Tips & Ideas

Sep 24, 2020

How to make the best YouTube thumbnail to boost video views

If you are looking to create the best YouTube thumbnails for your video, keep reading! In this short guide you will learn how important they are and why you should take that extra bit of time to improve your thumbnails.
man watching youtube videos on tablet

First, what are we talking about? A „thumbnail“ is the small version of any image you can see larger if you click on it. On YouTube, the thumbnail refers to the digital picture people see when they are searching or browsing for a video.

Where do they come from? Well, YouTube needs something to represent videos, so if you don’t do anything, YouTube will create the thumbnail it thinks is best for the video. If you want to attract viewers, you will need to create a separate thumbnail.

But do thumbnails even matter or do they just look good? Yes, because …click-through rates!

Why you need to care about click-through rates

The click-through rate (shortened to CTR) shows the percentage of people who view a video after being shown its thumbnail (an „impression.“) This helps YouTube’s algorithm decide what to show on the site and how often. It’s trying to match viewers with videos that they want to watch. In other words, if no one clicks on your thumbnail, it risks disappearing.

You can find the CTR (or „conversion rates“) of your video in YouTube Studio’s Analytics tab along with the number of views and average watch time.

What any professional YouTuber needs for their ideal thumbnail

Hopefully, you can see that it’s a terrible idea to let YouTube turn a screen grab from your video into a thumbnail. Instead, you should create a visual asset that includes a clear photographic (not video) picture of your video’s topic, rather than just a frame.

What is the aim of the thumbnail? To get people to play your video! And for this to happen, you need to clearly communicate what the video is about. Think of it as the label on a bottle of juice or a book cover, promising what’s inside is tasty or fascinating.

In other words, if you are doing a travel video, you need a striking picture of the place, its cuisine, or its people.

If you talking is the subject of the video, take a photo of yourself before or after the camera rolls. Try making an engaging, eye-catching expression. Draw from the six basic human emotions, anger, happiness, surprise, disgust, sadness, and fear.

If the video is frustrations with baking (and how to fix them), look angry. If it includes your top tips for spiritual growth, then make an exaggeratedly positive face. Don’t feel dumb. You’re communicating.

Avoid any distractions caused by your backdrop. In this case, remove the background with and choose a neutral one. Or pick a still from the video for consistency and professionalism.

use case examples for placing text on thumbnails

Don’t forget the words!

Use a text banner across your thumbnails to support your image’s emotional message.

Try to draw people in, like with your picture. Think about how sites like Buzzfeed draw people in. (This might help you with the editing process).

So, instead of „My review of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker“, create a text banner which says „Four reasons Rise of Skywalker is the weakest Star Wars movie“. With you looking sad or angry, obviously.

Fix this before you try to create your perfect YouTube thumbnail…

What’s the thing most people miss when they are creating their YouTube thumbnails? Consistency! Each thumbnail needs to be comparable with the others. The text box needs to be in the same place, the featured image should be the same size, the fonts should match and colors should be the same or within a strictly controlled palette. You want to create a brand image.

You should also use text – but in a simple, easy-to-read font.

All your work will pay off when you see increasing numbers of videos next to each other in your channel all looking like they were made by one person or organisation.

…but you need to work on your brand first

Still, there’s no point trying to create consistency across YouTube thumbnails if they look different from the rest of your digital presence. Yes, you need to make your thumbnails look like they are brothers and sisters. So, why not use the opportunity to decide on the family resemblance for whenever you appear online. What about the banner for your YouTube Channel? What about your web site?

If you are creating a corporate video for a product or service you provide, make sure to include discretely include your logo or signature.

There are lots of guides to help you think about how your brand should look such as this one and this guy here.

Save the most time creating the best YouTube thumbnail

You might be tempted to create your own thumbnails from scratch on Photoshop or other image editors – in which case you might like to know the optimal thumbnail is 1280 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall with a minimum width of 640 pixels with a 16:9 ratio.

However, there are a number of free and paid apps that allow you to plug and play your images into a variety of templates. Canva has organized them by theme or allows you to create a brand new one. And Adobe Express has a free thumbnail tool.

Can anyone even SEE your YouTube thumbnail?

Sometimes it’s hard to see what people’s thumbnails are meant to be. The image might be too crammed or the text hard to read. Don’t make this error! It’s easily avoided if you use your favorite image software to shrink down your thumbnail to about 10% so it’s the size viewers will see. Can you still read everything? Are facial expressions clear?

Something else to bear in mind is where to put the text and other information for the perfect YouTube thumbnail – left or right? Left is a better choice because the site’s mouse-over elements appear on the right.

Advanced tips to use thumbnails to boost YouTube success

YouTube success is about gradually increasing views over time for all your videos. But there are ways of using YouTube thumbnails which can improve views, likes, and shares.

Firstly, you can find out which video thumbnails are performing significantly better or worse in YouTube Studio’s analytics. Do the videos with high conversions have larger text? Is there anything the poorly performing videos have in common? Try to bring those visually in line with your more successful videos. You will have to wait about a month to see if your changes have an impact.

If you have less time and more budget, you can invest in Tubebuddy’s Legend plan which will allow you to A/B split test two different thumbnails to find out which people like the most.

Finally, if you have a video that isn’t performing as well as it used to or you want to give it a second chance, you can change the thumbnail according to the principles above to give it a new lease of life.

What are your thoughts? Have we missed anything? Share your feedback and ideas via email or on Twitter and Facebook!

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