Last update: March 30, 2021
It appears that YouTube (owned by Google LLC) has added more of their branding to embedded YouTube videos across the internet. If you have ever embedded a YouTube video on a website or blog, go back and take a peek at your work. You’re in for a surprise — and not a nice one, unfortunately.
While this is a pretty big deal from an SEO standpoint (search engine optimization), there was no warning and there seems to be little or no information about it in YouTube’s help center or anywhere else on the web for that matter.
Watch on YouTube Button
The issue is YouTube/Google have recently started adding a “Watch on YouTube” button-link (some call it a badge) which prompts users to essentially leave a website or blog where they found an embedded YouTube video and, instead, watch it at YouTube.com.
This change is probably being staggered in across the web but my research shows that this button/badge was added to my clients’ sites sometime after 2/12/2021.
Here is a screenshot of the Watch on YouTube button.
While YouTube has every right to make changes to their products and services – especially free services like basic YouTube channels – it seems a bit less than ethical for them to invite web publishers across the planet to use their free video sharing service for well over a decade (Google acquired YouTube in 2006) and then suddenly introduce a button-link that will effectively hijack a percentage of the viewer traffic that otherwise would have remained on the publisher’s website or blog.
Modest Branding – Not So Modest
As you can see in the screenshot shown above (Exhibit 1), YouTube/Google positioned their new Watch on YouTube button-link quite prominently. No one is going to miss that. It displays on the thumbnail image until the user either clicks/taps the start button in the center of the video or clicks/taps the Watch on YouTube button in the lower left. The latter, of course, will take the user away from the publisher’s website to YouTube.com, in many cases probably never to return to the publisher’s website. The Watch on YouTube button is so prominent that some users may perceive it as an instruction rather than an optional prompt and click/tap it thinking that’s what they need to do to watch the video.
In 2011, YouTube/Google introduced the modestbranding parameter enabling publishers to remove the clickable YouTube logo from the control bar of the embedded video player. (This is a separate issue from the “Watch on YouTube” button.) The modestbranding parameter simply needs to be appended to the end of the URL in the HTML code and set to one (i.e., modestbranding=1) to remove the YouTube logo from the control bar. The modestbranding parameter has no effect on the newer “Watch on YouTube” button.
Considering that YouTube/Google made the modestbranding parameter available back in 2011, it seems reasonable to assume they were sensitive to the fact that some publishers might want to remove the clickable YouTube logo to reduce the potential for users to navigate away to YouTube.com.
So, that begs the question Why, suddenly 10 years later, would YouTube/Google implement such an aggressive “additional” layer of branding clearly intended to take hard-earned traffic away from video publishers?
Adding salt to the wound… the Watch on YouTube button is so large, publishers have pointed out that, in some cases, it covers important visual aspects of the video thumbnail.
Confusion Between the New Watch on YouTube button and the YouTube Logo in the Control Bar
This issue can be confusing because there are now two different buttons/links containing the YouTube logo in the YouTube embedded video player. The newer one, and the focus of this article, is located in the lower left corner of the video as shown in the screenshot above (Exhibit 1). The other is the normal YouTube logo located in the lower right-hand corner of the video in the video control bar as shown below (Exhibit 2).
In researching the Watch on YouTube button-link issue, I found some confusion in the few blogs and forum posts currently addressing this issue. Here is an example in a support forum at WordPress.org. The creator of the post clearly explained that they want to know how to remove the “Watch on YouTube” button located in the bottom left of their video. However, if you scroll down to the post authored by roam92, the modestbranding=1 parameter is offered as the solution. However, as explained above, that only removes the YouTube logo in the bottom right corner, in the control bar. It does not remove the newer “Watch on YouTube” button. Hence, no real solution was provided in this thread yet the issue is marked resolved. (?)
How to Remove the Watch on YouTube Button
To be clear, what follows is not an ideal solution. The developers at YouTube/Google have things pretty well locked down. One way or another they are going to brand their products. It seems to be a question of how obtrusive they are going to be.
Based on my testing, the only way to remove the Watch on YouTube button is to remove the video controls with the controls parameter. Like the modestbranding parameter, the controls parameter needs to be appended to the end of the URL in the HTML code. But in this case, it needs to be set to zero (i.e., controls=0).
Unfortunately, as you might expect, removing the control bar eliminates useful controls such as closed captions, full-screen mode, and playback speed. However, for me, losing access to the control bar is the lesser of the evils.
Also, as shown in the screenshot below (Exhibit 3), removal of the control bar results in a YouTube logo being displayed in the lower right-hand corner. However, it’s a bit more discreet than the “Watch on YouTube” button/badge and, most importantly, it does not prompt the user to navigate away and watch the video at YouTube.com. This logo fades away after the first few seconds of playback but reappears if the video is paused.
Embed Code Example
The following is an example of YouTube embed code with the controls parameter set to zero (0) effectively disabling the Watch on YouTube button. The controls parameter is appended to the end of the URL and must be preceded by a question mark.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z13-yP3Zhns?controls=0" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" ></iframe>
So, as you can see in the above embed-code example, the controls=0 parameter is what removes the “Watch on YouTube” button in this solution – NOT the modestbranding parameter. The modestbranding parameter is not even used here. It’s irrelevant because the controls parameter disables the video control bar which is where the original YouTube logo resides.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
I think its fair to say that this new “Watch on YouTube” button will generally have a negative influence on the SEO value of many websites and blogs across the web. Site owners, web designers and marketers have been embedding YouTube videos for years to increase user engagement and improve the ranking power of their web properties. Many, if not most, will not have the time to go back and tweak the embed code to remove this new predatory button-link.
Over time as web users choose to take advantage of the Watch on YouTube button, time on page and average session durations will decrease among other important SEO related metrics. YouTube/Google will essentially be cannibalizing the traffic of many of the YouTube publishers who helped make YouTube the monstrous success it is. What ever happened to Don’t be evil?
I hope this helps clarify this issue; especially the difference between the new “Watch on YouTube” button and the pre-existing YouTube logo which has been located in the YouTube video-control bar for years. Bottom line, this new more aggressive layer of branding is not a good thing for website owners, designers and digital marketers who have spent time and effort over the years embedding YouTube videos.
What are your thoughts? Do you consider this traffic-building tactic by YouTube/Google as predatory? How are you dealing with it? Do you have an alternative solution for disabling it or are you thinking about using a different video-sharing service? Leave a comment below.