Improving your YouTube Video Thumbnails

Good YouTube Video Thumbnails get clicks.

Clicks mean more views, and more views are needed for the growth of your YouTube channel!

But do your YouTube Video Thumbnails cut it?

Can they be better?

As a creator you know there’s always room for improvement, so I go over several tips to improve your YouTube video thumbnails below.

Don’t forget to check out our Free YouTube Video Thumbnail templates you can edit in Photoshop here.

Improving your YouTube Video Thumbnails

Watch on YouTube

Remember, these thumbnail tips don’t all need to be followed on every single thumbnail. You may want to switch between some of these tips depending on the type of video/thumbnail you are creating.

Consider these with each thumbnail you create or include in your overarching YouTube Video Thumbnail strategy for best results.

Let’s get into it!

Convey Emotion in your Thumbnails

We chase happiness and we fight to avoid stress or sadness. It’s simple.

So when your video is discussing a problem to avoid, or a solution to something, showcasing high levels of emotion can help draw people in to watch your video.

People searching for videos in your niche can relate to an emotion pretty easily at a glance, so it grabs attention quickly as they want to be as happy as the person in the thumbnail, or avoid mistakes that may make them as sad or angry as who they see.

This is a powerful YouTube Video Thumbnail design tip not to be ignored!

Ryan Walsh does an awesome job of this on his YouTube Channel:

Ryan Walsh's YouTube Video Thumbnails

Ryan uses very obvious facial expressions to convey his happiness, disappointment, shock, and negative emotions and backs them with bright colors to add a sense of energy to them, empowering the emotion visually.

This really tells the story effectively for someone looking for a result he can offer.

When using your face, make it large

Faces are great for people to recognize you or the emotion you’re trying to convey in your thumbnail.

When using faces, we often make them too small if it’s one of the main focuses of our design. It has been shown that faces that take up a significant height of the thumbnail are well showcased and often earn more clicks.

You get a feeling for the person straight away and that they are the ones talking in the video. We often react to people’s appearance when looking for advice, so using your face can help make a connection with people before they watch which could lead them to click on your video.

You can see this in the previous example I used!

Stick with High Contrast

Contrast is about having certain objects stand out against others.

With text, black text on a white background is easiest to read due to the extremely high contrast. But it doesn’t need to be just black and white, some ways of adding contrast to a thumbnail can be:

  • White on black / black on white
  • Light text or objects on a Dark background (and vice versa)
  • Bring colors against dull colors
  • Warm (yellow, reds, oranges, etc) colors agains cool colors (blue, green, purple, etc)
  • You can also create some contrast with basic outlines and shadows on objects to further separate objects

Chris Do and his team at the Futur are experts and making this happen with their thumbnails:

YouTube Video Thumbnails created by The Futur

Notice how there are simple, bright colors with white text in some thumbnails, black on white in another, white on dark, and red over a dark greyscale image. These are all great examples of contrasting text with the rest of the design.

Even the objects and people are cut out, creating contrast between them and the background. So the title and objects stand out from the background with high contrast and are easier to read and identify.

Use White space (aka Negative Space)

A trap a lot of people fall into is to fit as many elements and things into a YouTube video thumbnail as possible, and make the text as big as they can until there’s no space left in the image.

This makes things super cluttered and doesn’t actually empower any of the text or elements in your design.

White space, or negative space, is where you have some void or empty space around objects or text to allow them to breathe a little. Having space around an object with nothing near it gives it a visual sense that it is important and to be focused on since it doesn’t blend with everything around it.

Having this space around objects in your video thumbnails makes them less aggressive and more relaxing to look at also.

Here’s a good example from Ronald L. Banks:

A stricking Video thumbnail

Notice how a good half of the thumbnail is essentially blank (apart from a subtle marble texture)? You essentially notice the image in the center first since there’s hardly anything competing against it, then the text is small and off to the side in its own block-sized area. This clearly defines two separate areas for the eye to be drawn to.

Space helps guide the eye. If there’s nothing to look at, we naturally want to know where we should be looking – and an element that sits on its own draws that attention. This is a powerful concept even for tiny YouTube Video Thumbnails.

