Why Choosing the Right Thumbnail on YouTube Is So Important

Choosing the right thumbnail on YouTube is critical to your success

Choosing and designing the right thumbnail on YouTube is SO important. A thumbnail is a blank canvas, as long as it’s within YouTube’s terms of service, you can choose pictures, colors, text, or anything you’d like. It makes sense to test and design thumbnails because they’re IMPORTANT.

YouTube is the second-biggest search engine in the world and choosing the right thumbnail will make a huge impact on your success.

YouTube is a powerful way to market for your business. While Keyword optimizing your videos should be your #1 priority, designing your thumbnails is the 2nd most important way to get people to find and click on your video.

By the end of this article, you’ll learn

  • Why choosing the right thumbnail is so important to your success on YouTube
  • How your thumbnail impacts your search ranking
  • 5 easy techniques for creating thumbnails that you can implement today
  • 10 examples of amazing thumbnails.

To understand why picking a good thumbnail is important, we first need to look at the ways people can find your YouTube video:

  • People can search for keywords/search terms, and your video can come up in the results.
  • Your video can show up as a related video on a video someone is watching (this could be a video on your channel, or on someone else’s).
  • If people subscribe to your channel (and click the bell), they’ll be notified the next time you upload something.
  • Your video can show up as “recommended for you” as someone scrolls through their feed on YouTube (This is much more likely if the person has viewed one of your videos recently.)
  • Your video can be placed into a playlist, and people can watch the playlist (and see your video within it).
  • Your video can be embedded or shared somewhere else (web page, Facebook, etc.).
  • Your video can be featured as trending (not common unless you’re really popular).

In nearly every one of those scenarios, people could choose to click on your video or not click on it. And they’d primarily use two criteria to decide if they want to watch your video or not. The first: does the title sound interesting, relevant, and like a topic that I’d like to watch? And the second is the thumbnail: does it look relevant, enticing, clickable, and interesting?

examples of youtube thumbnails that are amazing

Titles should be focused around what search keywords will work best. You want your title to read well and be understandable, but you don’t have as much freedom in how you word things. Curiosity is a powerful way to get someone to click something, but it can be hard to work that into the title for the video. If your video is called “The #1 thing impacting your online sales…” that’s an intriguing title. It’s one where people want to know the answer.

The problem is if you don’t already have a decent-sized following, who’s going to find that YouTube video?

People aren’t going to search for those search terms. And if someone isn’t familiar with your work and your content, you’ll probably want to tell them a little more about what will be featured on the video than “the #1 thing impacting your online sales.” You’d instead want your title to be centered around the keywords people are searching. Especially when you’re getting started, search results are by far the #1 way people are going to find your content. If you don’t show up in any searches, your channel is going to spin its wheels with hardly any subscribers or views for a long time.

For thumbnails, you can use any colors you want. You can use any images you’d like (as long as it’s not a copyrighted image or against YouTube’s terms of service), as well as any text you like. You have the freedom to stir up emotion, curiosity, and interest. On a phone, when people are scrolling through their YouTube home page, a thumbnail can take up almost the entire screen. Even on a desktop, thumbnails are large, and our eyes are drawn to those before the video title.

People will search for a term, and they’ll see 5–6 videos before they scroll down.

They’ll then choose which video they’d like to watch. Most of the titles are more or less the same (since they are centered around the same search keyword phrases). Therefore, the main differentiator between these videos is the thumbnail.

If someone searches for a term, chooses your video between the 5–6 options they’re served up, and then watches your video (and doesn’t double back and click a different video instead), this is a big deal. Not just because they watched your video. It has a far BIGGER impact than that.

Google keeps track of the clickthrough rate of your YouTube Thumbnails

Google wants everyone to have a positive experience. They’d like for their users to search for a term, find the video they’re looking for, click on that, and watch it all the way through.

If your video is ranked #1 for “how to knit,” congratulations. It’s incredibly hard to rank for a search term like that. YouTube is likely to keep you in that top spot as long as two things remain true:

  1. When people search “how to knit,” quite a few people click on your video (this is called clickthrough).
  2. When people click on your video, they tend to watch a good portion of it. They’re not doubling back to pick a different video because you didn’t do a good job.

If the majority of clicks start going to the video in the number 2 spot, and people like this video and watch it all the way though, your days at the top may be numbered. It’s important to continue to entice people to click your video.

So, not only will a much smaller percentage of people see your video if you have a bad thumbnail, but it will also really hurt your ranking in YouTube’s search results. And ranking in the search results is key to growing your channel when it’s small.

