What’s the one thing that will make people click play on your YouTube video more than your competitors? If you said thumbnail image I think you’re right.
Your YouTube thumbnail is the image that accompanies your video when it appears in search results, on your channel and when it’s embedded. Make it enticing and it could be your video people watch even above the top result.
If you’ve optimised your video already you need to look at those thumbnails.
YouTube Thumbnails – Getting started
You’ve probably seen the thumbnail options that appear at the bottom of your screen when you upload a video. YouTube will auto generate these little screen grabs from your video. They’re OK but they’re rarely ideal. It’s as if YouTube pick the worst possible grabs, you’ll be gurning, your tongue will be out or they’ll have picked the frame where you can’t see anything.
Luckily there’s another option. The customised image. Here you can upload your own image. One that tells people more about what to expect.
If I’ve convinced you that you should replace those horrible automated thumbnails what should you do next?
Before you start creating thumbnails do a search on YouTube for keywords you are hoping to rank for. Which videos jump out to you and make you want to click?
It’s also worth asking your audience. Take a screen grab and ask your followers on Facebook or Twitter which would make them want to click. What appeals to you might not be what appeals to them.
Although different styles of thumbnail will appeal to different people there are some tactics you can use that will make your video stand out.
1. What’s the star of your video?
Are you the star of the show? If you are then your thumbnail needs to include a photo of you. A friendly face is more clickable than an inanimate object.
Before you select an image of yourself remember that your thumbnail should meet the expectation of your audience.
For a consumer or small business audience that gurning face that YouTube offers you as a thumbnail could well be the best choice. Take a screenshot and use it as the basis of your thumb. A more serious video aimed at corporate businesses should include a more sedate, posed image.
If you aren’t the star of the show who or what is? Is it a tutorial? A how to? A recipe? If so perhaps it’s the finished product that is the hero. Make sure you get a good quality shot of the finished product that you can use as part of the thumbnail.
2. Add text
You can’t rely on people reading the title of your video. Use text overlay to ensure they can see what the video is about.
According to YouTube more than 1/2 of views come from mobile so it’s pretty crucial that the text on your thumbnail works when it’s scaled down. In this case, big is definitely better.
3. High contrast
Saturated colours and high contrast images also have a stronger visual impact on YouTube. Experiment with different colours and find one that works for you.
So far it’s looking like I’ve got a lot of work to do. Luckily there is one thing I’m getting right.
4. Add your branding
Your video thumbnails should be consistent with your brand and your channel. Are you using the same colours and fonts each time? Do they match your branding elsewhere? Are you including your logo?
Creating your thumbnail
Up until I started researching this post I’ve been winging it with my thumbnails. I’ve got a template and I use it for everything but it’s not hitting the mark on YouTube.
My Facebook Live videos (uploaded to YouTube) in particular have been relying on the suggestions that YouTube offers.
It’s time for a change so I decided I’d try three tools and see which produced the best results fast.
I started with a screen grab from my most recent show and a title.
PicMonkey is a popular tool with YouTubers (affiliate link). It’s one I’ve been using for years and they’ve made some improvements recently. I use the ‘Royale’ version which costs €66 per year.
I uploaded my screengrab, cropped it to the correct size for a YouTube thumbnail (1280 x 720 pixels). Added a filter, a text overlay and a background for the text.
The nice thing about PicMonkey is it allows you to have layered images. You can add text, overlays, images and even draw on your photo and move them around as necessary. If you are a Photoshop user this will all seem very familiar to you.
PicMonkey also lets you add drop shadows to your text with the click of a button. Something the other tools doesn’t offer.
This is the result:
Next up was Adobe Spark. I use this a lot on my phone but this time I thought I’d try the web app.
Adobe Spark has built-in YouTube templates which means no resizing was required. There are templates and layouts that you can flick through until you find something that matches your brand.
It’s quicker to use than PicMonkey but you have a very limited amount of filters available and I wasn’t able to customise the colour scheme to my brand colours.
On the up side it’s extremely quick to create a thumbnail. You’ll have something decent in less than a minute.
Here’s the result:
This is a graphics tool I use every single day. Like Adobe Spark there are a YouTube templates built in. There aren’t as many bells and whistles as PicMonkey but once you’ve created a design it’s really easy to replicate that it keeping the brand elements consistent.
I use the premium Canva for work that costs me $12.95 per month. This speeds up creation as I have my brand colours and fonts programmed in.
Here’s the Canva thumbnail:
Which thumbnail do you prefer?
Thumbnails that attract the eye in searches both on YouTube and in Google could result in more views for your videos. Try something new today and look to see if it improves your views.
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