Engage Your YouTube Audience with Interactive Features

A good YouTube video makes your viewers want to keep watching. A great video can inspire them to take action – to visit your website, subscribe to your channel, or make a donation.

If you’re already creating great content, the challenge is how to call viewers to action. YouTube’s solution is interactive features, or clickable links that appear within videos. Think of them as call-to-action “buttons” that you can customize with text and thumbnails.

YouTube began offering these features in 2008 through a desktop-only tool called Annotations. Given that more than half of all YouTube traffic now comes from mobile devices, an upgrade was in order.

In the past year and a half, YouTube has rolled out two interactive features – Cards and End Screens – that are quicker to use and more versatile than Annotations. The new features are pre-formatted notifications that will reach viewers on both desktop and mobile.


Cards are thumbnail overlays that prompt viewers to watch your other videos, subscribe to your channel, visit your website, and more. You can place them anywhere in the video, and they appear during playback.

Cards do not pop up by themselves. To see a Card’s content, viewers must click or tap the “info” teaser icon in the top-right corner.

Card teaser “i” icon in top-right corner.
Card teaser “i” icon in top-right corner.
Expanded Card content.
Expanded Card content.

To add a Card to your video, select “Creator Studio” on the top-right corner of your YouTube account. In the left-hand menu, click “Video Manager” and then “Videos.” Choose the relevant video and select “Edit.” In the top tab, you’ll see the “Cards” option. Select “Add card” and choose the type of card you want.

End Screens

End Screens work much like Cards, but pop up on their own, and only within the last 5 to 20 seconds of your video. If a viewer hovers over the thumbnail (or taps it on a mobile device), the End Screen expands.

End Screen thumbnail in bottom-left corner.
End Screen thumbnail in bottom-left corner.
Expanded End Screen content.
Expanded End Screen content.

You can add up to four End Screen elements to your video. When the End Screens display, other interactive content is suppressed, like Cards and featured content.

To create an End Screen, follow the same steps to create a Card, but choose the “Annotations and End Screens” option.

So which one do I choose?

In the age of smartphones, you can rule out the desktop-only Annotations option altogether. That leaves End Screens and Cards.

To choose between them, consider the length of your video. The longer it is, the less likely a viewer will stick around to see an End Screen appear in the last 5 to 20 seconds.

For shorter videos, opt for End Screens. For longer videos (more than 5 minutes or so), stick with Cards.

Finally, a few best practices apply to all interactive features.

  • When placing a Card or End Screen, timing is everything. When will the screen be the least cluttered, and when are your viewers most likely to click?
  • Pick a compelling call-to-action, title, and thumbnail image.
  • Limit interactive features to one or two per video.
  • Track click-through performance in the YouTube Analytics section of Creator Studio. This will help you understand how viewers engage with your calls-to-action, and how your video content can drive customer conversions and traffic to your sites.

Shea Jennings is a Communications Associate at Mayo Clinic and a member of the Social and Digital Innovation Team.

Choose a message to share 
Should you be using cards or end screens with your YouTube videos?
New features on YouTube allow you to embed your videos with calls to action.
YouTube rolls out call-to-action “buttons” that you can customize with text and thumbnails.

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