In autumn 2022, the video platform announced its roll-out of YouTube handles. With this feature, it finally followed the example of other major social media platforms.
But what exactly are handles? How do they differ from channel names and custom URLs? And how can you choose one for your channel?
Here’s the full run-down.
Handles: Your Unique YouTube Identifier
The biggest selling point of YouTube handles is that they provide a unique identifier for your channel.
Currently, multiple YouTube channels can share a name. Viewers searching for a particular channel can be left guessing which is the right one in the search results.
In contrast, handles are unique – think @yourchannel_1. They are therefore a bullet-proof identifier for your YouTube channel. (We’ll talk about how to pick a good one a bit farther down!)
The main difference between YouTube handles and the earlier custom channel URLs is that there’s no barrier to choosing a handle. In the past, you’ve had to reach 100 subscribers before you could pick a custom URL for your channel.
This is not the case for handles. Every user on the platform – even if they just use it to watch and comment on videos – can get a unique handle.
There is one exception: Supervised users won’t be able to get a handle. This applies to children under 13 whose YouTube experience is managed by their parents.
According to YouTube’s announcement video, handles appear in the Shorts tab, in search results, and in comments. You can also mention and tag other accounts using their handles, much like on other platforms.
A word on custom URLs: As handles have now essentially taken over their function, you can no longer create customized URLs using the old process. Legacy custom URLs continue working, however, and will direct people to your channel page.
Can You Choose Your Handle?
So, handles sound pretty useful. But how do you get one for your channel?
These days, you’ll already have one. YouTube did roll them out over several months. After all, there are billions of users on the platform, and letting everyone choose their handle at the same time would have been impossible.
Instead, YouTube sent out email notifications when it was a user’s turn, and also notified them in YouTube Studio. Popular channels had priority: With high activity, subscriber count and engagement, you got to pick your unique handle sooner.
If you already had a unique URL for your channel, this automatically became your handle. You can, however, adjust it if you want to. Eventually, in November 2022, all users that didn’t have a custom URL or didn’t choose their own handle had one assigned to them. YouTube based this default handle on your channel name.
New users are prompted to choose a YouTube handle the first time they contribute to the platform – either by uploading a video or commenting on one.
How to Choose a Good YouTube Handle
As a creator, choosing the right handle for your channel can be a challenge. It should represent what your content is all about and who you are as a YouTuber.
There are some limitations. YouTube handles need to be between 3 and 30 characters long. They can contain upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, as well as underscores, hyphens, and periods. They’re not case-sensitive.
A few more rules: Handles can’t look like URLs or phone numbers. Plus, your handle needs to adhere to YouTube’s Community Guidelines. That means it can’t include violent, sexualized, or offensive terms, or anything that looks spammy. Furthermore, selling or transferring YouTube handles is against the platform’s guidelines.
If you already have handles on other platforms like Instagram, TikTok or Twitter, choosing your YouTube handle is a breeze. To help your fans find you across social networks, picking identical handles is the best strategy.
The only catch? There is no way to claim a handle if it is already being used by someone else. In that case, you need to make modifications to your preferred handle. Introduce numbers, underscores, periods or hyphens. Another strategy often used on other social networks is to add prefixes. For example, if “@jane_foster” is already taken, try one of these:
Can You Change Your YouTube Handle?
Once you’ve picked – or were assigned – your YouTube handle, it is absolutely possible to change it. You can do so in YouTube Studio and in the apps.
To get you up to speed, we’ve written a whole new guide about how to change your YouTube handle and channel name!
When you change your handle, you do need to worry about updating URLs. The old handle will automatically redirect to your new handle for 14 days. For this time, YouTube reserves it in case you want to switch back. After that, however, it becomes available for other people to claim.
Therefore, you should update other social media bios and your website to reflect your new handle ASAP. You might not be able to update it in all places, though. Therefore, try to avoid changing your handle, or use the unchangeable channel URL (the one that looks like https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkRfArvrzheW2E7b6SVT7vQ).
A final note on handles and verification: Changing your channel handle won’t affect your verification status. If you have a verification badge, you’ll be able to keep it even if your handle changes.
However, if you change the name of your channel, you need to reapply for verification. This is a YouTube safeguard against scammers trying to impersonate channels.
Here’s @DustyPorter showing us how to claim your handle, and how to change it if you want to.
Conclusion: Embracing YouTube Handles
By introducing handles, YouTube has finally adopted a system that works well on platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, a few years after implementing hashtags.
Your handle is now your unique identifier on the platform, making it easier for creators to establish their presence and their brand.
For best results, pick a handle that reflects your content and your accounts on other social platforms. By using it consistently across your online presence, you gain the best brand visibility.
Yes. As long as nobody else is using the same handle, you are free to pick. Handles can contain alphanumeric characters, underscores, hyphens, and periods. They must be 3 to 30 characters long and must adhere to YouTube’s community guidelines.
Choosing a handle for your YouTube channel is free. Selling or transferring existing handles is against YouTube’s guidelines and can lead to penalties.
Anyone can choose their YouTube handle. Unlike with custom URLs in the past, there is no subscriber threshold you have to pass.
If someone else is using the handle you want already, you have to make modifications. Add numbers, underscores, or variable capitalization. There is no way of claiming a handle someone else is using.