How to Create Annotations, YouTube Cards, and Overlays on YouTube Videos

Overlays are little “ads” that appear on top of YouTube videos; annotations  and cards are similar, though they can be clickable (or not).
In this video, I’ll explain how to set up annotations, cards, and overlays on your YouTube videos.

Watch the Video

How to Create Annotations and Cards

Annotations allow you to create text messages “on top” of your videos in post-production; if created correctly, these are “clickable” in a video. If you use a program such as iMovie, Camtasia, or Windows Movie Maker, you can also create non-clickable annotations on top of your videos in those programs. However, after you create an upload a video you can create an annotation inside of YouTube itself, and it can be clickable to an action such as “subscribe to your channel” or “sign up for your email list.” First what are annotations, and what you can you do with them? (You can read the official YouTube help file, here.) To see annotations in action, view my video on SEO Tips and Tools or the video on Social Media Marketing Tips and Tools. The annotations are the red boxes that appear with notes for “free tools” or at the very end of the video to “subscribe to our channel.”  YouTube MarketingHere are some uses for annotations –

  • Adding Text. Use annotations to add text call outs or “speech bubbles” to add emphasis in video post-production.
  • Adding Clickable Text. Add annotations that are clickable to your website (you need to associate your website with your YouTube channel for this to work).
  • Adding Subscribe Buttons. You can add a “subscribe to my channel” clickable button anywhere in the video.

YouTube Cards function in a similar way to annotations. I’m not a huge fan of cards because they only appear in the top right of the video under the “i” symbol, and – in my opinion and experience – not that many people will even see them or realize that they can click through on them. But similar to annotations, you can add YouTube cards and reference them in your video as ways to get more information, easily. For an example of cards, watch this video (and click on the top right information icon), here. For the official YouTube help file on cards, click here. Note that if you turn “on” cards, then you turn “off” call to action overlays; you can have one, but not the other.  

Now that you know what annotations and cards are, here are your steps –

  1. Create and upload your YouTube video. Obviously, you need a video!  So create one!
  2. Brainstorm what you want people to click “to” from your video. In many cases, we are trying to drive sign ups to our email mailing list, so an offer like a free eBook or something cool is what you want to do. You can also make it easy for people to subscribe to your channel right from the video.
  3. Login to your YouTube account, and then go to Creator Studio > Video Manager > Find Your Video in the List > Edit.  Annotations and cards both “live” in the top menu.
  4. Follow the instructions, play around with it, and input your annotations and/or cards to your video.  (Remember you’ll need to associate your website with your YouTube channel to be able to make clickable links!)
  5. Watch your video (in an incognito window), and make sure that you see your annotations and/or cards, and that they are clickable and you like what you see.

YouTube Call to Action Overlays


Overlays are advertisements that appear on top of your video. They’re cool because they’re clickable and they’re highly visible. Also, they prevent ads from being shown on your video (especially good if you have monetization turned “on” on your video. They’re a little tricky to set up; here’s how.

  1. Login to AdWords. You MUST advertise the video via Google AdWords, if only for a $1.00 / day or less to turn “on” overlays. They show 100% of the time, even when the videos are not being advertised, so they’re really worth it.  Make sure that your AdWords account AND your YouTube account login are the same; the accounts MUST BE LINKED. Click here to learn more about this.
  2. Create an “ad” for your Video by clicking on the RED ad button in AdWords.  Copy / paste the URL from YouTube to advertise the video ON WHICH you want to put the overlay.
  3. Go step-by-step into making the ad. I recommend taking this seriously – writing a strong ad for the video, including a relevant targeting groups. Put ” or [] around all keywords!
  4. Toggle back to YouTube > Creators Corner > Video Editor > Your Video > Edit and then you should see the “Call to Action Overlay” feature enabled on your video in the video editor.
  5. Create your call to action overlay. You can upload a logo if you like, but it’s not required or really necessary.

Technically, you can now turn OFF your ad, and the overlay will still run (!). But it’s actually a pretty good investment if you are laser-focused on your keywords, so for < $1.00 a day you can promote your video and get more views / users / leads. You can read the official YouTube help file on call to action overlays, here.


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About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.