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April 13, 2017

YouTube Ditches Annotations, Welcomes New Mobile-Friendly Interactivity

May 2nd marks a big day for YouTube. Nearly ten years after adding annotations, the video streaming giant is retiring them in favor of newer, more mobile-friendly calls-to-action. This is a huge shift for YouTube and its network of creators, and signals a move to mobile that has been coming for a long time.

YouTube announced the change in a blog post, and was quick to point out their reasoning for this big move. YouTube annotations have never worked on mobile, and as the company points out, 60% of YouTube’s watch time is now on mobile devices. So for creators using annotations as calls-to-action, over half of their audience wasn’t seeing that opportunity.

Furthermore, annotations have become boring in a world of interactive content. Allowing users to create links or add text ‘notes’ or ‘speech bubbles’ to videos, annotations were big news when they were the first form of in-video interactivity that YouTube or any of its competitors had ever unveiled, but times have changed. Interactive video, with rich, in-video elements like forms and images, are the norm now, and video creators were desperate for something more.

Enter End Screens & Cards

YouTube has listened to its audience, and with the demise of annotations, we see a bigger effort put towards perfecting End Screens and Cards, YouTube’s new interactive elements. While the two differ in their execution, both offer new ways for creators to engage viewers and drive them to take action, whether it’s watching another video, visiting a website, or answering a poll question. Let’s take a look at what marketers can do with these new interactive opportunities!

YouTube Cards

Much like annotations, YouTube Cards are visible during video playback, and typically obscure a portion of the screen to show an image or similar call-to-action. Cards can be created for a variety of purposes, including linking to a Video or Playlist, promoting a Channel, soliciting a Donation, offering a Poll Question, or simply linking to an Approved Website.

Here’s one of our videos featuring a YouTube card, in this case linking back to an Approved Website:

YouTube Cards are the closest in behavior to annotations, but are designed to be less obtrusive and offer more visual elements. They work seamlessly on mobile, and now include the polling question or donation option. Links can now include shopping pages from sites like Shopify or Etsy, or crowdfunding links like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo as long as they are through approved sites.

End Screens

End Screens give viewers who engage with your content all the way to the end of your video the opportunity to discover more content, or follow through on a call-to-action. Channels could always place YouTube annotations at the end of their videos to drive an action, but End Screens are supposed to make setting up final interactive elements easier, and make those elements more functional on mobile.

Unlike Cards, End Screens have a few limitations that are important for marketers to understand. First off, you can use End Screens to link to a Video or Playlist, a Channel Subscribe link, another Channel, or and link to an Approved Website. This is a fairly different set of options than Cards. And while Cards exist as stand-alone items, End Screens have one further limit: at least one of your end screen links must be to another video or playlist.

YouTube likely uses this limitation to ensure that viewers continue consuming relevant video content, but for marketers looking to minimize the number of calls-to-action that appear at the end of the video, this limitation presents two issues. First off, you must include a link to a video or playlist, which takes up valuable screen real estate. And furthermore, as you can see in the video below, End Screens linking to videos appear larger than those linking directly to websites. So your viewers may be more likely to click through and view the next video than interact with your CTA. Here’s an example of an end screen that links to a video and to a website:

Making The Most of Interactivity

As with annotations, these two interactive elements are powerful tools, providing you use them properly. Cards are able to incorporate visual elements, meaning the image you choose for your card matters as much as the splash screen of your video – nobody will click on your card if it looks boring, or unrelated to the content.

End screens are a great way to drive more interest in your content, or promote your channel, but make sure you’re designing the last 5-20 seconds of your video to accommodate this new format. Creators that were used to customizing the ending of their videos to make use of annotations will find a very different layout when they switch to End Screens, and some existing video content may no longer make sense with this change.

YouTube continues to grow its interactivity both on desktop and on mobile, and creators now have a new suite of ways to engage with viewers. How viewers will respond, especially with theses new mobile-visible elements, we’ll have to wait to find out. But in all cases, if you’re developing video content to elicit a response – whether it’s watching more videos, downloading a whitepaper, or signing up for a demo – make sure you are using these calls-to-action. A video designed to engage a viewer that has no opportunities for engagement is doomed from the start!

Jon Spenceley

Jon Spenceley

Jon is the former Content and Social Media Manager at Vidyard, and is passionate about helping companies get the most out of their video. In his spare time, Jon's an amateur longboarder, distiller-in-training, and is a sucker for breakfast foods.

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