YouTube Annotations – Social Media Secret Sauce

YouTube Annotations – Social Media Secret Sauce


One of the cooler features of YouTube, sometimes done well, oft-times not, is annotations.

Annotations are links on videos that allow the user to go to a video, a YouTube channel, or an associated website, in order to boost engagement and give more information.

The main stipulation – and potential limitation – of annotations, is that associated websites must be sites controlled by the YouTube publisher, as dictated and defined through Google’s Webmaster Tools.

This is fine for links to websites you control, or your Google+ pages. But what about social media sites like Facebook Pages and Twitter Profiles? These sites cannot be claimed by mere mortals – and yet, you’ve probably seen dozens of links to Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes on videos from other YouTube publishers.

How did they do that?

I won’t bury the lede; here’s how it’s done.

In order to create an associated website link on YouTube that will send users to your social media landing sites, you need to know about HTTP 301 Redirects.

A 301 Redirect is a code that tells a web browser that a page or site’s location has permanently been changed to a new location. Redirects can exist at the domain or site level, or at individual page levels.

We’ve established that you can’t associate or verify a site you don’t own in Google Webmaster Tools. But, you can verify a page you do own, one that redirects to one of your various social media pages. That’s the secret sauce.

In my case, I wanted to redirect a link to one of my Twitter accounts (@300Word2Minutes). I really only needed to redirect a single page to this account, so I decided to simply script a landing page, to issue a 301 Redirect to my Twitter Profile for 300 Words, 2 Minutes. Here’s what it looks like in PHP:

Header( "HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently" );
Header( "Location:" );

verified the link to this new page through Google Webmaster Tools, and voila! I now had a site that I could associate with a YouTube Annotation.

You can associate more than one site with a YouTube account. I won’t replicate those instructions here, but you can follow the directions from YouTube support to see how to do this. Suffice it to say, once you Associate a single site on YouTube, you can actually use any Google Webmaster Tools verified site as additional associated websites.

And that’s pretty much it. Except, this:

Associated website links can be very prickly under YouTube.

Even though you may properly verify a site using Google Webmaster Tools, sometimes YouTube simply refuses to recognize them. You may have to do the virtual equivalent of “jiggling the wires” to sometimes get your links working. You can try one (or more) of the following, to get your links recognized by YouTube:

  • Clear your browser cache
  • Exit and Restart your browser
  • Remove the current associated website from YouTube Channel settings, and replace with another verified site; replace again with the link you want to use.

In short, you may have to play around this a bit. I wish this worked better.

Let me know your experiences working with Annotations, and social media sites. I would love to hear your work arounds to this very cool feature.