A great thumbnail won't save a bad video BUT a bad thumbnail can ruin a great video. YouTube considers many factors when deciding where to rank videos and when to recommend them and the CTR (click through rate) that your video gets is one of the important metrics.
This means we need to create thumbnails that are appealing and properly convey the topic being covered.
"A bad thumbnail can ruin a great video!"
This can take some practice, but don’t freak out! If my 14 year-old granddaughter can learn to create kewl-looking thumbnails for her YouTube channel, so can you.
Let’s look at some examples so you can see exactly what you need to do.
Great YouTube Thumbnail Examples
Sometimes simplicity is all you need. Caitlin Bacher teaches entrepreneurs how to make 6-7 figures from their online course. All her videos include a picture of her on the right and a brand color with white text overlay on the left.
Gym Music. It’s easy to see what this channel is about; music and working out. Scantily-clad, muscle-bound models certainly catch your eye.
Nick Nimmin is one of my favorite “How to YouTube” instructors. Nick’s videos are always short, to the point, and entertaining. And so are his thumbnails. His standard is BIG text and color blocks.
Sunny Lenarduzzi teaches about Instagram and YouTube growth. She always has a crazy expression accompanied by a few words on her thumbnails. She went through a yellowish background stage with a cutout image, but it looks like she’s incorporating more of the actual background now.
Project Life Mastery talks about money and freedom. He changes the way his thumbnails look often, but keeps his logo in the same place and his words to a minimum.
I chose to showcase Beauty Within because of her contrasting colors and crazy facial expressions. Her thumbnail is interesting enough that I would (did) click to see more.
For the final examples, I chose a random mix.
Just looking at this picture from Sam the Cooking Guy, makes me want to click. YUM!
If you’re looking at how to attract money, you would probably click this just to see what’s up right?
Looking to buy a house? Wouldn’t you want to know the “secrets?” Especially if they are coming from a loan officer.
Finally, nothing beats a clean, straight-forward approach. Your picture with a great headline does the trick.
Tips for Awesome YouTube Thumbnails
Seeing YouTube thumbnail examples gives you ideas on how to create your own.
Before you get started, keep these tips in mind. They’ll make your creation process easier and your conversions higher.
1. Show Your Face
If you notice, most of the YouTube thumbnails include faces. Not only smiley expressions, but any emotional expression works. People are drawn to faces, especially close-up views.
Plus, if you show a funky emotion on your face, people will be more likely to click to see why you look like that.
2. Make it Colorful
Choose colors wisely. You want to use complimentary colors instead of opposites. If you use strong colors like orange and green on black, you’ll repel people instead of attracting them. Unless these are actually your brand colors. Check out Adobe Color CC and find great complimentary colors for your thumbnail designs.
3. Make It Easy to See
YouTube thumbnails attract people to your video and make them click. Make the text and graphics easy to see and understand. The clearer your thumbnail is, the easier it is for people to see what you are talking about.
4. Use Still Photos
While you’re filming, make sure to take a few still photos to use specifically for your thumbnail. You can also export still photo frames from your video. If you’re editing online, use a screen shot.
5. Create Attention-grabbing Headlines
Both your headline for the video and the one that goes on the thumbnail need to be “Attention-grabbing.” The one on the actual video is shorter, of course, but it still needs to “sell” you on watching the video.
6. Looks Good Big and Small
It goes without saying that if someone can’t see your thumbnail clearly, they won’t click. Think of a billboard. When you’re driving by at 60-70 mph, the text, images, and concept have to be clear to you so you can take action.
7. Promote Your Brand
Look at the thumbnail as an extension of your brand. Logo placement, colors, fonts, and even your photos are all a part of your “look” and what you present to your audience. Use your branding elements consistently in each thumbnail graphic.
8. Limit Font Choices
There’s nothing I hate more than to see a graphic with 20 thousand different fonts. It’s so distracting. Use your brand fonts or at least use the same fonts in each YouTube thumbnail. You want people to see your thumbnail and know immediately that it’s you.
9. Use the Correct-sized Graphic
Have you seen YouTube thumbnails that don’t look quite right? Half of the text is missing or off-screen, or maybe the graphic is grainy? That comes from not using the correct-sized graphic.
The correct dimensions as of 12/12/2019 are 1280 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall. A ratio of 16:9 works perfectly.
10. Be Honest
Make the thumbnail match the content in the video. In other words, no click bait – meaning don’t sell someone on watching one thing and then show them something else. That’s a quick way to lose subscribers and views and maybe even your rights to the channel.
11. Focus on Channel Consistency
When someone looks at your YouTube channel, as a whole, you want them to see consistency. Look at these channels.
You can see how the channel page has an overall appeal. Each video is distinct and stands out on it’s own.
Consistency in your thumbnails is also a huge time saver. Instead of starting from scratch each time you make a new video, you will have a "paint by numbers" model that will save you time and effort and always look great.
Bonus Tip: Split Test Thumbnails!
Your thumbnail images are part of your marketing strategy. Just like other marketing pieces, you need to split test to see what works best. Test to see which image, ratio of text-to-image or white space works best in getting clicks.
The examples above showed that different thumbnails did much better than others for the same videos. I saw a 250% and 150% increase against the control thumbnails!
At scale, this can equate to thousands of additional views.
If you're curious, the tool Nate is using above is called Thumbnail Blaster. I'll mention it again towards the end of this post.
YouTube Thumbnail Mistakes
You learned 10 things to do to create an awesome YouTube thumbnail, now I’ll share with you what not do to.
1. Too Much Text
You only need to use as much text as required to get people to click, which is usually just the headline. Too much text looks like mud when people are trying to decide whether or not to click.
Your title does NOT need to match your thumbnail verbatim.
The title is for the search engine and the person browsing but the thumbnail is strictly for the person browsing.
2. Text Is Too Small
The text needs to be large enough to be read while viewers are scanning the thumbnails. If they have to squint to see, they just won’t.
3. Text Is "Click Bait" and Misleading
Wouldn't it be great if the only thing that mattered was getting clicks? Unfortunately, if your thumbnail doesn't deliver on what the thumbnail promised, the watch time will be very low.
Low watch time is a death sentence for videos and we need to make sure that we keep people on the video as long as possible. Misleading thumbnails will attract the wrong people and YouTube will assume that our videos aren't high quality and won't give them favor in ranking and recommending.
The Best Tools for Making YouTube Thumbnails
Finally, we come to the part where you can now create your thumbnail.
Here are my best suggestions for creating thumbnail graphics for designers and non-designers.
Hands-down, Canva is the best online graphic design tool. I use it a lot. You create graphics for free (there is also a paid version). Create graphics in the exact dimensions you need.
I mentioned Thumbnail Blaster earlier when I told you about split testing thumbnails. It is also an amazing tool for creating thumbnails.
I know, I know...The sales page is incredibly cheesy and comes off spammy, but the software is actually quite awesome.
Snappa also has a free and paid version. They offer pre-made templates so you can create quickly and go. They also offer templates for other social media platforms.
I like Adobe Spark because it’s part of the Adobe Creative Suite of products, but it’s free to use. You can create and customize your YouTube thumbnail in 5 easy steps.