Utilize thumbnails on YouTube
1. Identify a clear thumbnail design idea for each video that communicates the video’s topic, main subject, and most intriguing element.
For example, if your video is going to feature an influencer hosting a product tutorial, your thumbnail should prominently showcase the influencer interacting with your product.
2. Photograph several thumbnail options during the video shoot or use a screenshot from the video that is well-composed, high resolution, and not misleading.
To create a well-composed image: Try using the rule of thirds. Avoid over-exposed or harsh images. Try shooting in natural lighting, especially on an overcast day. For people, choose a flattering angle. To increase video exposure and reach, avoid thumbnails that misrepresent the content of the video, are gross, shocking, gratuitous, indecent, inappropriate for wide audiences, or low quality.
3. Crop the image with a photo editing tool to a 16:9 aspect ratio, and make photo adjustments to improve its appearance.
Use a photo editing tool like Photoshop, Lightroom, Animoto, or a tool with a built-in thumbnail editor like Canva. Make small adjustments to the brightness, contrast, saturation, or other aspects to improve the appearance or to set a consistent video thumbnail look, like black and white thumbnails across all videos in your brand documentary series.
4. Consider adding a text overlay to the thumbnail for more visual intrigue and consistency across the channel.
For example, HelloFresh adds a text overlay with a variation of the video title and their logo to their thumbnails, with the same font and style across most of their thumbnails. Gymshark uses a funny or intriguing short quote from the video to increase curiosity. Text overlays are not essential for all thumbnails, but they can help draw the eye to the thumbnail.
5. Add your logo or branded graphics to the thumbnail in the photo editor to improve brand recognition.
For example, Netflix’s thumbnails that include their name in the top left corner and use a consistent font and color palette.
6. Create a consistent style with a specific font, color palette, and photo editing adjustments for thumbnails in the same series or video format.
For example, every video in Harper’s BAZAAR’s What Celebrities Eat in a Day series has a picture of the celebrity with a plain background on the right side, a picture of food on the left side, and a text-overlay that says Food Diaries in the same font and color. For pre-existing videos in a series, go back and change the thumbnail to fit the new consistent style. For future videos, it can be useful to make a template or style guide for videos in your series, with all assets for that style, like font or logo, labelled and easily accessible to improve workflow.
7. Open YouTube Studio > Content and select a video, then upload your custom thumbnail following current best practices for YouTube.
According to YouTube’s best practices, make sure your thumbnail is: Under 2MB. At least1280x720 resolution. JPG, GIF, BMP, or PNG image format. 16:9 aspect ratio. Follows community guidelines. Looks good big or small. YouTube also allows you to add a custom thumbnail after the video has been uploaded, so you can upload optimized custom thumbnails to old videos.
8. Write a concise video title that complements and provides more context to the thumbnail, describes the video, and sparks curiosity.
Make sure the title and thumbnail work together to accurately describe the video, spark curiosity, and set expectations for the video. YouTube Creative Academy uses the example of a plain yellow thumbnail that could be a comedy video, how-to video, or science video depending on what the title is.
9. Test different thumbnail variations by polling your audience on social media or by changing the thumbnail after about 24 hours to see if views change.
Since YouTube does not currently offer A/B testing, test your thumbnail by manually uploading a new thumbnail about 24 hours after you’ve uploaded the video. Track in YouTube Analytics to see if the video’s views increase. Third-party YouTube tools like TubeBuddy can help automate the improvised A/B testing process by automatically switching your video’s thumbnail in 24 hour blocks and tracking analytics. Another option is to use the YouTube Community tab polling option or the poll sticker in Instagram Stories to ask your audience to vote on their favorite thumbnail. The results may not accurately indicate which they would actually click on though.