YouTube Thumbnail Best Practices: The Definitive Guide

YouTube Thumbnail Best Practices: The Definitive Guide

If you’re wondering how to get more views and clicks on your YouTube videos, you need a stellar YouTube thumbnail. In fact, it’s non-negotiable. 

After all, you’ve invested significant time, creative energy, and money to create a beautiful YouTube video with all the bells and whistles. After watching it for the millionth time, you upload it to your channel and excitingly click on that ‘Publish’ button.

After expending all that effort, one critical piece of the puzzle was missing–a click-worthy YouTube thumbnail. As a result, your video has barely gotten any clicks, views, or user engagement. The hurt, the disappointment! 

Not only does a poorly designed (or auto-generated) YouTube thumbnail detract from the overall visual appeal of your content, it can defeat the entire purpose of creating a video in the first place.

The moral of the story? Don’t miss out on fantastic traction by overlooking the importance of a well-crafted YouTube thumbnail. 

If you’re currently in this situation, we’re happy to report it’s a mendable one. If you’re wondering where to begin with YouTube thumbnails, read this article to learn more about why thumbnails are important, the pros and cons of auto-generated vs designed thumbnails, how to change your current thumbnails, and more.

By following these thumbnail best practices, you’ll be one step closer to maximizing your channel’s growth potential and getting the most out of your YouTube video goals. 

5 Reasons Why YouTube Thumbnails Are Important

5 Reasons Why YouTube Thumbnails Are Important

First impressions are lasting ones–especially when it comes to YouTube. Videos captivate user attention, add visual movement, and add a level of dynamism to content. Before users even decide to watch your video (or, much less, subscribe to your channel), they look at your YouTube thumbnail.

There’s also a never-ending array of YouTube videos to choose from, and the competition for user attention is stiff. In fact, a recent study showed that there are 2.6 billion YouTube users as of 2022. 

And let’s face it–the fact is that you only have seconds (or even fractions of seconds) to entice a user to click on your video. Your YouTube video won’t stand a chance without that interest and motivation to click. 

Therefore, a well-designed YouTube thumbnail goes a long way to creating buzz and building your channel’s interest. If you’re not yet convinced, here are the exact reasons why you need one. 

1.  A Great YouTube Thumbnail Increases Click-Through Rate

Think about it–would you be inclined to click on a YouTube thumbnail that’s blurry, hideously designed, or severely underwhelming? Maybe if you’re curious enough, but there’s a great chance of this content being overlooked (or even frowned upon). 

An enticing YouTube thumbnail increases interest and curiosity, which leads to a higher rate of clicks.

2.  Compelling YouTube Thumbnails Are a Must for YouTube SEO

A well-designed thumbnail is a significant contributing factor to your videos getting found – and it makes sense why. When a YouTube thumbnail accurately reflects video content, increasing the click-through rate, it is much more likely to be recommended for related searches.

The more your video content is deemed trustworthy and relevant, the more likely it’ll show up favorably in YouTube search rankings. In turn, this will have a positive impact on views, subscribers, and traffic. 

Further Reading: Video Marketing SEO: 11 Ways to Optimize Your Video for Search

3. A YouTube Thumbnail Provides a Visual Summary of Video Content

Upon first glance, you want a potential viewer to get the gist of your YouTube video content. And that’s also where YouTube thumbnails come in.

A good YouTube thumbnail piques visual interest by outlining what to expect and getting your message across quickly. 

4. An Effective YouTube Thumbnail Helps to Build a Subscriber Base

While a YouTube thumbnail doesn’t guarantee an increase in channel subscriptions, it is a contributing factor. You can’t put the horse before the cart, so a good thumbnail should be your first line of action before reviewing those subscription numbers. After all, you can’t get subscribers if no one is inclined to watch your YouTube video.

Pro-Tip: Remember that a great YouTube thumbnail draws a viewer in, but a purposeful video ultimately decides whether they choose to subscribe to your channel. Ensure your thumbnail and video content sync, increasing the likelihood of subscriptions.

Further Reading: 20 YouTube Statistics to Base Your Video Strategy On in 2024

5. Well-Designed YouTube Thumbnails Add a Level of Professionalism

A well-designed thumbnail automatically gives you an extra edge because it shows you’re committed to high-quality content.

