How many times have you clicked into a video because of its interesting thumbnail? Well, I certainly have!
Think of thumbnails as the equivalent of billboards on Times Square in the city of YouTube. Many YouTubers put a lot of effort into their thumbnails, to the extent of carrying out a poll on Instagram to select their thumbnails.
It is no secret that a well-designed thumbnail and title will effectively capture attention and attract new fans to your channel. It encourages viewers to watch through your videos because they’re intrigued, or know what to expect. This can also make your content appealing for a broad range of advertisers.
Boost discovery with your thumbnail
Thumbnails are often the first thing viewers lay eyes upon when browsing on YouTube. It is an important piece of your video’s metadata. They work together with your video title as a team to generate anticipation.
However, be sure to accurately represent what’s in your video. If your thumbnails and titles don’t match what’s in the video, viewers tend to leave almost immediately, which will be tracked by YouTube and their algorithm will limit your discoverability.
Alternatively, when viewers stay on and watch your entire video, this lets YouTube know that the viewer is enjoying your content. The longer people watch your video, the more likely your
Thumbnail and Title Tips
Tweaking the thumbnail and title combination can radically transform the viewer’s expectation of the video content. Here’s a first hand example:
- 24 Hours in my life – perhaps a narrative style video
- A Day in the life of a Start-Up Owner – perhaps a specialised narrative style video
- Starting over in a startup – perhaps a heart-to-heart reflection sharing video
Managing the user’s expectations and perceptions well is the key to an awesome video!
Design your thumbnail to stand out
90% of the best-performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails and we recommend that you create one too!
When you customise your thumbnails, you are in greater control of how you appear to viewers and convey key information about your video.
You can apply the rule of thirds to compose interesting and dynamic images, then overlay with your branding and/or descriptive text. If you add text, make sure that you use a font that’s easy to read on screen. Also, think about how you can be eye-catching and age-appropriate for your audience.
Rule of Thirds
Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid embossed on your thumbnail image, that breaks it into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, leaving you with 9 frames (3 x 3).
These frames serve as guidelines as to where you should place subjects of interest in your image, either at the intersections (red circles) or along the lines (in black). By placing the elements at these spots, you’re creating a more visually pleasing image that naturally helps guide the viewer’s eye.
Case Study: Hyram
Hyram, a YouTube content creator and social media influencer, is recognized for his passion for skin care. His videos featured product recommendations, cleaning techniques, and general dermatological information.
In his thumbnail, he has neatly utilised the rule of thirds by placing his face shot in the right third of the thumbnail (in blue), and layered it above the other objects to make himself appear in the foreground.
The thumbnail text is in an easily readable font and capital letters to be eye-catching. Notice how the text is limited to the top third of the thumbnail (in red)?
Create a custom YouTube video thumbnail
To upload custom thumbnails, you must have a verified account. For new videos,
- Select CREATE to upload your video.
- Under “Thumbnail”, select Upload thumbnail.
- Select CREATE Go live.
- On the “Stream” screen, select UPLOAD CUSTOM THUMBNAIL.
- Sign in to YouTube Studio.
- From the left menu, select Videos.
- Select a video by clicking on its title or thumbnail.
- Under “Thumbnail”, select Upload thumbnail.
- Choose the file you’d like to use as your custom thumbnail.
- Select ‘Save’.
Once you’ve added a custom thumbnail, hover over it and click More to download or edit the thumbnail.
If you prefer to watch a video tutorial, you can learn how to do so here.
Thumbnail image size and resolution
Your custom thumbnail image should be as large as possible. YouTube recommends thumbnails to:
- Have a resolution of 1280×720 (with minimum width of 640 pixels).
- Be uploaded in image formats such as JPG, GIF, or PNG.
- Remain under the 2MB limit.
- Try to use a 16:9 aspect ratio as it’s the most used in YouTube players and previews.
Thumbnail sizes on desktop and mobile
Given how significant a thumbnail is, it’s wise to think about your thumbnail even before you shoot your video, so that you’ve got several options when you upload.
Remember, thumbnails appear in different sizes across YouTube and external sites that embed YouTube videos, so ensure that your thumbnail looks good on mobile and desktop.
- Mention fellow creators in your titles to highlight collabs and build excitement.
- Give viewers a sneak peek of what’s in your video without being ‘clickbaity’.
- Make your title and thumbnail work together to tell a compelling story.
- Ask your community for feedback on different examples of your potential thumbnail/title combinations.
- Think about your thumbnail BEFORE you shoot so that you can capture several options.
- Zoom in and out of your thumbnail to see if it looks good small and large.
- See if your thumbnail would stand out among other thumbnails.
Avoid outrageous, offensive or gross thumbnails and titles. This sort of stuff can turn away viewers and hurt your chances of being recommended to new viewers.
Custom thumbnails need to follow YouTube’s Community Guidelines. Violations may result in your custom thumbnail being removed and a Community Guidelines strike. Learn more about thumbnail policies on YouTube.