sure to insert a text annotation run just before the pause feature starts, so people will have an opportunity to understand why there is a pause, and have proper time to read the text annotation.
  • If you want to have a text URL featured in an annotation box, try to make it an easily recognizable (simple) URL, since people can't copy-paste that URL from the annotation.
  • Switch up the placement and color of annotations during a video playback, to make them more easily recognizable when the content does change.
  • Use a a good, solid color contrast in your annotation boxes in front of the area they are featured in the video. (If you are using the spotlight feature, stretch the box to where the text will appear behind a background in the video with strong contrast.) This will make the text stand out sharper.

Our Video SEO recommendation for YouTube's annotations feature

YouTube should treat annotations as indexable metadata, just like it does with the title, description and tags entry fields. After all, annotations are helpful text content that can improve a video's relevancy to the viewer (similar to the description field), which is under the control of the account holder with permission-based controls for collaboration (so spam shouldn't be an issue).

Hey YouTube, you're welcome (again!)

  • Muhammad Sarfraz

    Send me some Tips.

  • Bo Gowan

    With a little bit of graphics work and preparation, YouTube annotations can be very useful for enabling navigation features during a video. Instead of people abandoning your video (the way half of people do with YouTube videos) you can entice them to click on a related video.

    Here's an example:

  • wagerfilm

    informative. I never thought annotations had much use. But I now see their potential, as you describe it. Sylvester Wager, wagerfilm

  • Jason

    I'm looking for a way to add a clickable link in a video that will take a visitor to one of my domains. So far, I've only found services that charge for this and it's a bit pricey. Is there any way to do this??? It seems to be that the only way to do this is to have annotations that link to the actual youtube channel, that then directs the visitor to my site with the clickable text links.

    Possibly the best way to do this would be with having an annotation that refers the viewer to the clickable link in the description?

    Any advice appreciated and will subscribe to follow-up comments via email.



    • Mark Robertson

      Hey there Jason. Pretty soon, veeple is going to have a plugin for the jwplayer that will allow you to do this for free. Right now, as for YouTube, the ideas you mentioned are good ones. If you want to add an overlay that gets users to your site from YouTube, you can do that with promoted videos if you are in the US or in Canada (I dont think they have opened it up elsewhere). If you look at this video, Ive made a clickable overlay.... Does that help?

      • Jason

        Hey Mark - That's great and I think that's going to work out with veeple once they have it up and rolling. For right now, I think I'm just going to use a Camtasia plugin that works with Power Point - will use graphics to refer people to the link in the video description. I'm a stickler for driving every visitor that I can:)

        Thanks man - I appreciate the response.