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Advanced tips for annotations usage

Starting in May 2017, you won't be able to edit annotations or add new ones. All your existing annotations will continue to show on videos. Learn how to use other tools to keep viewers engaged.

Annotations allow you to hold a dialog with your viewers by encouraging them to take an action while they're watching a video. When used correctly, annotations can improve engagement, viewership, and help you grow your audience.

However, incorrect usage of annotations can be distracting, which may ultimately turn viewers away.

While only you know what works best for your video and your audience, here are some tips which have been found to work with many types of content, and with different audiences.

Create annotations that viewers like

When watching a video, ideally the video should take center stage, and capture the viewer's attention and focus. Text pop-ups and clickable hotspots on the video can easily detract from the viewing experience, so these should be used carefully. A good starting point is to understand what viewers look for in annotations.

check-mark icon Viewers like annotations that... block icon Viewers don't like annotations that...
supplement and enrich the video distract and reduce the perceived quality of the video
aren't overly invasive take over the video
are contextually relevant and give value to viewers only serve the video creator (often perceived as spam)
Suggestions for annotation usage and formatting

There are certain situations in which it may be beneficial for annotations to temporarily become the central focus. Examples include: link menus, games, quizzes, annotation art, etc.

In all other cases though, it's best to make annotations secondary to the video and minimally intrusive.

Here's how:

  • Duration: Annotations should only be displayed for the amount of time needed to read them. Showing annotations for any longer period of time could be distracting to the user and perceived as annoying. In most cases 5-7 seconds is sufficient for the viewer to read annotations.

  • Size: Try to make your annotations small so that they block as little of the video as possible. Annotations that take up all or most of the video area should be avoided.

  • Color: Vibrant fill colors such as red, yellow, blue, orange and pink are likely to be eye-catching, to distract viewers and to create a feeling of clutter. Use these types of colors only when annotations need to be the center attention. In all other cases muted colors (transparent, semi-transparent, gray, white and black) work best.

  • Position: If possible, position your annotations on the borders of the video and away from the center of the video. The image below shows the best positioning for your annotations.

    image of annotations placement

    The best locations to put your annotations are the top corners of the video area (see positions 1 and 3 in the image above). Annotations can also be placed on the top and side borders of the video (see positions 2, 4 and 6). The center area of the video (see position 5) is best left without annotations to avoid obscuring the video. Placing annotations at the bottom of the video (see position 7) is also not recommended as annotations here may be hidden by closed-captioning (subtitles) and ads.

  • Number of annotations: Use the fewest number of annotations in a video at any given time. Try not to show more than two at a time.

  • Length of text: Keep your annotations as short as possible so viewers will be able to read them at a glance and get back to watching the video.

  • Writing in ALL CAPS: Using every word in capital letters may be considered as loud or rude by some viewers.
Keeping annotations relevant

When watching sports and game shows on television we are shown a fair amount of text on the screen (game scores, statistics, time, people’s names etc.). This is not considered distracting or invasive as the information is relevant and useful. On the other hand, receiving a high volume of promotional messages or calls for action will not be seen favorably. As a viewer, we do not like being interrupted with messages which are out of context or which contribute little value to us.

The same rules apply to annotations:

  • Add value: create annotations that add value to the viewing experience rather than detract from it: supplementary information, links, better navigation, interactivity, entertainment and so on. Your audience will appreciate this and will return for more.

  • Promotions and calls for action: minimize the number of calls to action (Subscribe, Favorite, Vote thumbs-up etc.) and promotional messages you put in a video. Try to place them towards its end. This will give viewers a chance to enjoy your content uninterrupted and to form a favorable opinion. A satisfied viewer is more likely to take favorable action and this will yield better results for you.
Effective use of link annotations

Notes, Speech Bubbles and Spotlights, can be linked to "content" (such as other videos, same video, channel pages, playlists, search results). Similarly, they can also be linked to "calls to action" (such as subscribe, compose message and upload video response). Here are some ideas and recommendations for using links:

  • Use spotlight links rather than text links: Although adding links in Notes or Speech Bubbles may be the quickest way to add them to a video, another option is to put spotlight annotations around items in the videos. This will create a "clickable hotspot". Some creators embed thumbnail images or video-in-video spots just for this purpose. This technique often yields better results with a much higher click-through rate than text links.
  • Put video links at the end of your video: When viewers reach the end of a video they are confronted with the question “what shall I watch next?”. We recommend adding links at the end of your video so as to present these users with a set of links to related content (either yours or others’). Some YouTube creators find this a very effective way to cross-promote their content and to drive additional views.
  • Make your video interactive: By using links in your videos you'll create an experience and content that seem to respond to viewer commands. For example, you could present a video for a new car and present the user with multiple color options. Each color option takes the viewer to a different video of the car in the specified color.
  • Create chapters: In long videos that contain multiple distinct sections, it’s a good idea to put a set of links at the beginning of each section. For example, at the start of a gadget review video there may be links to the chapters: “Unboxing”, “Specification”, “Charging” etc.. Then the viewer knows about available content and can choose videos which are relevant and of interest to them.
  • Build branching storylines: One technique which is popular among viewers is branching storylines, also known as "choose your own adventure". This involves creating a plot that spans multiple videos. At the end of each video the viewer is presented with a choice as to how to proceed - each option is a link to a subsequent video that matches this choice. This puts the viewers in charge, challenges them, gets them more involved and engaged.
  • Add subscription links: A good way to add subscribers is to add a subscription link towards the end of a video, when viewers had a chance to appreciate the quality of your videos and are likely to want more.
Using text annotations
  • Use speech bubbles when appropriate: Speech bubbles can be a whimsical way to add speech or thoughts to characters in your video and to call out specifics. However, it is discouraged to use speech bubbles to point to buttons on the YouTube watch page as a way of encouraging viewers to click on them. When viewed in the channel page, in embedded mode, or in full screen the watch page buttons will not be visible, thus making the speech bubble irrelevant and confusing.

  • Titles: Title annotations are useful for adding headings, captions, and other large text notes. They can be used at the beginning of your videos or of individual sections in it. Because of their size they should be used briefly and away from the center. .

  • Consider colors: When choosing font color consider having it contrast with the background color in order to improve the viewer's ability to read the text (for example black over white is better than yellow over white). If you use a transparent background in your annotation the font color should contrast well with the colors in the video.
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