Annotations 2: Revenge of the Annotations


My friend Matt Gielen and I discuss all aspects of running YouTube channels from the very small to the cliched 30,000 foot view. Matt’s as old a hand at YouTube as you can get and has done great work leading the audience development effort at Frederator Studios, distributors of the finest animated shows on YouTube. We’ve discussed annotations at length and Matt has written the definitive blog post of 2014 on how annotations could be hurting you. Please go read that! Since his post is so definitive, I wanted to touch on some examples from our network where we’ve also proven those best practices, not rehash them.

For our purposes we’re going to use two videos from our action sports channel, Echoboom SportsStreet Dreams is a feature-length film about skaters and features many popular skaters from 2008/2009. We have uploaded the full film to the channel and it’s currently the most-watched video there.

Street Dreams Poster

The other video is a full scene (what we call a “full part” in Action Sports video) from our release Like a Lion – The True Story of Legendary Skier Tanner Hall

Like a Lion film poster

With Street Dreams you can see that the video, launched in January, has very high close rates on its annotations. This means viewers are actively shutting them off. I consider annotation closes to be anti-clickthroughs. They aren’t simply a viewer passively ignoring your message. They are actively doing the exact opposite of what you want them to do. The clickthrough rates (CTR), in this case on annotations asking viewers to subscribe, are very low in part because there’s a high close rate.

chart showing high close rates and low CTR

We do have one version of this annotation toward the end of the film with a different message for the same call-to-action. You can see that the close rate is still high, but the CTR is getting into more reasonable territory. We’ll come back to this later.

chart showing high close rate and slightly better CTR

The Like a Lion full part launched in May. If you were only looking at the close rate and the CTR, you would realize something different was going on with this video. For both annotations, the CTR is through the roof and the close rate is extremely low.

chart showing low close rate and high CTR

Why is this the case on this video? If we actually go and look at the video, we get a good idea of why there’s such great performance from the annotations here. Like Matt suggests in his article, all the annotations were placed at the end of the video after the viewer was done watching what they wanted to watch. The video uses an end card designed to drive viewers to a trailer for the same film and another full part for a different film by the same production company (something important to this audience).

like a lion screenshot

What’s more, we have data that shows viewers who went to that other full part watched it for almost a minute more than average. Ultimately more minutes watched on YouTube means more ad revenue and better placement in search and recommendations.

The Like a Lion clip is not without its flaws. The end card does not present any option to subscribe. There’s also a merch annotation to iTunes at the beginning of the video which no one clicked on and which got close to a 5% close rate.

There are a few tactics we can use from this examination to support a wider strategy of more effective annotating:

  1. As suggested by Matt, annotations and InVideo Programming should not get in the way of the viewing experience
  2. Preferably they should be moved to the end with a well-designed end card
  3. End cards should point to content that’s as related-as-possible to the video just viewed
  4. There should be no more than two annotations per video with clear calls-to-action
  5. Do not obtrusively place a purchase call to action in front of content

As a result of this analysis we’ve changed a couple of things on Echoboom. First, we’re experimenting with better purchase calls-to-action that are more integrated with the content. See the branded watermark on this Torstein Horgmo clip.

Second, we experimented with differing placement for annotations on Street Dreams. Unfortunately we are stuck with how the video is, so a nice end card cannot be added. We tried moving all annotations to the end of the film, but noticed a drastic decrease in subscription from the video. Close rates did go down, but we weren’t really giving viewers any real insight into why they should subscribe, so no clicks. We are now using the second case of an annotation with better copy mentioned above throughout the film to make the most of the situation.

If you’ve got a few minutes, you should absolutely go watch Frederator’s Bee and Puppycat. It’s fun!

One Comment

Dane Golden

Thanks for these great tips Jeremy, and thanks to Matt G. for tweeting me to them. I will talk about your tips on a future episode of ReelSEO TubeTalk. Excellent!

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