YouTube Strategy Series: The Importance of Custom Thumbnails

Starting a YouTube channel is by no means an easy venture. As we’ve discussed in past posts, it takes a lot of research, planning, and commitment to lay the foundation for success. Creating great content is only part of what makes a channel successful; you also need to be considerate and deliberate about how you present that content. We talked about channel layout basics here, and today I want to go into more depth about how and why you need to be uploading custom thumbnails for all of your videos. A lot of people don’t even consider custom thumbnails when they create and upload their videos, but it is a great (and underrated) way to gain extra views.

There are a couple reasons that custom thumbnails help you gain views. The first it that you can present a more polished look by uploading a scene that you have selected and tweaked to bring out its best. The second is that by thoughtfully planning out your custom thumbnails, you can give viewers a lot of information that will help them decide to click on your video when it is in the suggested video stream. The more you can do to set yourself apart from everyone else, the better. So here are some quick tips to help you create the perfect custom thumbnail.

1.  Be honest. Whatever thumbnail you choose needs to be something that is actually in the video and that does a good job of letting the viewer know what they can expect from clicking. Some people are tempted to find the most outrageous scene in every video and use that as the custom thumbnail, but while this may get clicks, if it isn’t representative of the actual content you will lose retention, and in turn lose rank, so pick something that really helps to explain what the video is about!

2.  Use text. Using a simple line of text, just two or three words that explain what your video is about, can be incredibly helpful to gaining extra viewers when your video is in line with a bunch of other videos. There are tons of great examples of people using custom thumbnails in this way, as a vehicle for extra information. One good example is The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’s YouTube channel. When you scroll through these videos you rarely even need to read the title or description to know what the video will be about, which is really great, especially when people are watching on mobile. Which brings us to our next point….




3.  Think mobile. We will be really diving deep into the importance of thinking about mobile viewing at a later time, because more than half of all views come from mobile devices. For custom thumbnails, however, there are a couple of mobile-specific things to consider. First, remember how small the image is when people are searching, and make sure that whatever you choose will be able to be seen and understood in this small size. Close-ups work great for this! Also, think about using as few words as possible so that the text stays bigger, but don’t forget that on some mobile devices it is difficult to see the description and title, so this text really becomes important.

4.  Plan it out. Finally, you want to think about where to put everything on your custom thumbnail. Remember that YouTube puts the time of the video in the lower right-hand corner and puts the “watched” label in the upper left-hand corner once someone has viewed a video, so stay away from these two areas. For your text, choose an area that still allows you to see the image behind the text, but is dark enough to make sure the text is legible. Here is a good example of how to layout the text and other images to avoid problem areas.




The bottom line here is that with some time and effort, you can utilize the custom thumbnail feature of YouTube to maximize your channel’s visibility and success. Now get creating!