Making “Frenemies” with YouTube Annotations

|Brandon Carter


YouTube’s annotations are all the rage these days as they continue to proliferate throughout the video marketplace. At their best they can provide a simple way to engage viewers and drive video views and subscriptions via interactive copy and graphics in the player itself. At their worst they can stir painful memories of VH1’s “Pop Up Video.”

Unless you’re creating one of those “choose your own ending” videos, you’ll want to be careful how far you go with annotations, as they can be quite disruptive and actually inhibit engagement with your video content as much as they can help.

If your aim is to drive viewers to more videos, annotations can be a great tool, but used in the wrong places at the wrong times, they can produce the undesired effect of viewers prematurely abandoning videos in favor of others. You may end up with more video views, but they can come at the cost of viewers’ full engagement with your content.

Here are a few basic tips on managing your annotations.

1) Pick Your Spots

When choosing the position of your annotations, remember that your aim should be to minimize distractions in the video player. That means choosing the edges of the video frame to place the annotations, keeping the center clutter free (the number of content owners who don’t practice this is astounding). The top or bottom of the frame is optimal in accommodating more text, but don’t rule out the left and right side of the frame either, especially if you’re utilizing a more graphical annotation.

2) Less is More

This rule applies to the number of annotations you use as well as the size and amount of text in each one. Remember, annotations are meant to supplement your content, not compete with it. More time spent reading your annotations is less time spent watching the actual video content. And if you try to cram too much text into one annotation, the viewer can have a hard time reading all of it before it disappears.

3) Make Them Relevant

Unless you’re reviving “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” it’s far more important that your annotations be relevant and helpful than entertaining (that’s what the content’s for, hopefully). Depending on the nature of your video, making them too “jokey” or otherwise abrasive (the use of all CAPS, multiple exclamation points, etc.) can make the video seem low in quality and professionalism.

Furthermore, the annotations should be relevant to the content, not just your bottom line: Viewers know a one-way street when they see one, and a barrage of calls to action during the viewing experience can be a major turnoff. Providing an added detail on a piece of information only alluded to in the video is often a good use case.

4) Timing is Everything

If you do want to present a call-to-action – getting viewers to watch another video or directing them to a website, for example – then the timing of the annotations’ appearance is everything. Too early and you risk the viewer prematurely abandoning the current video. Too late and the viewer may be on the move to another site. An interactive link to more content is best placed near the end of the video (but not the very end) as the content is coming to a close and viewers are thinking about what to watch next.

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Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter is a Content Specialist at Outbrain. He began his career as a staff journalist for the Maine weekly... Read more

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