YouTube annotations have been by our side since before we can remember, but on May 2nd we have to say goodbye. We’ve accepted them for who they were – slightly annoying and desktop-only – and have been there for their ups and downs, helping creators and brands control the user experience on YouTube. Annotations touched all of us at some point (unless we only watch YouTube on our phones), whether encouraging us to subscribe, leading us to another video, or compelling us to go into our settings and turn them off.
While annotations were beneficial to creators, themselves, many viewers found that annotations interrupted their viewing sessions – closing 12 annotations before ever clicking on one. Oh and did we mention that they didn’t work on mobile?
So will we really miss them? Probably not. But will we feel weird without them? Probably not.
But we will enjoy them while we can, because come May 2, we will be not be able to add new or edit old annotations on YouTube videos. This update should come as no surprise, as the social video audience continues to shift to mobile and YouTube continues to stress mobile optimization. It will force all channels to evolve their strategies to be optimized for mobile viewership and engagement, and use info cards and end screens, rather than annotations (if they haven’t already). Two years ago, in March 2015, info cards were introduced as YouTube’s solution to the fact that annotations were never clickable on mobile. YouTube also rolled out End Screens last year, which would replace annotations on end cards. So, YouTube set us up for this otherwise difficult goodbye.
This update demonstrates YouTube’s mobile first mindset, and indicates that the platform wants to help content creators reach 100% of their audience and to help brands meet their KPIs. With cards and end screens, it is easier to to make bulk changes on your videos. It also simplifies the process of pushing viewers from one video to the next; or one video to a poll; or one video to a merchandise site. In fact, according to YouTube, end screens drive 7x more engagement than annotations ever did.
YouTube is not removing the feature altogether, only removing the “add” or “edit” feature. So when you watch older content, you’ll get a glimpse of the past. Older end cards that rely on annotations to function will still work, but you better make sure those links are up-to-date. Removing the ability to edit these annotations will leave a lot of work for creators and brands in the next 6 weeks – time to make sure that all current annotations are working and link to evergreen destinations. Then it will be time to move on to bigger and better things.
Annotations, it’s been real ✌?