What is a YouTube Thumbnail?

by Matthias Funk | | Category: YouTube Marketing

You want to know what a thumbnail is and how you can use it for your videos? Well, let’s have a look at it and learn about the most important Dos and Don’ts for YouTube thumbnails.

You probably already know that videos are more engaging than text and that most people retain more from a video than they do text.

Why?

  • Videos immediately grab and maintain attention and focus.
  • Videos create more of an emotional connection than text.
  • Videos are generally easier to understand than text.
  • Videos are shareable. (Yeah, this one is huge! Think viral.)

BUT…only if they’re done properly – this is key. A thumbnail is one important factor to make your content stand out!

Keep reading and learn everything you need to become an expert at making video thumbnails that pop. Ones that will immediately grab a person’s attention and make them eager to watch your video and hear whatever it is you have to say.

What Is a YouTube Thumbnail?

Simply put…a YouTube thumbnail is a reduced size version of an image. This thumbnail is the first thing a person will see when they are browsing and trying to decide which content will give them the best solution or answer to whatever it is they’re looking for.

So, to sum it all up, YouTube thumbnails are small clickable images that a viewer can click on to watch any given video of their choice. Thumbnails are like the cover of a book. Most people will literally judge a book by its cover and that cover is what makes them curious enough to consider and then ultimately purchase a book, or not.

what is a youtube thumbnail

A Little Thumbnail Background

Video thumbnails got their name because originally they were about the size of a person’s…yep, you guessed it—thumbnail. Thumbnails came about because they make it easier to show a variety of images in one space.

thumbnail etymology

They are also a better use of space because a small picture is used to represent a larger video of the same image. And, that thumbnail picture can be clicked on to get to the full-size image. It was also discovered that thumbnails reduce bandwidth and download time, which is extremely important because people don’t like to (and won’t) wait for a video that takes too long to load.Thumbnail Definition_of_Thumbnail

Why Should I Use a Thumbnail?

Thumbnails make it easier for a viewer to control what they want to see because the thumbnail will give them a quick overview of what the video is all about. Therefore, a top-quality custom video thumbnail is what will make your content stand out.

youtube thumbnail how to stand out

Think about how people browse through YouTube video posts in an effort to find one they want to watch. That process consists of two things—the attention-grabbing headline and the curiosity building thumbnail…right? Then, as you are finished watching that video, another thumbnail will catch your eye and the intrigue will have you clicking on another, and another, and another.

Yep! That’s how it’s done—that’s how we all do it. How many people do you know that actually read the verbiage first? Exactly!

So…do you really need a custom video thumbnail?

YES… YES YOU DO!

How Are Video Thumbnail Images Most Commonly Used?

Of course, video thumbnails are most commonly used to grab a viewers attention and build curiosity.

But video thumbnails are also specifically designed to:

  • Effectively relay the content of your video.
  • Be compelling enough to encourage the viewer to click and watch.
  • Be customized so they can differentiate your brand from others, causing them to stand out above the crowd.
  • Be properly optimized so they can be easily viewed on any type of device, whether that be a desktop or mobile device.

How to Make a Thumbnail for YouTube

Learning how to make a thumbnail for YouTube sounds difficult, but it’s not. So what’s the big deal? Do you really need a custom thumbnail for your video? Why not just grab any old snapshot and use that? Or, since YouTube provides you with suggested thumbnails by default, why not use one of those? Besides, you already have a killer headline right?

youtube auto-suggested thumbnails

This is why…    

90 percent of the best-performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails. YouTube Creator Academy

1. First, you will need a background for your thumbnail. Google Images is a good place to start. You simply put this in the Google Images search: “1280 x 720” because this is the size you’ll want to use as it’s the size that is most suitable for both desktop and mobile viewing.

google 1280x720 background images

Under “Search tools you can filter the images by “Usage Rights”. This way you can find images that can be reused, reused for commercial purposes, modified, or reused and modified for commercial purposes.

2. Now choose the background that will best fit your message and copy it by hitting the right click button on your mouse then clicking on “copy image.” If your image editor doesn’t support copy-pasting you can save the image instead of copying it.

copy 1280x720 background image from google

Open your image editor and paste the image you just copied. Now you will need to find a custom font to use.

3. You can find custom fonts on any custom font site, such as FontShop or Typekit. Just select the appropriate font category, scroll through the available fonts, select one then download it.

fonts for thumbnails

4. Open the custom font zip file you downloaded and install it.

5. Now go back to the image editor.

6. Type the verbiage you want to use over the background image. Now you’re ready to custom design your thumbnail.

youtube thumbnail design

7. To design a custom thumbnail, you can add any transparent clipart, pictures, etc. to your background image. Anything that will grab someone’s attention. Just make sure you are adhering to YouTube’s Terms of Service. And don’t add anything that could be misconstrued, is confusing, misleading, or inappropriate in any way.

thumbnail

Have fun with this step. Play around with different types of pictures and clip art until you find ones that pop.

