What Every YouTube Creator Needs to Know About Custom Thumbnails and Click Through Rate

How do YouTube custom thumbnails impact your click through rate? And when is click through rate important and when isn’t it?

At vidIQ we receive a lot of questions regarding click through rate (CTR) including “I have X% click through rate, is that any good”? It's a reasonable question if you’re new to YouTube analytics and one creators should certainly ask themselves. For instance, would you prefer a click through rate of 7.8% with 106 views or a click through rate of 2.8% with over 100,000 views? And what exactly is the difference?

YouTube Custom Thumbnails and CTR

Throughout our series on custom thumbnails for YouTube, we’ve focused on the essentials of how to create thumbnails that people will click on, but what is the end result? That is the click through rate. It is one of the newest and most powerful analytics on YouTube, but it can be downright confusing and detrimental to the growth of your channel if not understood properly. Lots of creators get fixated on the CTR number and often compare themselves to other channels or to what YouTube is telling them is a good number. So when is click through important and when isn’t it?

In simple terms, click through rate is the number of clicks, divided by the number of thumbnail impressions, or how many times your thumbnail is seen on YouTube.

For example, if your thumbnail is seen 1,000 times on YouTube and 100 people click on it, that's a click through rate of 10%. Now that all sounds simple, but it gets pretty messy pretty quickly because it's quite complex to count all of these impressions. YouTube themselves admit they don't count every time a thumbnail is seen - for example, when it appears on an external website, through an email, or a push notification, of if less than 50% of a thumbnail is seen on screen.

So, when it comes to YouTube analytics, your click through rate, and your views, the math will never add up. This is, of course, beyond your control. If the numbers don't add up, just be aware that there is a margin of error.

What is a Good Click Through Rate?

So, what is a good click through rate? YouTube's official Help Center answer is this: half of all channels and videos on YouTube have an impressions click through rate that can range between 2% and 10%. However, you need to be very careful about how you interpret these numbers. First of all, the smaller the channel or video, the smaller the numbers, the smaller sample size, which means that you can get bigger spikes, whether it be 30% click through rates or 1% click through rates.

Secondly, the age of a video can affect its click through rates. When you first release a video, it's hitting all of your subscribers and its getting an extra boost from YouTube, so you may get a higher click through rate. But what if your video starts off with a high click through rate and then all of a sudden you get a boost from YouTube, get lots of extra views, and the click through rate goes down? Is that what you want? Quite simply: Yes. As YouTube explains, if a video gets a lot of impressions, for example if it gets promoted on a Home Page or Watch Next, it's natural for the click through rate to be lower than for videos where most of the impressions are from sources like your channel page.

I mean, what would you prefer? YouTube to share your content amongst your friends, your family, your subscribers, your close-knit community who are more likely to click on your content or for YouTube to share your content amongst the entire platform's audience where they might be less invested in your content, but you're bound to get a lot more clicks. I know which I would prefer.

Also, another thing that video creators tend to do is panic when they see one analytical number and YouTube is suggesting they should have a completely different one. This is why magic numbers can be so dangerous. Imagine if YouTube revealed what the ideal, average watch-time for a video should be or the ideal audience retention percentage should be. Once there is an official benchmark out there in the world, everybody strides towards that number. And it doesn't matter where you are in your journey or how far you've got to leap to reach that number, if you don't meet it, you feel unfulfilled. You feel like a failure, so let's stop for a second. Take a step back and work out how we can set some realistic goals to improve click through rate.

Realistic CTR Goals for Your YouTube Channel

Let's start with this question: when it comes to YouTube analytics, who are you competing against? Is it the big YouTubers who inspired you to start your own channel? Is it channels who make similar content to you and that are of a similar size? Or are you competing against numbers that YouTube have recommended you should be hitting? If you said yes to any of these, I'm afraid you've got this all wrong.

The ONLY analytics you should be comparing against are your own because, put very simply, those are the only numbers you have complete control over. Now, just in case you don't know where the click through rate analytics are, let me show you. In the new Creator Studio, click on the Analytics section and from here, you want to click on the reach viewers tab at the top and then from these boxes, you can click on impressions click through rate and this will show you what it is for the last 28 days.

As you can see, our current click through rate is 4.8%, which according to YouTube, is below average. However, what they doesn't take into account was where we were this time last year. Back then, the click through rate on our channel was in a much worse state, averaging between just two and three percent. That's when we really started to focus on our thumbnail game - by assessing where we were and improving that number.

Getting potential viewers to look at your impactful thumbnails and reading your intriguing titles is so important. When it comes to CTR and YouTube Watch Time, more is better, YouTube rewards you when you improve these two numbers.

Want To Get More YouTube Views?

If you want to take your YouTube channel to the next level then make sure to download vidIQ. It will help you research YouTube, analyze videos, audit your own channel, and take actionable steps click here to install now!