If you’ve been on YouTube for more than about 10 minutes, you’ve probably noticed the phenomenon I like to call “YouTube face” — that very fake I’m-so-shocked facial expression creators make when posing for their YouTube thumbnail photo.
Let it be known: YouTube thumbnails are important. They’re the first image potential viewers will associate with your video before clicking on it (or not). I spoke with a good friend who's an expert when it comes to YouTube thumbnails.
Rob Wilson is a full-time content strategist for YouTube audience development and management suite vidIQ, and he’s learned a thing or two from making a career on YouTube. Our conversation centered around his advanced tips and tricks for effective YouTube thumbnails — which thankfully touched on alternatives to the gimmicky YouTube face.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m no thumbnail expert, so I was excited to pick Rob’s brain on a few aspects related to them, including the protocol for using text on images, whether you should include your face (or a face in general) and ways to ensure your thumbnails get a good click through rate.
- Vidiq Creator Academy - not already on a paid plan? Use code TUBEU at checkout to get a free 30 day trial
- Pro Channel Manager Community
- Canva - Free picture editing software
- Adobe Photoshop
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
The YouTube easter egg from the start of today's episode is this little gem.
The Pro Channel Manager Academy is our incredible community full of incredible video courses and some of YouTube greatest minds to help you grow the YouTube channels you are working on.
A HUMUNGOUS thank you to our incredible sponsor and my favourite YouTube tool vidIQ. I use it on every single video I upload and has helped me generate BILLIONS of YouTube views. Get a free trial of one of their incredible paid plans by clicking here.
How to Create YouTube Thumbnails That Make Your Channel Shine
We know that the importance of Thumbnails and the impact that they have on your Click through rate and the impact in turn that CTR has on your channel growth. But how can ensure that you are getting the best possible click through rates?
Here our advanced tips for optimizing YouTube thumbnails.
1) Chose the right YouTube thumbnail editing software
If you are going to be editing your own thumbnails and have the technical knowhow, there's no doubt that Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard. It's a very steep learning curve if you haven't used it before but has the most powerful and comprehensive tool set.
If you're scared of photoshop and not yet ready to outsource your thumbnail creation yet Rob recommends starting on the free tool Canva if you don’t already have graphics training. Bonus: it includes hundreds of templates to help you with your YouTube thumbnails.
2) Hire a designer to create your YouTube thumbnails
Rob recommends hiring someone to take this job off of your plate entirely if design is just not your strong point. This can mean that you not only get professional design but that you can get that time back to re-invest in other areas of the channel.
“If you just accept that you're never going to be a great thumbnail creator, that's fine,” Rob says. “Just be aware that thumbnails are super important, and you do want to dedicate some time to it. Get somebody else who's good at it.”
To find a designer, you can ask for referrals in a YouTube Channel Manager Facebook group or mastermind group or there are some companies that specialize in this, including the following:
You can of course also look for freelancers on placers like Upwork.
Now, just because you outsource the technical thumbnail creation doesn't mean you can just totally hand it over. You should still have a strong say in the design and concept of the thumbnails and be working closely with the designer. Because of this it's important for you to know what key features get better click through rate and the following tips will help you with this;
3) Determine if you REALLY need to use text
Repeating the same text of your title on your thumbnail is a cardinal sin of YouTube. Why? Because you’re essentially wasting perfectly good space on text that will be displayed under the image anyway.
Instead use text on the thumbnail as a secondary headline that is more likely to induce a click.
But should you use text at all? If you can set up the video without text then I would urge you to so so but there are certain times when placing text on top of a YouTube thumbnail image can be effective.
“I think there are exceptions when you are a heavily searched YouTube channel,” Rob says. “When people are just trying to get an answer to a question, I think sometimes having text, which just tells you exactly what you're going to get from this video, can be an advantage. I do see many channels where it is something very simple like how to get 1,000 subscribers, and sometimes it worked better ... to use simpler thumbnails with a block of text on there.”
4) Choose your imagery - and edit it - wisely
It might seem like the easiest step, but picking the specific image to represent your video is vital to YouTube thumbnail optimization.
Here are some tips:
Don’t overdo it! If your YouTube thumbnail is too intricate, you’re going to confuse the viewer. A “Top 10 Movies from 2020” video, for example, shouldn’t be a collage of scenes from each of those movies, it should be perhaps a screengrab from one of the movies on the list that’s most surprising.
YouTube thumbnails look different on a phone or tablet versus a computer. Check to make sure it doesn’t appear too small on handheld devices — viewers should be able to easily decipher what they’re looking at so check it at a smaller size before you export the thumbnail.
Use no more than two or three dominant colors in a YouTube thumbnail. And constantly check your page and scroll through to make sure that the content under your videos tab isn’t just a mess of muddy colors.
Make the image pop. Over-sharpening your photo, upping the saturation by 10-20% and using a drop shadow or stroke effect can create depth and help your thumbnail to stand out among the rest.
Repetition will work only once you have a distinctive personal brand. The Philip DeFranco Show, for example, always has thumbnails that depict Philip with two protagonists from the video cut out with the YouTube logo repeated in the background, and people know that look is synonymous with him as a creator.
5) Test, Test, Test!
Don’t stick to one way of doing YouTube thumbnails until you’ve tested your approach — and the best way to do this is via YouTube Analytics.
Rob shares details of a cool (and little-known) tool within Analytics: “If you go to the analytic screen, and then you click on ‘see more’ or ‘advanced mode,’ it takes you to a full screen of analytics. Click on your channel’s name in the top left corner — you’ll see a pop-up called ‘groups,’ and that's where you can set up a list of videos and do testing of whatever kind.”
Here, you could test a list of videos that have a logo in the YouTube thumbnail and another list of videos that don't have the logo in the YouTube thumbnail, to test and see which one got more views, a better click-through rate, etc.
But beware! Metrics like click-through rate can be deceiving. For example, if you check your click-through rate for a video in the first 24 hours, it's going to be a much different set of data than if you check it a week later, because in that first day-long period it was primarily shown to subscribers, and therefore much more likely to get clicks.
Rob says it’s important to dive deeper into analytics to get a good sense of different metrics such as click-through rate and impressions ( According to YouTube, an impression is counted if the YouTube thumbnail is shown for more than one second and at least 50% of the YouTube thumbnail is visible on the screen) .
Want Even More Advice on YouTube Thumbnails?Whenever someone asks me for an example of a channel with the best YouTube thumbnails, I point them to Rob’s vidIQ page (checkout the playlist below) and for even more advice — particularly about analytics groups — check out the Pro Channel Manager Community.
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