YouTube Shorts Thumbnails: How to Upload Them for a Boost In Views

YouTube Shorts have come a long way, but not so far that it's easy to upload a custom thumbnail. Here's the extra step you're overlooking, and why you need it to get more views.


By now, you may have noticed that the Shorts player in the YouTube app doesn't show custom thumbnails. Instead, YouTube chooses a random frame from your video, which becomes the image preview for your Short.

Notice how all the videos below have random thumbnails:

However, two areas of the app will display a YouTube Shorts thumbnail:

  1. On channel pages, including the YouTube Shorts featured section on your homepage.
  2. YouTube Shorts that appear in YouTube search, whether on mobile or desktop.

So while the Shorts player doesn't support thumbnails, you can upload one that shows up in other areas.

How to Upload a Custom Thumbnail for YouTube Shorts

Uploading a YouTube Shorts thumbnail is the same process as adding one to a regular video. Kind of. There's just a tiny step you may be overlooking.

  1. Open the YouTube app and create a Short.
  2. Upload the Short to YouTube.
  3. Head to a desktop computer and open your channel's YouTube Studio.
  4. Click Content on the left navigation menu.
  5. Find the YouTube Short you just uploaded (it should be at the top of your uploads list). Click the pencil icon to edit your video's details.
  6. Scroll down to the thumbnail section. Here, YouTube gives you the option to add a custom thumbnail to your Short.

Keep in mind that you need to verify your YouTube account before you can upload custom thumbnails.

Read More: How to Enable Custom Thumbnails On YouTube

Should You Create Thumbnails for YouTube Shorts?

Creating a YouTube Short on your phone and then grabbing a laptop to add a thumbnail is a hassle. Are all those extra steps even worth it?

It depends on the content you're creating, but we'd say yes. Viewers can watch a Short in multiple areas of YouTube, so it makes sense to optimize the video for different viewing scenarios.

The most common place to watch a YouTube Short is the Shorts player itself. This featured display area lets viewers cycle through videos of 60 seconds or less in a TikTok-style fashion. When a video is randomly featured there, you can expect it to get hundreds or even thousands of views. Or, as we mentioned before, viewers can watch a YouTube Short on channel pages or watch pages as a regular video.

You'll know when this has happened because the video's analytics will show the following traffic sources, in addition to "YouTube Shorts."

  • Channel pages
  • Browse features
  • Direct or unknown
  • Notifications
  • External
  • Suggested videos
  • YouTube search
  • Other YouTube features
  • Playlists
  • Playlist pages

If you see viewing percentages from the traffic sources above, your Short has reached the "regular" side of YouTube. And as we mentioned before, regular videos can display custom thumbnails.

How Many Views Will You "Lose" Without a YouTube Shorts Thumbnail?

To understand how vital these thumbnails are, take a look at "How to Make a Map in Minecraft 1.16.3." It's a popular YouTube Short from Dan, our gaming expert.

Dan optimized the video for two viewing experiences by creating the thumbnail below. It only shows up when people are watching outside of the YouTube Shorts player.

“How to Make a Map in Minecraft 1.16.3” has already surpassed 1 million views. But before it was that successful, most of the views came from users watching it as a YouTube Short (around 80%). Viewers watching it as a regular video accounted for less than 150,000 views.

Nevertheless, that’s a significant number. Imagine hundreds of thousands of viewers deciding whether to watch a YouTube Short, and the deciding factor is whether they see a nice, custom thumbnail or a random freeze-frame. It's possible that without a custom thumbnail, those viewers wouldn’t have clicked so enthusiastically.

The Best Way to Increase YouTube Shorts Views

Let’s say you want to increase views for videos watched as a YouTube Short. What should you do?

  1. First, focus on your video's title. That's the only thing you can control when a viewer is swiping at warp speed through random videos. Make your title concise, irresistible, and less than 40 characters.
  2. Think less about search engine optimization and create emotional triggers. Your video should be short, snappy, and have a "light bulb" moment that entertains or enlightens viewers. It’s all about in-the-moment shock value because no one is "searching" for YouTube Shorts.

Remember, a great thumbnail should be your priority when it comes to regular videos.

For YouTube Shorts, the title and entertainment value are most important. At the same time, the extra views from adding a thumbnail are significant, so you may have to think deeply before deciding against one.

Want to keep viewers watching your Shorts for longer? Here's how to earn more Watch Time by looping YouTube Shorts.