8. Once you are finished customizing your thumbnail, you will need to save it. It’s best to save it as a .PNG if you want the best quality image possible. If your image file is more than 2MB then you will need to save it as a .JPEG or .JPG. However, YouTube limits its thumbnails to 2MB so keep that in mind when you will be using YouTube.

thumbs

9. Now you can upload your customized thumbnail to the video by clicking on the “Custom thumbnail” option that’s provided below the random image selections you will see on the right-hand side of your video.  NOTE: You have to have a verified account with YouTube if you want to use the custom thumbnail option.

10. Done!

Wasn’t that easy?

Choosing Your Thumbnail Image

Your video thumbnail is more important than you think. A YouTube video thumbnail has the ability to make or break your brand in a split second. Why? Because many people will make an immediate decision about how they feel about your brand based solely on their first impression of your video, which initially is your thumbnail. So make it a good one.

In addition, the thumbnail photo you choose is the one chance you have to grab a person’s attention and to make them curious enough to want to watch your video. Think of it as a headline. Your thumbnail image is essentially another headline for your video, so it has to be something that is eye-catching and something that builds enough curiosity to make a person eager to click and watch your video to the end.

Here are some tips for choosing your thumbnail image.

  • Image selection: Use a strong, vibrant, clear image that looks good large and small. The image should closely relate to the information you want your video to convey. Check to see if your thumbnail stands out among other thumbnails.
  • YouTube’s Terms of Service: Take care that your images and texts don’t contain any type of copyright infringements and are age-appropriate for your audience
  • Image resolution: Use as high a resolution as possible (keep it under 2MB).
  • Photo composition: Apply the “rule of thirds” to compose interesting and dynamic images.
  • Text: Make sure none of the verbiage you used could be taken out of context in any way.

Seven Tips for Making Your YouTube Video Thumbnail Stand Out

There are several different things you can do to make your YouTube video thumbnail stand out above all others.

1. Choose the Right Video Thumbnail Size

Using the right YouTube video thumbnail size makes all the difference in the world. If you want the best picture quality on both desktop and mobile devices, it is best to use a 1280 x 720 pixel size (16:9 ratio). Save it as a .JPEG, .PNG, .GIF, or as a .BMP.

Choose the Right Video Thumbnail Size (1)

2. The Background Image Matters

Use a background image that will complement the message you are trying to convey without it being so “busy” that it distracts from everything else.

3. Overlay Background Image with Text

If you want to enhance your YouTube thumbnail background image overlay your images with branding and descriptive text, making sure you use a font and colors that are easy to read. You should also be sure your verbiage includes the title or select keywords as well.

4. Choose a Custom Font

Anything you do that makes your video stand out will help increase its viewership. So using a custom font is just one more thing that will make your video seem special, different than every other video on YouTube. You can find the best thumbnail fonts at the FontShop. You simply select the appropriate font category, scroll through the available fonts, select one then download it.

youtube thumbnail font

5. Use the Right Colors

If you want your video thumbnail to be effective, the added verbiage has to be easy to read. So make sure you use colors that not only complement your video, but colors that are also easy to read. Once you have your custom font, colors, and verbiage added to your thumbnail, take some time to test it to see how it looks and how well it stands out when posted among other YouTube videos.

6. Select the Right Picture

The picture you use needs to be something that will be memorable, grab attention, and something that will make someone want to click your video and watch it through to the end. Other tips for selecting the right picture include using a close-up of the subject (people are generally more drawn to pictures of people and direct eye contact), using extremely expressive faces, bright images, and the proper lighting. Also, don’t forget to split test your images and thumbnails to make sure you are always using the most effective one for any given message.

7. Make Your Brand Recognizable

The most successful videos on YouTube use their branding or some other consistent character, icon, etc. throughout all their thumbnails so that when seen, a viewer immediately recognizes that the thumbnail they’re looking at belongs to your brand. This is how you develop a connection with your viewers. People like familiarity and the feeling as if they belong. So doing this will help you build your brand, as well a loyal following. Not to mention increasing your video’s potential for going viral. Just like a trusted friend.

How to Change a Thumbnail on YouTube

If you want to learn how to change thumbnail on YouTube…here’s how.

  • Sign-in to YouTube
  • Click on the channel icon
  • Click on Creator Studio
  • Click on Video Manager
  • Click Edit
  • Select a thumbnail or click Custom Thumbnail
  • Select an image
  • Click Open
  • Click Save Changes

Yes, it really is that easy!

Do You Need a YouTube Thumbnail Creator?

What is a YouTube thumbnail creator and do you really need one? Well, a YouTube thumbnail creator, also called a YouTube thumbnail generator, is a design tool that comes with a YouTube thumbnail template that you can use to upload your images and add them to a layout, add your own custom text, choose from a library of icons and more without having to go through each design step manually while trying to build the thumbnail yourself. Do you really need one? No, not really, but it sure makes things a whole lot easier, so why not go ahead and use one?

Here is a link to the Tubics thumbnail creator. Give it a try and see what you think.

Now that you have your custom YouTube thumbnail already to go, whether you designed it yourself or used a YouTube thumbnail generator, you will need to get some eyeballs on your video…right? The best way to do just that is to enlist the help of some thumbnail software.

