Are YouTube Annotations Really Effective? You Decide…

/ Aug 12, 2014


Across the board, YouTube creators love annotations. They serve as simple pathways to increasing video engagement and driving views…but what do these annotations look like, and exactly how many views are we talking?

Before we get to the numbers, let’s consider how YouTubers make annotations work on their channels.

Kayley Melissa, a beauty guru represented by YouTube network StyleHaul, uses annotations to invite “viewers to spend more time” with her content. Annotations ensure that audiences actively stay with the same creator, keeping viewers interested by letting them take charge of the channel experience…but in the way that the creators want them to. As Fullscreen prankster Jack Vale puts it, “I always have annotations at the end of the video in hopes that by the time people have seen the video and enjoyed it and engaged with it, they’ll kind of do what I tell them to do.”

Annotations-CreatorPlaybookIt’s not brainwashing, but both Kayley Melissa and Vale understand capitalizing on captivation. As Fullscreen’s VP of talent operations, Phil Ranta, describes it, annotations are all about keeping viewers in the same content “environment.” Unlike linear programming, there are multiple opportunities to click away from a creator’s content at any moment online, which annotations can make up for.

“Everything on YouTube is so quick,” says Vale. “You watch a video and something else pops up, like ads and other video suggestions, so people can very easily click away and watch something different. Having the annotations there sort of competes against all this other content.”

Thus, creators realize that they have to work with their viewers to encourage long-term experiences on their channels.

Annotations serve not only as this kind of “content competition” tool, but also as a way for creators and content companies to curate viewing experiences. “By continuing to give viewers recommendations,” Ranta says, “you can direct how you want the flow of traffic to go on your channel.”

This all works towards overall video engagement and, ultimately, view count. The numbers reflect this success, and YouTube does a good job of tracking them by accounting for click-through rates, according to Ranta. He deems annotations responsible for about 1.2% of Fullscreen’s 3.5 billion monthly views, which is nothing to sniff at.


Meanwhile, Kayley Melissa estimates 10%-15% of her total views come from click-throughs (though StyleHaul is unable to confirm this), and Vale can think of an example that put the rate at 37.5% for a single annotation. He made a “temporary video” asking people for their votes, and of the approximately 40,000 views it received, 15,000 clicked the annotated link at the end to vote for Vale.


SoMedia, a digital video production company that works mostly with digital media agencies and brands, also keeps track of annotations data to gauge engagement. Colin Osing, SoMedia’s VP of marketing, works closely with brands advertising on the web. He noticed that average click-through rates went up from 0.15% to 0.65% once SoMedia started offering annotations in their videos, corresponding to an overall increase in watch time across such videos by 20%.

More views, of course, means increased opportunities for monetization. Kayley Melissa sees a direct link, here. “A lot of my monetization is view-based, so it goes hand in hand — when my views go up, so does my monetization,” she says.

Annotations drive monetization in a number of other ways, too. They link to Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. They send viewers to iTunes for song purchases and websites loaded with relevant merchandise.

In Vale’s case, this merch is the Pooter, a “fart noise-maker” he created and uses in prank videos. Vale notes much more traffic on his Pooter site when he uploads a new video with an annotation linking there. “Most of the time, there’s roughly 20 people on the Pooters product site,” he says. “When I upload a video, for the first hour or so, there’s always a couple hundred people on the site at any given moment.”

Jack Vale Four Annotations

Annotations also have their limitations. YouTube only lets annotated links lead to other videos on the site or to the creator’s own, pre-approved site (you can have one). Vale’s pre-approved site is for the Pooter, and though it works in his favor, he calls the experience “a little bit limited,” saying, “I think it would be cool if [YouTube] had a branding deal where you could link to the other brand.” Meanwhile, Kayley Melissa wishes for annotations to go mobile.

Limitations aside, annotations prove increasingly crucial as the digital video space becomes an ever more commonplace one for creators. This isn’t TV, where creators can rest semi-assured audiences will stay put between commercials. As Ranta puts it, “YouTube fans really love clicking around — that’s the new channel surfing.” The new channel surfing, however, is a lot more interactive than it’s older counterpart, and that’s how audiences like it.

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