Elements of a great YouTube thumbnail

By Holly Kosec on April 14, 2015

By Holly Kosec on April 14, 2015

Over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so it’s no wonder that the competition is increasing. Viewers quickly scroll through lists upon lists of videos, searching for something that looks interesting, helpful, or amusing.

This is why the thumbnail for your YouTube videos is one of the most valuable assets you have in marketing your videos.

There are a few key elements you should keep in mind when creating your video thumbnail:

Where will the thumbnail show up?

YouTube video thumbnails show up in a variety of places on both YouTube and Google, and in a variety of sizes. Your video may also be embedded in other websites, if it’s being shared on your website or throughout your audience.

On mobile devices, especially phones, the thumbnail is the primary marketing element. And half of YouTube’s views are actually happening on mobile devices. Since there is very little real estate for more than a thumbnail and a portion of the title, the importance of having an eye-catching and relevant thumbnail increases greatly on mobile devices.

Do you have a plan for the thumbnail?

Your video’s thumbnail should not be an afterthought. Be thinking about the thumbnail you’ll be using for your video while you’re still in the planning phase. In doing so, you’ll be prepared to get any additional shots you may need for the thumbnail while you are working on shooting your video.

You should also have a plan for other elements that will go on the thumbnail, such as text, branding or trademarks. Keep the text on your thumbnail short and sweet. Remember that your thumbnail will show up in some places at a very small size.

Test out the legibility of your thumbnail by scaling it down to about 75 x 40 pixels. If you can still make out the words, or what the thumbnail represents, you’re on the right track.

Is the thumbnail designed well?

Here’s some general design guidelines to follow when working on your thumbnail:

  • Clear and in focus
  • Bright, eye-catching colors
  • 1-2 subjects (face, object, etc)
  • Fill the frame
  • Good composition
  • Contrast between the foreground and background
  • Accurately represents the content

You’ll also want to keep in mind the design and resolution recommendations that YouTube provides. The thumbnail should be a minimum of 640 x 360 pixels, and remain under the 2 MB upload limit. It’s also recommended that the thumbnail be in a 16:9 ratio, since that’s the ratio of most videos.

You should make sure that the thumbnail complies with YouTube’s Community Guidelines. These guidelines mostly just make sure you steer clear of trouble.

Does the thumbnail tell the right story?

The thumbnail for your video can be thought of like the poster for an upcoming movie. It’s a sneak peek at the full story. It should be unique, interesting, and pique the viewer’s curiosity, compelling them to click.

Some viewers may pass over your video if the thumbnail doesn’t look like what they’re looking for, even if it holds the perfect answer to their search. Other viewers may be disappointed by the video if the thumbnail led them to believe the video was about something else.

So while your video’s thumbnail is the key that draws in the viewer, you also need to be sure to follow through on your thumbnail’s promise. Make sure the thumbnail is relevant, and accurately describes what the video is about.

What tools do you need?

Even if you don’t have high-end graphics programs like Adobe Photoshop, there are still options out there that can help you get a great thumbnail for your video.

One tool that is pretty widely accepted in the YouTube community is YouTube Slicer. It does have a small start-up fee of $37, but it’s well worth the investment, especially if you can’t afford to hire a professional designer or buy expensive software for your videos.

If you’re looking for a more general-use graphics program, you might check out my previous blog on affordable options for photo editing.

Need help with your YouTube channel?

Whether you just need help with some simple graphics for use in your videos, or you’re just getting started on YouTube, we may be able to help. Contact us today to see if we’re a good fit!

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