3 Good Reasons to Make YouTube Thumbnails Before You Film

Making a thumbnail before you record a video seems odd, but the practice benefits your YouTube channel. Here's how.


Which piece of content should you make first: the YouTube thumbnail or the YouTube video?

We pitched this question to creators on the YouTube Community tab a few weeks ago. Out of 19,000 responses, 16,340 people chose “YouTube videos” first. Only 2,660 said they begin with a thumbnail.

That’s a big gap, but we’re not surprised. To many people, it makes sense to create a video first because thumbnails are always complementary – the side-kick if you will.

You can’t upload a graphic without first uploading a video. Maybe that’s why the “thumbnail first” mentality feels odd, like introducing Robin before Batman.

But as our survey proves, some creators are doing just that. The real question is why?

1. Without the Right Thumbnail, No One Clicks Your Video Anyway

Technically, viewers don’t know a good video when they see one. They might assume the video has what they’re looking for, but people don’t know until they click and watch.

The quality of your thumbnail helps viewers decide what to do. If something on the graphic resonates with them, they’ll click and give your video a chance. If the thumbnail is unappealing, the video gets an abysmal number of views.

Read More: YouTube Thumbnail Guide - 9 Ways to Boost Click-Through Rate

That means you could film the best YouTube video ever, but no one would know if the thumbnail is subpar.

That’s one benefit of creating the graphic first and video second. If you design a good preview image, you increase your chances of getting more views. But if the design fails, that's OK too. The video can wait until you improve the thumbnail.

2. A Thumbnail Helps You Brainstorm Video Titles

Do you struggle to write titles for your videos? If you’ve tried every hack imaginable, the next step is to give up for a while. Yes, you read that right. Take a break from organizing your words and craft visual concepts instead.

It’s easier to describe something when you can see it in real-time. Take the best parts of your video idea – the emotions you want to convey, the value you want to give – and create a thumbnail portraying those qualities. This visual aid helps you describe your content and write a better video title.

Read More: 9 Ways to Write Exciting YouTube Titles for Your Videos

Here’s how to streamline the process:

  1. Start with a basic video idea.
  2. Ask yourself: Which emotions should people feel while watching?
  3. Create a draft thumbnail portraying those emotions.
  4. Pull inspiration from the graphic to describe your video emotionally.
  5. Turn the description into a click-worthy title.

Getting people to click your videos is the ultimate YouTube goal. This method of creating thumbnails first and connecting them to your title is one way of doing that.

3. There’s Less Work to Do After Filming/Editing

Some creators spend hours making a thumbnail for one video. If our survey is correct, and 86% of people like to do that last, how does that affect creators’ energy?

Think of all the things you do before making a thumbnail:

You’re demanding a lot from your brain when you make designing – a mentally draining task – one of your last steps.

Imagine how it feels to upload a video as soon as it’s edited. There’s no need to create graphics at the last minute or brainstorm titles; you feel calm and happy because the next immediate step is posting your content.

To reach that happy place, do your most demanding work first, including thumbnail creation. That way, you expend energy at the right time for the right tasks.

Making thumbnails before you press record is an excellent productivity hack.

Want to up your game even more? Here are four tips for posting more YouTube videos in less time.