YouTube Annotations: Streamline Your YouTube Viewer’s Path to Purchase

A 2012 study published by Fleishman-Hillard and Harris Interactive reports that 89% of consumers use search engines to aid in or make purchasing decisions. Since being founded in 2005, YouTube has rapidly become the second largest search engine in the United States. With more than 1 billion unique users visiting YouTube each month, a huge opportunity exists for brands to reach consumers and drive conversions.

The question is: how can your brand leverage this huge opportunity to not only attract eyeballs, but more importantly, increase sales? Follow these tactics and you will be able to…

  1. Streamline your video conversion path
  2. Discover top converting videos
  3. Scale top performers across your entire video library

First off, your video content strategy should not be to just get video views, unless of course the goal of your specific campaign is to simply reach as many people as possible. These video views become more valuable when you can attribute them to a business conversion (e.g., product sale, channel subscription).

The YouTube Viewers’ Disconnected Journey

Follow me in this fictional example and see where the disconnect occurs. We will then examine how leveraging YouTube Annotations can streamline the potential consumerss path to purchase.

  • GREAT – Your company website sells propane and propane accessories
  • GREAT – As part of your video content marketing efforts, you have built an extensive YouTube Channel comprised of high quality, informative videos that properly target your ideal customer
  • GREAT – Your videos perform very well within YouTube search and gets lots of visibility
  • NOT SO GREAT – These videos are not the point of purchase. If after watching your video, a viewer decides to buy your product they would need to go to Google, search, find your product page, and hope it drives them to the correct purchase page.This presents many points along the way where the visitor could get lost and drop out of the conversion path.


Use YouTube Annotations to Display a Prominent Video Call-To-Action

If you are not familiar with YouTube’s Video Annotations, basically they enable you to add interactive commentary to your videos. The video owner can control the message, when/where an annotation appears, and where to link to (e.g., another video, channel, associated website). Pretty great, right?

The goal with annotations should be to drive as many viewers to the conversion (e.g., point of sale) without being overly invasive to the video content. As a rule of thumb, you should design annotations to be the secondary focal point in the video.

There are 5 types of annotations to choose from: Speech bubbles, Spotlights, Notes, Titles, and Labels. YouTube created an excellent walkthrough on how to create and edit annotations, so become familiar with the basics before you dive in.

The main message in this blog is to showcase clickable annotations, which allow you to funnel viewers from the YouTube video page to your website. To achieve this, I would suggest using either of the following annotations:

Spotlight Annotations – Used to highlight specific items/areas in a video and allow authors to subtly add clickable areas within a video. Spotlight Annotations are most effective when segments of the video are designed specifically for user interaction. For example, adding a section to the end of a video with a call to action that offers options to view additional videos in the series. I highly suggest using this option when designing videos specifically for YouTube.

GoPro, which makes high-definition personal cameras, does an excellent job of embedding video-in-video spots just for leveraging YouTube spotlight annotations.


  • Notice the 4 different Spotlight annotations that offer clickable/interactive options for the viewer (2 to the GoPro YouTube Channel; 2 to other GoPro videos).
  • These annotations are present at the end of the video, so they do not obstruct the actual video content.
  • The actual annotation has minimal text, which only appears when a viewer hovers over it. A light outline shows when the viewer is not hovering.
  • Since the video was designed specifically for YouTube, the author included their own text and video thumbnails to provide context for the viewer. Building these segments into the video provides a brand with unlimited flexibility with respect to the design/appearance of the annotation.
  • View the complete video here:

Note Annotations – A popup box containing text and a colored background. This option does not require any upfront work when creating the video and is the quickest way to add clickable links to a video. I suggest using Note Annotations for existing videos, as they are a quick way to retrofit your video content with annotations.

An example of a company effectively using Note Annotations is Wicked Wine Candles, who make candles from recycled wine bottles. The very simple video is a close up view of one of their candles burning, with the main focus on the sound of the burning wood wick.


  • Notice they placed a ‘Note’ Annotation that appears for the final 5 seconds of the video, so as not to intrude on the video content.
  • The text includes a promo code CTA for a viewer to receive a product discount, which encourages users to click through.
  • The annotation is clickable and links to the brand’s external website.
  • While not easily visible to the user, the annotation link contains campaign tracking parameters, which enable this specific video and annotation link to be tracked all the way to the point of conversion.
  • View the complete video here:

7 Tips When Designing YouTube Annotations

  1. Only display an annotation for the amount of time it takes to read it. So, if you keep the text as short as possible, this should be no longer than 10 seconds.
  2. Try to position the annotation toward the top corners of the video frame. Annotations placed in the center can be too obtrusive. Conversely, if placed across the bottom and they could be hidden by subtitles.
  3. Size the annotations so that they don’t significantly hinder the visual of the video content.
  4. Using bright background/fill colors can be eye-catching. Now, this can be a good and a bad thing, as the annotation will become the focal point, which can distract the viewer from the contents of the video.
  5. Overcrowding your video with annotations can be considered spammy and detract from the quality of the video, hurting viewership metrics. Use the fewest number of annotations in your video as you can.
  6. To track specific video performance, add URL campaign parameters to your links.  This allows you to track viewers from your YouTube video landing page to your link destination page (e.g., product landing page on your website). By doing so you can easily discover videos that drive top conversions and then create additional content to emulate that success.
  7. Test and analyze different calls-to-action using Google Analytics. Once you find the correct mix of elements to drive high conversions, scale these tactics across your entire channel.

If executed correctly, the above tips can significantly increase referral visits to your target landing pages and drive increased conversions. Annotations can be a great tool to add interactivity to your videos, but be forewarned: incorrect usage can be quite distracting to viewers and even drive them away.

One final note on video content – I highly recommend creating content that is not always product-centric, but instead focuses on the types of informational content that your target consumers are most interested in. With this approach, your brand will be able to gain visibility and connect with consumers -some of whom are not yet brand loyal- at different points in their purchasing decision. Furthermore, high quality informational content allows your brand to establish itself as a trusted and authoritative resource.

Go, leverage the power of YouTube Annotations. Feel free to add links to your favorite videos that use annotations below in the comments. We’ll pick our favorite, break down what we like about it, and update our post to include your examples.

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