Don’t forget to check out our Free YouTube Video Thumbnail templates you can edit in Photoshop here.

Use Logos and Consistent brand elements

When someone first engages your content on YouTube, there’s a chance they will suggest more of your content.

But how will they know it’s you?

Brand yourself.

This means using common elements on all of your thumbnails and keeping a consistent look and feel so people know it’s you. You can use your face on every thumbnail, your logo, colors and it can even extend to the use of fonts and layout.

A few good examples of this are below…

Nick Nimmins Brand Consistency

Nick Nimmin does this expertly in his thumbnails above. He uses his face in most of them, 3 lines of text contained in rectangles with consistent font and colors. Also, notice the ‘Nimmin Live’ logo he uses on two separate videos. The thumbnails themselves are actually identical.

It’s difficult to miss his videos because you always know it’s him.

To a smaller degree, but just as effective, check out Honest Trailers by Screen Junkies:

Honest Trailers Logo

The Honest Trailers logo is on every single YouTube Video Thumbnail, with a single photo behind it. You recognize the movie and the logo and you know exactly what the video is about (assuming you’re familiar with Honest Trailers.

I’ve tried to incorporate this kind of consistency myself on my YouTube Channel in the past 6 months, using my face, logo (bottom left) and consistent layout and dark design with one changing accent color:

Use Bright color or combinations

Your YouTube Video Thumbnail needs to stand out. Bright colors stand out by definition, so it may be worth making your thumbnails bright and eye-grabbing with highly saturated, bright colors.

It does need to match the tone of the video though, so consider that when using bright colors on your thumbnail.

Stick to 3 to 5 words

Too many words are just too much work to read. People are on YouTube to sit back and watch videos, so adding a lot of text to a tiny thumbnail is just too much.

Stick to 3 to 5 words if you can to really drive home what your video is essentially about. Also, fewer words mean you have to make more of a statement with what you’re saying.

Nate from Channel Makers does an excellent job:

Nate's YouTube Video Thumbnails

This is backed up with the emotion on his face, which can help add tone to the words used in his thumbnail – not to mention his face is his brand. Once you’ve seen one of his videos, you know straight away who he is when the next recommendation pops up.

There’s also a tease or a sense of urgency here. He doesn’t give everything up, but uses somewhat actionable phrases like “Watch out for this” or warnings like “End Screens are Tricky”.

So instead of deeply describing everything in the video, he finds a simple way to grab attention and then goes into detail in the titles and of course, the video.

Research competition, be different than other YouTube Video Thumbnails.

If you have time, search for a key phrase you want to rank for on YouTube and analyze the results. You may find a theme in how they look. So make sure your thumbnail looks different and, if possible, the exact opposite.

This means your thumbnail will stand out from the rest as something different than the others and this will draw someone’s eye when they are searching.

My recent video about All in One SEO does this well in the first few results:

Standing out from the crowd

Whilst the first, third, and fourth videos are all flat bright colors, mine is a different look altogether, using darker colors with a blue accent thrown in there.

I’ve also added my face to the thumbnail much larger as the other thumbnails don’t showcase a face or it is very small (in the first thumbnail).

Don’t forget to check out our Free YouTube Video Thumbnail templates you can edit in Photoshop here.

Showcase a result

If you are helping people achieve a defined result – showcase it in your thumbnail!

It can be a simple before and after photo or simple a final product of something being built. If you deal in stock, marketing, online traffic, or anything that can be represented in a graph, then use those elements also!

People know what they want so when they see it in your YouTube Video Thumbnail, they’ll be keen to watch your video.

Display a relevant item

If you’re reviewing something or discussing an object or location, use a photo of that item or location to add relevancy to your video and educate people in a glance as to what your video is about.

Here’s a great example bu TechSpaceCowboy:

a simple object in a YouTube Video Thumbnail

No text, just a photo of a Playstation 5 (which he’s reviewing) and his face, which has a very neutral but thoughtful expression leading you feel the review could go either way (good or bad).

But when you know what a PlayStation looks like, you’ll know what the video is about (to a degree) before even reading the title.

