Google's (GOOG) (GOOGL) video-sharing site counts more than a billion users worldwide. Billions of views are generated daily with folks checking out hundreds of millions of hours of content.
YouTube is a perfect example of what Wall Street calls the network effect. Viewers go where the content is, and content creators flock to the site where the viewers are. A whopping average of 300 hours of video is uploaded to the site every minute.
House of Cards
Opportunistic content creators will want to take advantage of YouTube Cards, a feature that lets viewers connect directly to the uploader's content. Linking directly to product pages, related websites and even fundraising sites, the new feature that became available to all content creators in good standing this month is a welcome upgrade to YouTube Annotations.
YouTube Annotations rolled out years ago as a way for users uploading videos to post notes on their clips. Creators can add written updates or corrections without having to upload new content. It's also a way for them to link back to earlier videos and playlists.
YouTube Annotations also allows publishers to post videos with text-free highlighted areas that can be clicked on so viewers can check out earlier uploads. This is a feature that inspired some interactive fun, and production-savvy users eventually embraced text-free annotations to turn highlights of earlier clips into clickable options at the end of videos.
However, a big limitation of YouTube Annotations is that they don't render on the small screens of smartphone and tablet gadgetry. Mobile is a big deal for YouTube these days. Half of its views originate from smartphone and tablet devices, and mobile revenue has more than doubled over the past year.
The new YouTube Cards changes that, replacing text-based blocks with icons that can be clicked on across any device. Viewers can then navigate to merchandise links from approved storefronts, fundraising hubs, associated websites, and other YouTube videos or playlists.
YouTube Cards can be lucrative if your videos dovetail seamlessly into a product. If you're a musician, you can link your original compositions to your iTunes page. If you provide arts and crafts tutorials, you can direct viewers to your Etsy selling page. If you have a custom channel logo that you're proud of and you want to sell it as a T-shirt or any other product, you now have an easy way to link viewers to CafePress or Spreadshirt. There are dozens of participating merchants.
If you're raising awareness for a cause, there are plenty of approved fundraising sites that YouTube Cards can point to, and that also includes financing your own productions through YouTube's tip jar-like Fan Funding platform.
If you have a video that's gaining in traction but it's not easily marketable, you can use YouTube Cards to link to earlier videos on your channel that have more potent monetization opportunities.
This isn't just scholarly lip service. My Moonpies channel has let me pocket thousands of dollars over the years through YouTube's ad-sharing program, where I recently topped 15,000 subscribers and hit nearly 4.5 million views. That's been welcome passive income, and now YouTube Cards opens the door for new ways to make money beyond getting a cut of the ads that the site can place on your videos.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Google (A and C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.