Taking the time to design and upload a fantastic YouTube thumbnail shows that you’ve invested energy and dedication into creating great content. Off the bat, it has the potential to build a favorable brand image and show that you mean business. 

Further Reading: The Best 14 Thumbnail Makers for YouTube

Pros & Cons of Automated and Designed YouTube Thumbnails: 

YouTube gives the option to select from an automated or designed thumbnail. With the ease of an automated thumbnail, you may wonder if you should even go through the hassle of designing a thumbnail.

There are distinct pros and cons to consider for each option, which we’ll explore below. 

Automated YouTube Thumbnails

After you’ve uploaded your YouTube video, you can choose an automatically generated thumbnail. Consider the pros and cons below. 

Pros of Automated ThumbnailsCons of Automated Thumbnails
Easy and quick to generateLack of customization (e.g., adding summary text to a YouTube thumbnail)
Captures a sometimes relevant, real-life still shot directly from your YouTube videoAutomated thumbnails may not be the best quality or resolution, especially if there is significant movement within the video
Saves time from having to create a separate thumbnailAutomated options are limited, and YouTube may not automatically generate your preferred frame for the thumbnail 

Designed YouTube Thumbnails

On the other hand, you also have the option to upload a designed YouTube thumbnail, which has distinct pros and cons to think about. 

Pros of Designed ThumbnailsCons of Designed Thumbnails
Fully customizable–add text, graphic elements, and other design elementsDesigned thumbnail creation involves some level of design skills
Has the potential to increase click-through ratesExtra time is required to design a thumbnail 
Creates an opportunity to focus on a specific visual message or selling point Even with a well-designed thumbnail, there’s no guarantee of increased traffic and views 
Consistent branding across multiple thumbnails. Can come off as too corporate, which is not appealing to some viewers. 

The Verdict? A Designed YouTube Thumbnail Wins (Most Times)

The Verdict? A Designed YouTube Thumbnail Wins (Most Times)

Taking the extra time to design a thumbnail is the way to go–there’s no doubt about it. Well-designed thumbnails make it easier for a viewer to determine what your video is about at a second’s glance (which is sometimes the only time you have to capture their attention).

Just look at some of the top-performing channels on YouTube, and you’ll see that almost all of them have one thing in common, well-designed thumbnails. 

According to YouTube, 90% of the best-performing videos have a customized thumbnail, a statistic that speaks for itself. It may seem like a hassle to design a thumbnail, especially if you’re short on time. In that case, consider using a thumbnail maker to streamline the design process. 

If you’re an established YouTube content creator with many videos to post, keep in mind that there are limits to how many designed thumbnails you can upload daily. This limit will vary depending on your location or YouTube channel history, so you may not know you’re approaching your limit until you get the dreaded “Daily custom thumbnail limit reached” message.

If you need a primer on how to add custom thumbnails to your YouTube videos, YouTube have an excellent tutorial video here:

YouTube video

How to Create a Catchy Headline

Don’t neglect the power of a catchy headline on a YouTube thumbnail. A compelling headline captivates attention right away and quickly gets to the point.

Get the most from your YouTube thumbnail headlines by following these tips below.

Use a Clear, Succinct Summary of the YouTube Video

Upon first glance, users that spot your YouTube thumbnail should get a clear and concise idea of what is inside your video. To do so, create a no-fluff headline that’s short, clear, and reflective of your YouTube video content. Where possible, include a numerical snapshot such as “5 Ways to Increase Video Views” to set expectations.

While trying to increase click-through rates and video visibility, avoid clickbait headlines that don’t match the content of the video at all costs. Not only is this misleading to viewers, but it also leaves a poor brand impression. 

A YouTube Headline Should Complement Its Thumbnail

It won’t make much sense to have a headline totally unrelated to your selected YouTube thumbnail. This will create viewer confusion and an incohesive narrative around your YouTube content. 

For example, the headline “Why Blue is the Best Color for Bedrooms” shouldn’t be on a red background, and “How to Ask Your Doctor Tough Questions” shouldn’t be superimposed onto the image of a beach.

As such, create a headline that’s also reflected in your visuals. That way, viewers won’t feel misled and are more likely to trust your brand as time passes. 

Tap Into Your Target Audience’s Emotions

As we all know, the best marketing is emotional. To really create an effective YouTube headline, think about your audience’s pain points and what they’re searching for. That way, you’ll create a headline that appeals to a relevant audience and addresses their content search needs.