Arrows circles pointing

If you really want people to focus on one area of your thumbnail specifically, point to it with an arrow or finger or even just a face looking in that direction.

This is very effective as other elements can do the job of grabbing attention but then the viewer’s brain is receiving a specific instruction to “look at this!”.

I found these two examples on my YouTube home screen straight away:

Arrows in YouTube Video Thumbnails

Lebe Stark showcases with a bright red arrow that stands out from his photos. He points to a result and away from the problem as a very straightforward way of saying “go from here (the before) to here (the after). It’s highly effective.

Vanessa Lau uses her face a lot to brand her content, so by adding a photo of her pointing to the text in the video, she’s grabbing your attention with her face and literally pointing to what the video is about.

This is a very powerful visual tool for really focusing someone’s gaze on a particular point.

Striking or unusual imagery

Do you want attention for your YouTube Video Thumbnails? Maybe your face or some bright colors just don’t cut it. use something unusual or visually striking.

You can take a photo of something eye-grabbing, or find an image or element online (check out these free resources) or you can even alter an image.

Check out Screen Rant’s Pitch Meetings:

Pitch Meetings unusual imagery

All they do is manipulate the eyes on their thumbnails and there’s a recognizable and unusual image that draws the eye.

Or check out this meme compilation thumbnail from Unusual Videos:

meme YouTube Video Thumbnail

The unusually large burger really grabs attention. But follow that up with a guy about to eat it and all of a sudden there’s a story to be told!

Design for small screen

A lot of people, maybe you, will design your thumbnails on a desktop PC. It’s easier, faster and you’re likely to create better thumbnails than on a phone in most cases.

But don’t just check your YouTube Video Thumbnail on your computer at full size.

Most viewers are on their phones when using YouTube. Also, most thumbnails are shown smaller than the phone screen, so you need to see how it looks small.

You can send the image to your phone and check it, but all you really need to do is zoom out until the thumbnails are very small and make sure it still has the same effect.

If your thumbnail works good small, it will most likely perform at its best.

Bottom right corner clear

times corner

You may notice a small box that showcases the length of the video in the bottom right-hand corner.

This may be small in most cases but it does take up more space as thumbnails are displayed in smaller areas.

To be smart, it’s best to leave that area without any important information so it isn’t covered up.

I don’t have a precise calculation here, use your best judgment on how much space to leave clear.

Don’t forget to check out our Free YouTube Video Thumbnail templates you can edit in Photoshop here.

Think of all elements as a whole image cohesively

Keep the flow of all elements working together so they work well as one image.

Don’t get caught up with all the little details so much that your video Thumbnail is a mess of too many tiny objects and pieces that look too vastly different.

Think of how everything in your design will flow together with the use of color across the board, spacing, and focus on the 2 or 3 max items you’ll use as a focal point to draw people in.

Review , Analyze and Adapt

After some time, you’ll need to take a step back and see how things are going. Make sure you go into your YouTube studio and then into your analytics – there you can see what your top-performing videos are.

You can easily sort by click-through rate and see which thumbnails are performing best and which are worst.

YouTube Analytics

Looking at the image above, you can see the “Impressions click-through rate”, click that to sort in order. But also pay attention to “Video impressions” (not pictured) to make sure your video has been seen at least 50- to 100 times for an accurate result.

You can hover over each video and see the thumbnail and make a judgment on what’s performing best or worst.

However, you can take this a step further…

Head up to ‘compare to’, then to ‘groups’. You can create groups of videos with certain thumbnail types there and compare your top videos directly to that group.

An example is below:

YouTube Analytics - using Groups
My full channel on the left has an average CTR of 7.2% – but My group of videos containing a face or person has an average CTR of 8%. So it is beating the channel average, showing that my video thumbnails with people and faces on them perform better than those without.

In Conclusion

Just start working on improving and keep these things in mind.

Try to really get into the mind of your viewers and how ‘attention’ works and a lot of the above will come naturally to you.

Try some of these out and see how you go. Alway sexperiment and stick with what works best for you and your audience and go from there.

Thanks for dropping by and reading this post. Have a great day!

Don’t forget to check out our Free YouTube Video Thumbnail templates you can edit in Photoshop here.