Importance of video thumbnails

There’s a popular saying and it goes something like this:

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

So if you had doubts about whether or not a simple thing like a video thumbnail is important, let me distill it for you in simpler terms:

A video thumbnail can have a major impact on your video’s click through rate. The better the thumbnail; the more likely a random stranger will stop and watch your video.

Like in life, it’s a principle no one ever follows on YouTube. In fact, a good thumbnail is one of the key factors to succeed in YouTube as a content creator.

To understand why thumbnails are important, you must understand the normal pattern of behavior for many social media users.

In this article, I discuss why the first 10 seconds of a video are important. It’s because most social media users are fickle. They have a habit of endlessly scrolling through their feeds.

How do you make them stop and pay attention to your content?

Take a look at this “Recommended” page:

That’s just half a screen for a typical YouTube user. If the YouTube AI pushes your video into the recommended page of a YouTube user, you’ll be competing with up to 8-12 videos at a time.

According to YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan, more than 70 percent of views now come from curated content marked as “Recommended” by YouTube’s algorithm.

But as you can see, landing on the recommended page is not sufficient. You’ll be competing with various other content creators for your audience’s attention.

What’s the first step in standing out?

đź“Ł A good thumbnail!!

You can’t get a view without the initial click.

What programs should I use to make thumbnails?

Having Photoshop skills does help, but you can also use other platforms. I personally use Adobe Spark

As a video producer who services corporate clients, I have an Adobe subscription. So I have both Photoshop and Spark. I prefer Spark because it’s user friendly and it’s web based. It’s a very easy-to-use platform for manipulating images, resizing photos and exporting them in a format that’s easily shareable on any platform.

Another popular option for creating thumbnails is Canva. Many YouTube content creators use this platform because it’s free to use. They have a pro subscription, but you’ll be fine with the free version.

What makes a good thumbnail?

Now that we’ve established the importance of a thumbnail and what programs to use, let me provide you with a quick guide on how to make a good thumbnail.

Use facial expressions

Take a look at these thumbnails from the “entrepreneurship” niche.

These are the videos recommended to me when I search for entrepreneurship. You’ll see a common pattern — facial emotions.

Even the animation video (the first one recommended) has a profile of a person expressing an emotion. He looks frustrated and confused.

Many YouTube content creators use facial emotions. Using surprising or stoic faces (with text to provide context) has proven to be an effective way to create thumbnails.

People are naturally curious. So when they see a face that expresses a strong emotion, they are curious to see what it’s all about.

Use text

As you can see from the example above, 3 out of the 5 recommended videos use text to provide context to the video. Text provides a quick preview or a tease, hinting at the topic of the video.

Also, notice how the text on the thumbnail complements the title. A perfect example is how GaryVee TV uses this method.

In GaryVee TV’s video titled “Where to Start if You Want to be an Entrepreneur,” the text on the thumbnail has the words “Entrepreneurship is everywhere.”

In a way, the thumbnail answers the query posed by the title of the video. However, the following questions in people’s minds would be:

  • If it’s everywhere, how do i find it?
  • What does it look like?
  • How do I know it’s right for me?

See how the text on the thumbnail complements the title? They work coherently to entice the viewer to want more. They provide a preview of the video content.

This is why you avoid restating the title on the thumbnail. It’s redundant and doesn’t add anything to the “face” of the video.

The title should be its own thing.

The face of the video is the thumbnail, the title and the short description. These 3 pieces must work coherently together to entice the viewer to click.

That’s all you want at this stage of the game.

Consistent branding

Develop a consistent thumbnail design for your videos. This rule is particularly important when you develop a playlist. 

Take a look at this Lego playlist:

Lego uses the name “Masters on Masters” text on the upper left hand side. The same two people (centered in almost every photo) appear on the thumbnail. Finally, the background color is consistent in all the thumbnails.

If you’re like Lego and use playlists a lot, it’s good to have a consistent branding. First, it comes off as professional looking. Second, a viewer will easily identify what future videos are about as they’ll recognize the consistent pattern of the thumbnails.

Finally, there’s an operational benefit to having consistent branding design. You can create a template in Spark or Canva and save it on the platform. Whenever you create a new video on the playlist, you can simply load the template and tweak it with additional text and photos.

Know the rules to a good photograph

Finally, understand what makes a good photograph. A while back, I wrote a short guide on 3 signs of a good photograph. Here are the 3 things I covered:

  • Rule of thirds.
  • Focus.
  • Boundaries.

The Rule of Thirds is based on an ancient Greek mathematical discovery based on the Golden Rectangle.

According to this theory, objects or persons should be placed in certain parts of the frame to make it more pleasing to the eye.

Focus refers to manipulating what the viewer sees. In general, you want to highlight specific things in a photo while blurring out other parts of a photo. This is the general principle when it comes to bokeh.

Finally, be cognizant of boundaries. In general, good photography requires all the main parts of a photo to be clearly within the boundary of the photography. You don’t want heads being cut off or missing body parts.

That’s just ghastly!

Thumbnails are slightly different from a photograph because it has graphical elements (i.e. text and still animation figures). But the general principles of good photography still applies so take a look at that article from my blog.

Finally, I emphasized the importance of facial expressions in thumbnails. Take a look at this article so you can look great in your photos.

Final Word

You can’t get a view if you can’t get a click.

Social media users have fickle attention. They constantly scroll through their feed and have an attention span of half a second.

This is why thumbnails are important. Thumbnails are your first pattern interrupt to get the viewer to stop 🛑

👀 … And pay attention to you instead.

A good thumbnail is like the cherry on top of a delicious cake. Don’t skimp on it.

Thumbnails are an important part of compelling storytelling in your  videos. Protection Status