5 tips for creating a click-worthy YouTube thumbnail

Smartphone floating in a rowboat. It has just thrown a life raft to a laptop whose screen is covered in YouTube logos.

YouTube audiences are hit with an avalanche of videos, and it takes a lot to make your videos stand out. That all starts with the first thing a viewer sees: your video’s thumbnail. The thumbnail acts as your video's book cover, and it plays an incredibly important role in determining whether someone clicks on your video or scrolls right past it. That means it influences not only how many views your videos get, but also your channel's overall success. 

Luckily, there are some tried-and-true approaches to making eye-catching video thumbnails. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when making yours.

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1. Accurately represent your video

Once upon a time, YouTube prioritized views and clicks as the most important metrics for ranking on the platform. This unintentionally incentivized clickbait and led creators to use thumbnails that had nothing to do with their content just so people would click. Of course, when viewers clicked and realized the thumbnail was misleading, they’d leave the video. 

This led to a lot of junk on the platform and resulted in YouTube changing its algorithm to prioritize watch time — the time someone spends watching your content — and viewer satisfaction. So stay away from clickbaity thumbnails! Your thumbnail needs to accurately represent your content to not only grab attention, but also keep viewers watching.

2. Make your title and thumbnail work together

Your title and thumbnail should complement each other. Consider your thumbnail the visual hook, while your title provides additional context. When paired well together, this dynamic duo can boost your video's click-through rate (CTR) and overall performance.

Here’s an example of a thumbnail that visually stands out from other food content on YouTube, combined with a title that adds context: it’s about tiny snacks that are actually edible. I certainly couldn't resist clicking on the video!

3. Use the power of emotion

Using emotion in your thumbnails is a powerful way to connect with your audience. Emotionally charged images trigger a response in a viewer — whether it's curiosity, excitement, empathy, or even terror — and that can make them invested in your video. You can infuse emotion in all sorts of ways: a close-up of a dramatic facial expression, an image of a beloved or hated person, a photo of a blissful or spooky place, or even colors or other visual elements that are associated with a particular feeling. 

In this thumbnail for his video, MrBeast uses facial expressions and the close proximity of the shark to evoke a sense of fear. 

4. Use text sparingly

If you have a visual that tells a story all on its own, you don’t need to add text. Still, there are times when adding text to a thumbnail can help send a message. Here are some tips to keep in mind when adding text to your thumbnail: 

  • Less is more: Keep your text short and to the point so it’s easy to read and understand. Avoid lengthy sentences, and focus on the most important information that represents what viewers will get in the video.
  • Size matters: Choose a legible font and size. Opt for clear, simple fonts that stand out against the background and are large enough to be easily seen on various devices. Avoid overly decorative or thin fonts, since they may be difficult to read.
  • Make it pop: Consider the text's placement and contrast. Ensure your text is placed in a visible area of the thumbnail without obstructing important visual elements. Use contrasting colors or add a subtle shadow or outline to make the text stand out against the background. 
  • Match your brand: Maintain consistency with your channel's branding. Align the text style, font, and colors with your overall brand identity so you create a cohesive visual experience for your audience.

The most important thing to remember is that your text should add to the context of your video. Here’s a great example of text that helps to grab attention and adds intrigue. The title of the video is about Mandela effects, while the thumbnail adds information by giving an example of one effect mentioned in the video

5. Use color as a tool

Color is a crucial element in YouTube thumbnail images — the right colors grab attention, evoke emotion, and give viewers a feel for what they’ll be watching. To effectively use color in your thumbnails, focus on bold and contrasting hues that stand out in the sea of content. Experiment with color combinations that align with your channel's branding and the emotions you want to convey. Want to spark energy and excitement? Aim for warm colors like red, orange, and yellow. What about a sense of calm or trust? Go for cool colors like blue and green. You can convey a ton of information in a single image by thoughtfully selecting colors that complement your content and channel identity.

Peter McKinnon is a masterful storyteller, and he knows how to use color to enhance his narrative. Here he is using monochromatic colors to set a sentimental mood for a video about fitting in with the professionals:

Resources for creating thumbnails

Creating professional-looking thumbnails doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. Here are some popular tools and resources to help you:

  • Design software: Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are industry-standard options, but Canva offers a more user-friendly alternative for beginners.
  • Stock image websites: Stock images can be useful as a foundation or background for your thumbnails. Websites like Unsplash and Pexels provide free access to high-quality images. Always consider licensing requirements when using stock images.
  • Thumbnail templates: There are a lot of free and paid thumbnail templates out there that  can save you time while still letting you customize them to fit your channel. Platforms like Placeit and Snappa offer a bunch of templates tailored to different niches and styles.
  • Generative AI: Tools like Midjourney, DALL-E, and other generative AI platforms can help you create imaginative thumbnail images or backgrounds. Keep in mind that copyright laws regarding AI-generated images are murky, so check the rules around your platform of choice before you use the image.
  • Design services: You can go the professional route and hire a thumbnail designer to create your thumbnails or use a service like customthumbnails.com.

Don't be afraid to learn from successful channels and develop your own unique style. Experiment with different designs and continuously refine your approach to maximize your thumbnail's impact. By applying these tips, you can create captivating thumbnails that draw in viewers and set your channel up for success.

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