The top-performing videos on YouTube use unique thumbnails to stand out from the crowd, and you can too.
Whether you’re a new content creator or running a small business, success on YouTube is important. Good video marketing can mean a huge boost to your business, a supplementary income, or even a full-blown career. Here are just a few reasons you should make the most of YouTube:
- YouTube has 1.9 billion monthly users (not including those viewing without signing in), making it the world’s biggest online video platform
- 80% of people aged 18-49 watch YouTube every month
- YouTube is visited more than any other website except Google itself
- In 2017, people watched more than 7 billion hours of YouTube every week – 600% more than Netflix
- Less than 10% of small businesses use YouTube
So, being on YouTube is essential for small businesses – especially now.
The thumbnail preview is your first chance to engage users, and often your last. Your video could be Oscar-worthy but that doesn’t matter if no one is clicking on it. Without clicks, YouTube’s algorithm will decide your videos aren’t relevant and stop recommending them.
Take a look at the recommended videos below and think about which one you’d click on:
The third video grabs you in a way the others don’t. It draws your eye with its strong blue and focused image while giving you information about the content.
Crafting an attention-grabbing thumbnail is well worth the extra time. After all, 90% of the top-performing videos on YouTube feature custom thumbnails, so yours should too.
Read on to learn how to make custom thumbnails for YouTube and how to add them to your videos!
The basics: choose your own still from the video
It’s not recommended to just choose a better still from your video, but it’s a start. Being able to select stills from your video is also important for designing custom thumbnails.
YouTube automatically generates thumbnails quite randomly. They’re rarely interesting and often they’re blurry, catch your face looking weird, or slice off part of your head – or maybe all three.
To choose your own still, simply scroll through your video in full-screen mode, pause on the frame you like, and take a screenshot. Using that as your thumbnail will get better results than something nightmarish like the image above, but only by a small margin.
Design your own custom thumbnail
Your best bet is to design your thumbnail from the ground up. This gives you control over not just the image used but also background colors, on-screen text, how images are framed and sized, and a range of other design elements.
Humans are very visual creatures, and good design will not only catch the eye but also give users a good opinion of your video before they even watch it. What’s more, your thumbnail is a way to start communicating with your audience before they click.
While a still can only ever convey one moment from your video, a well-crafted thumbnail can communicate the overall value of your video:
There are free tools available to help you create your own YouTube thumbnails, such as:
You can start making YouTube thumbnails easily with Fotor. This is an ideal solution for people who haven’t had much experience with design. Fotor has a range of free templates to make it easier for you to get great results quickly, plus clip art and dynamic fonts!
Fotojet offers similar functionality to Fotor, and there’s no need to create an account to make and download thumbnails. There are plenty of templates, as well as clip art to add life to your creation.
Adobe is famous for advanced graphic design and video products, but they also offer Adobe Spark – a simple online tool you can use to design YouTube thumbnails. You’ll need to sign up for a free account, or you can log in with Google, Facebook, or an existing Adobe ID.
Best practices from the experts
Tools are only part of the equation, there are also some best-practice principles you should keep in mind. Here’s some advice on what works from the experts:
You YouTube thumbnails need to have the right dimensions so they’ll display well on the site. Images should be 1280 x 720 pixels and be sure to use rich, high-definition images.
Your thumbnail will be displayed small in the YouTube sidebar or video suggestions. But you also want it to look good if it’s embedded or featured at the top of your YouTube page.
So, always use a big image that can shrink down, not a small image that will pixellate when blown up. Just make sure it’s under the 2MB limit.
Use on-screen text
Don’t rely on images alone – add text to your thumbnail to let users know why it’s great! This might just be the video title if it’s catchy enough, or it could be a short CTA or even a question.
Whatever it is, it should summarise the core idea of your video and let viewers know what to expect.
In the image below, notice how the on-screen text is totally different from the video title – it’s a short, snappy hook that primes you to want to know more:
Use big blocky text and stick to 3-6 words so people can still read it when it’s shrunk down to a preview. Choose consistent fonts and colours to brand your videos. This will make them recognisable, and build viewer loyalty over time.
It’s also a good idea to add text to your video itself so people can get a feel for it during the preview autoplay, which has no sound.
Think about branding
Your YouTube thumbnails don’t all have to look the same – in fact, they shouldn’t – but they should all look related.
Come up with some consistent elements that tie your thumbnails together and make them yours. That can include font and colour scheme, as discussed above. But it can also be the style of graphics you use, the type of images you base your thumbnails around, and the type of message the text sends.
The popular YouTube channel Good Mythical Morning is great at this. Notice how their thumbnails are all unique but share themes in common: expressive faces, large white font, colourful images, and often brand logos:
Contrast is key
Make sure you use colours that contrast strongly with each other – you want your text to pop out from the background, not fade into it.
Be honest and accurate
It might be tempting to get clicks with sensationalised images or text. But if your thumbnail leaves viewers feeling misled, that will hurt your reputation.
What’s more, if a lot of people are starting your videos and then clicking away in disappointed disgust, YouTube’s algorithms will notice.
So, make sure your content delivers on whatever your thumbnail promises!
Adding your new thumbnail to YouTube
Once you have a great new thumbnail, here’s how to add it to YouTube on your computer or mobile device:
Verify your YouTube account to get started
To upload custom thumbnails for your YouTube videos, you’ll need to verify your account. This is really easy to do.
First, go to your creator studio by clicking your channel icon in the top right:
Then click ‘Verify, right under your channel name:
Select your country, then pop your phone number in the box provided and click ‘Submit’ to get a text with your verification code (unless you want to receive an automated call from Google, for some reason):
That’ll take you to a screen where you can enter your code and submit it once it arrives, then you’ll be verified:
Adding custom thumbnails to YouTube on your computer
Step 1: Go to YouTube Studio and sign in, then select ‘Videos’ from the left tab and click on the video whose thumbnail you want to edit:
If you’re already signed into YouTube, you can access the studio by clicking your profile picture in the top right-hand corner:
Step 2: Scroll down past the video description field and you’ll see a section where you can choose an automated thumbnail or upload your own. You’ll also get this option after uploading or recording a new video.
Ignore the auto-generated thumbnails, and click on the ‘Custom thumbnail’ option:
Step 3: Select your fancy new thumbnail image and upload it, then click ‘Save’ and you’re done.
Adding thumbnails to YouTube on your phone or tablet
The following advice is for the Android app, but both versions are very similar:
Step 1: Once you’ve downloaded the app, opened it, and signed in, click the three bars on the top left of the screen to get a dropdown menu:
Step 2: Select ‘Videos’ from the dropdown:
Step 3: Tap the video that you want to change the thumbnail for, then click the pencil on the video to open editing options:
Step 4: Click ‘Edit thumbnail’:
Step 5: Select ‘Custom thumbnail’ and choose your engaging new thumbnail to upload it and replace the old one. This option will also be available when you first upload or record your video: