Awesome custom thumbnails lead to more views and more clicks. It's as simple as that. Here are 10 reasons why some custom thumbnails work and others don't.
#1 Let's jump straight into this one with a question. What do the most impactful thumbnails have in common? The answer is, while they are all a very high-quality images, they are pretty simple with only two or three main elements. That means that when you shrink them down to 10% of their original design size, in other words: thumbnail preview size.
#2 The best thumbnails are custom - not just still frames from the videos. They are dedicated, professionally shot, professionally edited images, designed to tease you about what's inside the video.
#3 Unless you capture the perfect moment during your film, and the chances are you will need to create a prepared shot. If you're wondering how video creators get the YouTuber look, they often create poses in front of the camera, then create interesting foregrounds and backgrounds that contrast with each event. This way, you ensure the viewer directs their eyes to the things you want to highlight in your thumbnail.
#4 The next question you need to ask is, does the image show emotion and, or excitement? If you’re including a face in the thumbnail you’ll want to focus in on the whites of the eyes - that creates a better human relationship.
#5 Of course, not all thumbnails can convey emotion - particularly if there's not a person in the thumbnail. But they should all be able to tell some sort of story. If the viewer can take an educated guess at the content of the video from the thumbnail, then the thumbnail is doing its job. Custom thumbnails should create intrigue, entertainment or excitement, while teasing a simple, yet powerful message, that compels you to click and find out more.
#6 Another common trait of awesome thumbnails is consistency. And we're not just talking about quality. Each channel creates a style that you can see throughout their thumbnails. The goal should be to create thumbnails the viewer can instantly recognize as your thumbnails from your channel.
#7 A vibrant thumbnail is a great thumbnail. But this isn't achieved without a little work. Video creators edit their images to be more colorful and sharper at a smaller size so they pop out of the screen. In Photoshop, you can add an image adjustment layer on top of a simple thumbnail to increase the saturation to make the color pop just that little bit harder. The effect may seem subtle but when you throw it onto YouTube, where it's competing against everybody else's thumbnails, it can have a huge impact.
#8 Text should be used very sparingly. No more than two or three words. Remember, you have a video title to do that - and the last thing you want to do is regurgitate your title in the thumbnail. That’s a very common mistake. As with everything, there are exceptions to this rule. And if you are doing something that is very educational and needs to say exactly what it does on a tin, then it may be valuable to use a text. But try and keep it as limited as possible. Probably no more than five or six words.
#9 Always remember YouTube alignments. You cannot avoid this timestamp blotting your thumbnail. Just be aware that it is always on the bottom right hand corner of your thumbnail or you'll end up with a problem.
#10 Now there is something to remember about all of these thumbnail tips, tricks and guidance. Once you know them, don't be afraid to break them. Which brings us back to the most efficient thumbnail ever created on YouTube. One color, 17 million views. This is a disruptor. Something that follows no rules and because of that it stands out as something totally unique. It helps that the title is perfect too. It challenges your understanding and compels you to click, to get an answer to the question that's in your head, which is, what does this mean?
Here at vidIQ, our thumbnails have consistent branding, consistent themes, and consistent colors. Above are all the thumbnail guidelines we’ve started to follow more religiously in the last year. And the results speak for themselves. We've increased click-through rate (that's how many times people click on our thumbnails) by 100% in the last 12 months. If you're unfamiliar with how click-through rate works we cover this in detail with our thumbnails essential guide. Check the YouTube Custom Thumbnail Playlist here.
Here's my challenge to you. The next time you're on YouTube watching your favorite video creators, take a look at their thumbnails and ask yourself, why do I click on this content? Take those answers and spend twice as long as you usually would do creating your next thumbnail. Because as I said at the top of this video, better thumbnails lead to more clicks. Let's do this.
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Carla Marshall is the Head of Content Marketing at vidIQ. She has 10+ years of experience in video marketing, social media management, content marketing, DRM, and SEO. She was previously Editor in Chief at ReelSEO.com, and as a journalist and video marketer, she's covered news stories, creator journeys, and digital-first publishing initiatives across all the major online video platforms. She is YouTube Certified and a judge for the Shorty Awards, as well as the UK, US, Canadian, Global, and EU Search Awards.