Across the Youniverse: Your future is in the cards

As marketers, we are students of behavior. We watch people, identify patterns and trends, and then use that knowledge to attempt to influence consumer behavior on behalf of our clients in a way that (hopefully) inconveniences or annoys the consumer as little as possible.


Sometimes, though, even our best intentions can produce substandard results. That’s how I used to feel about YouTube annotations. For those who don’t know, annotations are those annoying little pop-ups that channel owners spam all over their videos to urge people to subscribe or watch another video. I know I personally despise them, and every person I’ve watched using YouTube either simply gets rid of them by clicking the (x) on the annotation, or gets annoyed when they don’t know how to do that. Nevertheless, when I was researching YouTube tactics, I stumbled upon article after article urging me to use annotations to keep my audience engaged – and to urge them to subscribe to my channel.


Then, YouTube came out with cards – mobile-friendly annotations on steroids that users could fill with websites, call to action, or other pertinent information. Even better, these cards stayed hidden (after a short Easter egg prompt) until the user elected to click on them. That way, users who wanted to learn more could, and others wouldn’t be bothered. The combination of cross-platform access and less annoyance makes cards superior to annotations in my opinion, but let’s show you how to do each so you can make up your own mind.




To help in this process, I put both cards and annotations on our “The BigGiveSA 2016 Visits Alamo City Comic Con” Video. To begin, go to the “Video Manager” section and click “edit” on your video. The “Annotations” section will be at the top. Click it and it will take you here:


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There are several different types of annotations you can use depending on your intent. For our purposes, let’s make a note telling people to go to The Big Give SA’s web site.


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Now, to minimize the intrusion of the annotation, I made sure that it didn’t conflict with any existing titling, and that it went away after 4-6 seconds (the normal length of time it takes someone to visually process a title of that size).


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I then added a second note; a call to action annotation at the end of the video asking people to subscribe to our channel.


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Note that when I check the link box, I can use my annotation to send the viewer to another video, playlist, channel, Google+ profile (but why?), crowdfunding project, or have them subscribe to our channel. I cannot send them to our website. That’s where cards come in handy.




Here’s a millennial in a tight shirt telling us more about how to use cards:


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Like their screen-filling cousins, cards can be placed to pop up at any point along your video’s timeline. Unlike annotations, however, we can stack up to five cards that persist throughout the video – as long as the user clicks that handy-dandy logo on the top right corner.


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To begin, I thought since we were posting this video for The Big Give S.A., it might be nice to link viewers to their YouTube page as well.


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When I click on the “add channel” option, I can add any YouTube channel, along with a teaser text that will pop up in the video itself, as well as a custom message that will remain in the card to create a call to action or add more depth to the card.


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So now, when John Burnam pops up about 30 seconds into the video to talk about The Big Give S.A., our card pops up as well, reminding people that The Big Give S.A. has its own page with more videos about its mission (this is also a nice way to connect with other pages and grow your subscriber base – especially if you ask before tagging other pages in cards). The card then disappears, leaving a small encircled “i” to remind people that it’s there if they need more info.


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But (from a marketer’s perspective) the best part about cards is that you can link associated web sites to them.  It’s not the easiest process in the world, but it’s totally rewarding if you can get your web site associated with your YouTube page. Here’s how you do it.


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Once you’ve put the site in the search console, it’ll ask you to verify it (if you’re doing this for a company, I’d recommend asking one of your IT people to make sure you have clearance to do this before moving forward – they also may just do it for you. Bonus!).


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Boom! We’re verified. Now, we can let people know that is where brands go to get the digital help they need (ahem!). Let’s put that happy little plug at the end of the video next to our subscription call to action. It will also have the added benefit of reminding people about our previous cards.


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Here’s what it looks like.


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Admittedly, the last five seconds of the video are a little cluttered, but if somebody actually watched the video to the end, it’s a good bet that they’re interested in learning more. Through cards and annotations we can give those viewers pathways to follow their curiosity, and drive them to content that will make us more valuable in their eyes…and in the eyes of our clients.


About the author: JT Street spent 15 years in the world of radio, TV, and print news. He’s been everything from a photographer to a movie critic to the host of his own entertainment segment. He now brings those experiences to the web as a multimedia specialist for esd and associates. Contact him at












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