What Is Thumbnail Software?

Thumbnail software could be confused with thumbnail creators, but this is not the case with all thumbnail software. Some thumbnail software programs are thumbnail creators and some are used for SEO purposes. The most popular thumbnail software is actually a YouTube SEO software that helps YouTube channel owners to rank their videos higher on YouTube, Google, and more.

Our YouTube SEO tool is called Tubics. There are plenty of reasons to give our thumbnail software a try.

Here’s why…

What does the Tubics YouTube SEO software do?

  • Helps you rank your YouTube videos higher in Google Search and YouTube
  • Assists with which title and tags to choose.
  • Provides a free YouTube keyword ranking service.
  • Gives you a free YouTube SEO analysis.
  • Gives you real-time content analysis.
  • Provides you with professional thumbnail templates that enable you to create professional looking thumbnails in seconds. In fact, these templates include patterns that are known to significantly increase your video views through YouTube Suggestions.

You went to the trouble of making a custom thumbnail, so why wouldn’t you take it one step further and enlist the help of some thumbnail software? This will help you see more significant results and see them much faster than if you were to try and build video views and rankings without it.

So, what’s next?

Before you go any further, you should take a few minutes to learn the most common thumbnail mistakes and how you can avoid them.

The Top Six Thumbnail Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Sometimes the video thumbnail is the last creative step taken when producing a video. Therefore, people have a tendency to just grab any old video snapshot to use without giving it any further thought. But this is the worst thing you could do. You wouldn’t do that for your headline, so why would you do that for your video’s thumbnail? So—just don’t!

Here are the top six thumbnail mistakes people make and how you can avoid them.

1. Using Too Much Text

One of the most common mistakes people make when designing a custom thumbnail is to put too much text on it. They are understandably trying to capture attention, build intrigue, and get their message across. However, having too much text will only distract from the thumbnail itself and ultimately have the opposite effect you were trying to create in the first place.  

If users can’t read the text in one quick, sideways glance, it’s too much. You should never have more than a concise title, and, if absolutely necessary, a concise subtitle in smaller text beneath it.

2. Unflattering Facial Expressions

As you know, it’s best to use a person’s face on your thumbnail. However, be mindful of the expression that’s captured when you take the snapshot. Some facial expressions are pleasant and flattering and some are not. You don’t want the expression you’ve captured to look bored, scared, in pain, or to have a fake smile, etc. It’s best to take as many snapshots as possible so you’ll have a wide variety to choose from.

3. Boring Thumbnails

Try to avoid using a dull looking snapshot for your thumbnail. Things like charts and graphs that don’t have much color, etc. If possible, use a person’s face and give it a little character so people see something they feel like they can personally connect with.

4. Hard to Detect Play Button

Sometimes the location of the play button as it’s seen on the thumbnail appears to be a part of the picture. This means it can be easily mistaken as part of the picture and not seen as the play button. Therefore, make sure you check this so you don’t lose weeks or even months worth of traffic while wondering why no one is watching your video. You can avoid this problem by using the small play button in conjunction with the play bar. This will make it clear that your thumbnail is a video and not just a picture.

5. Too Much Motion

Having too much motion or action in your video can cause a thumbnail to be blurry. So try to limit your thumbnails to snapshots that aren’t action shots.

6. Play Button Face

Always make sure the person’s face in your thumbnail isn’t covered up by the placement of the play button. You don’t want your viewers to see your subject’s face completely covered with a big arrow. The whole idea of using a human face is for the eye contact, so make sure your picture is taken in a way that the subject’s face can be clearly seen.

Conclusion

Let’s summarize what you’ve learned then we will go over all the steps that need to be taken to create a custom thumbnail, as well as a reminder of the things you need to look for if you want the most effective YouTube thumbnail possible.

You learned why thumbnails are important and that 90 percent of the best performing videos on YouTube had custom thumbnails. So there’s no question that you should be using custom thumbnails if you want the best possible chance of success for your video message.

Here is a quick summary of the steps for designing a custom thumbnail.

  • Select a background image.
  • Open your image editor and paste the background image.
  • Find a custom font.
  • Open the custom font zip file and install it.
  • Go back to the image editor.
  • Type verbiage you want to use over the background image.
  • Add transparent clipart, pictures, etc. to your background image.
  • Save your newly designed custom thumbnail.
  • Upload the thumbnail to your video.
  • Done!

You also learned how to pick a quality thumbnail image, seven tips for making your YouTube video thumbnail stand out, and how to change your YouTube thumbnail.

We also discussed whether or not you need a YouTube thumbnail creator and gave you several popular ones from which you could choose. Additionally, we discussed the importance of using thumbnail software and how it could positively affect your SEO and rankings, as well as all the benefits that come from using thumbnail software.

what is a youtube thumbnail

Lastly, we went over the most common thumbnail mistakes people make and how you can avoid them.

If you implement everything you learned here, you should see a measurable difference in your YouTube video viewership and its related traffic.

Sonow…what is a custom YouTube thumbnail worth to you? 

PRICELESS!

Author:
Matthias Funk Co-Founder of tubics