Did you know you can actually view what your clickthrough rate is for each video?

Watch time will tell you how well your thumbnails are doing

Here’s a video I did optimizing my channel in YouTube studio. After the video my clickthrough shot from 3.2% to 5.5%

If you go into YouTube Studio beta, then click on analytics, you can see your clickthrough rate. This will tell you impressions (the total number of people who saw your thumbnail image) vs. clickthrough (the total number of people that actually clicked it). You generally want to aim for at least 6% clickthrough rate. If you have only 8 views on your video, you may need a larger sample size. You can always keep track of which videos are getting a good clickthrough rate and redesign the thumbnail if the clickthrough rate is low.

How to Make the Best YouTube Thumbnail Possible

So, how do you design a thumbnail image that will encourage a higher clickthrough rate? You want to create a thumbnail that creates emotion, features enticing or descriptive text, is memorable, and has a consistent look.

I discuss some important things to consider in this video:

1.   Create Emotion in your YouTube Thumbnails

Often the best way to do this is through showing faces. As humans, we’ve evolved to look for eye contact. A face that’s devastated, elated, furious, or frustrated can bring us toward that emotion and create curiosity.

It’s even more powerful if the text in your thumbnail contains the word “you.” It’s someone looking at you, speaking to you, talking about the impact watching their video could have on you.

Creating emotion can also be done using color. You’ll want to use contrasting colors so your images pop and are easy to read.

  • Red often means passion, anger, or ambition.
  • Orange often conveys optimism and encouragement
  • Yellow conveys energy and youth.
  • Blue is associated with relaxation and calm.
  • Green is connected with growth and nature.
  • Purple is connected with luxury and imagination.

Keep this color psychology in mind when you are creating your thumbnails. If you’d like to learn more about color meanings, thisis a great resource.

2.    Use enticing or descriptive text in your thumbnails

While it is possible to create a killer thumbnail without any text, most channels use text to pull the viewer in. This text should often stand out and pop, and should either tell the viewer more about the video or create some additional curiosity.

Using checkmarks and X marks and do/don’t do language can be very effective since your thumbnail emblazons with a big red X what not to do. If you’re a weightlifter, and you see a thumbnail with a big red X and a thumbnail that says “stop doing this…it’s killing your back,” you’ll be more likely to make sure you’re not making the mistake that could kill your back.

3.    Make your thumbnails memorable

Plain text over a color is boring. A giant pile of cash being torched with a crazy reaction face is memorable. Think of creative ways to make thumbnails that people will remember, whether that’s because it’s humorous, weird, or just outright insane. Being boring and bland with your messaging is often worse than trying something out there, noting that it didn’t work, and making adjustments.

4.    Your thumbnails should be consistent

You don’t want your thumbnails’ visual style to be all over the place. You can try new and unique thumbnails to see how those work, but over time, you should be working to find a consistent look and feel. This will immediately make your videos more recognizable to people who’ve seen a few before.

How Do I Create Thumbnails?

Canva is an amazing, easy way to create thumbnails (there’s both a free version and a paid version with more options). Personally, I just use Photoshop since I’m familiar with its interface.

The great thing about thumbnails is you can always try one design, and change it later on. You can keep track of your clickthrough rates until you find a certain style that works best. Finding the thumbnails that perform best will lead you toward finding a winning thumbnail strategy.

If the idea of designing all of the thumbnails is overwhelming, there are websites like Fiverr, where you can pay someone $5 to design YouTube thumbnails for you. If your business has an in-house designer, they could be tasked to do this as well.

If you have Photoshop or want a free trial, you can follow along with this in-depth tutorial that I created

Conclusion: Thumbnails on YouTube are important, but you’re ready to create thumbnails that will knock people’s socks off.

You know understand why choosing the right thumbnail on YouTube is so important: your thumbnail not only impacts the number of people who click your content, it also impacts your search ranking. For new channels, YouTube search is going to be the main way that new people find your content. You’re at a disadvantage already, so you want thumbnails to be working for you.

In this post, you also learned that bright colors, curiosity inspiring text that pops, strong emotion, and faces looking at the camera can lead to more people clicking on your thumbnails and going to your video.

You then learned about free, easy tools to create your thumbnails yourself (and an option to hire someone to do them for you inexpensively).

If you want to learn more about increasing your reach on YouTube, I encourage you to check out my Ultimate Guide to YouTube for small business. It goes way deeper and gives a plethora of strategies and tips for growing a dedicated audience.

Still need to film your videos for YouTube. I have a free 100 minute course on filming using your phone.