Further Reading: 13 Powerful YouTube Tools You Need to Grow Your YouTube Audience

Image Best Practices for YouTube Thumbnails

Image Best Practices for YouTube Thumbnails

To get the most from your thumbnails, YouTube has outlined recommended tips to follow. Here are the most important points below.

Resolution and Size

If you opt for a designed thumbnail (which you should), your image should have a minimum resolution and size of 1280×720 pixels (with a minimum width of 640 pixels). The file size should also be 2MB at most.

Remember–you don’t want a fuzzy, pixelated thumbnail that looks like it was taken with a first-generation camera phone. It won’t make sense to spend hours on end perfecting a YouTube video only to have a substandard thumbnail that doesn’t accurately reflect the content or present the video in an attractive, palatable way.

Worse yet–you don’t want vital text and other elements cut out from your YouTube thumbnail because appropriate dimensions weren’t used. Avoid this blunder by ensuring your YouTube thumbnail is crisp, high-quality, and appropriately sized.

Image Format

Your YouTube thumbnails should be in an appropriate image format, such as a JPG, GIF, or PNG file. Just make sure to keep the file size under 2 MB. 

Pro-Tip:  Go the extra mile by using a thumbnail name that includes keywords specific to your video. While it isn’t a guaranteed way to ensure a higher YouTube or Google ranking, it covers your bases just in case. If people connect their search to your YouTube thumbnail, they are more likely to be drawn to your video.

Aspect Ratio

YouTube recommends a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is the most commonly used size across different YouTube players and previews. 

Create a Differentiating, Eye-Catching Thumbnail

In the vast sea of YouTube videos and endless scrolling potential; it’s easy to be drowned out by competitor content. For every YouTube video you create, it’s almost guaranteed that someone out there has produced similar content.

That’s why you should look at what’s already out there and whether there are any opportunities to differentiate your YouTube thumbnail. It could be as simple as having more compelling text, using a unique image angle, or positioning your video thumbnail for an untapped market.

Pro-Tip: Utilize a color scheme that’s visually appealing and eye-catching. If your goal is to create an easily identifiable brand presence, consider using the same (or a complementary) color scheme for all YouTube thumbnails. That way, you’ll increase brand recognition over time while maintaining a unique aesthetic. 

Further Reading: 17 Smart Ways How to Get More Subscribers on YouTube

How to Change or Update YouTube Thumbnails

How to Change or Update YouTube Thumbnails

After you’ve uploaded your YouTube thumbnail, you might want to make tweaks or changes later. Or maybe you used an automated thumbnail and later decided to update it with a designed thumbnail.

Regardless of the scenario, changing or updating a YouTube thumbnail is as easy as following the steps below.

  1. First things first–ensure you’re signed into your YouTube account. Next, head to the ‘YouTube Studio’ section by clicking on your circular profile picture at the top right-hand corner.
  2. Navigate to the menu on the left-hand side of the screen and click on the ‘Content’ tab.
  3. You’ll then see a summarized list of all the videos on your YouTube channel (even the unlisted ones). Locate the video you’d like to change or update the thumbnail for.
  4. Hover over and click on the pencil icon to edit video details
  5. Immediately under the ‘Description’ section is ‘Thumbnails’, which is where you’ll make your changes. Upload a designed thumbnail or choose from the automated YouTube thumbnail options.

And that’s it! Updating a YouTube thumbnail is a breeze, so don’t be afraid to revisit it after you’ve published a video. After all, continuous improvements go a long way to getting the most from your YouTube videos. 

Further Reading: The Top 11 Must-Know YouTube Tricks for Marketers

Wrap Up 

It may seem like a minor step, but creating an appealing YouTube thumbnail positions your channel in a favorable light from the get-go. Putting a bit of extra effort into this often overlooked step will go a long way in driving views, subscription rates, and an easily recognizable brand aesthetic.

Once you’re in the habit of creating effective YouTube thumbnails, it becomes second nature and positions your videos for success.

Further Reading: 13 Cool AI Thumbnail Makers for YouTube

Author Bio

With over 20 years of digital marketing experience, Paul Stainton is a digital marketing leader with extensive knowledge about creating brand value through digital transformation, eCommerce strategies, brand strategy, and go-to-market execution.

Photo by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash

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