Your Guide to Using the Right Thumbnail for Your YouTube Videos

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YouTube is a platform that nearly half the internet users spend time on. Video is hugely popular today, and YouTube has emerged as the world’s second-largest search engine after Google. This has resulted in many marketers utilizing the platform to boost business growth and gather a large number of real YouTube subscribers. The competition on the platform only gets stiffer every day, so there’s a need to set yourself apart from the rest if you want to get more YouTube views for your videos and increase the number of YouTube subscribers you have. Video thumbnails are one way to do this.

What is a video thumbnail?

A video thumbnail is a small still image that is meant to represent your videos. It’s the first thing viewers on the platform see appearing with your video title. The purpose of a video thumbnail is to encourage viewers to watch the video, so it goes without saying that your thumbnail should be compelling.

When you upload a video on YouTube, there’s an option to select 1 of the 3 thumbnail suggestions by YouTube. These are stills from the uploaded video itself and while this is an option, you’re better off not using it. You don’t just want a random still from your video – you want to make it stand out. Creating custom thumbnails is necessary for this.

Why are thumbnails important for YouTube videos?

Video thumbnails are important for a number of reasons but the most compelling reason is that they help to encourage viewers to click through to your video, increasing the number of YouTube views you get.

Besides this, they help put across the main purpose of your video to viewers so that they can decide if the content aligns with their objective. They also provide context on a specific topic and encourage viewers to stay on the video or your channel for longer. They may even motivate others to share your video on their social media platforms, thereby helping you pick up more YouTube subscribers. Despite the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” people do exactly that and thumbnails ensure you make a good impression on your audience.

Thumbnails are also important because the engagement they generate influences search engine rankings. YouTube’s search rankings, video recommendations, and the homepage for logged in users are impacted by higher engagement rates. Thumbnails can help you see a growth in your engagement rates and fetch you higher search engine rankings.

Engagement rates can also impact Google’s video rankings, making it easier for more people to find you online. Creating custom thumbnails in a particular style, color, overlay, or logo can help you establish a strong brand identity and build brand awareness. Consistency in brand presentation can boost your revenue and build customer loyalty.

Adding/changing a thumbnail for your YouTube videos

Adding/changing your video thumbnail is easy. You just have to sign in to YouTube Studio and select the videos option shown in the left menu. Choose a video and make use of any of the three auto-generated thumbnails or, better still, select the customized thumbnail button and upload the thumbnail of your choice, then save it. To add a custom thumbnail, you’ll need to have a verified account. If you’re live streaming, choose to Go Live and then upload a custom thumbnail from the new stream screen. You can use online tools such as Canva and other design tools to develop your custom thumbnail. You can even change the thumbnail for your video by going to your homepage and editing the specific video to add the thumbnail of your choice before saving it.

This super easy process offers a host of benefits that you definitely want to be taking advantage of.

Using the right thumbnail to optimize your videos

Now that you’re aware of what a video thumbnail is and why it’s important, it’s important to understand how you can optimize your videos using the right thumbnails. Here are some best practices to follow to make sure you have a thumbnail that’s sure to pull in more YouTube views.

Get the dimensions right

If you want your thumbnails to impact your YouTube subscribers and the number of YouTube views you get, you need to make sure you create thumbnails of the right dimensions. The dimension requirements for YouTube thumbnails are:

  • Image resolution: 1280×720 (minimum width = 640 pixels)
  • Aspect ratio of 16:9
  • 2MB of maximum file size
  • Accepted image file formats: .JPG, .BMP, .GIF, or .PNG 

Benefit from the right colors and contrast

Using the right colors is necessary if you want your videos to grab the attention of viewers. Using a lot of red, white, and black may result in your videos merging with YouTube’s colors and make it difficult for viewers to notice them. Other colors like orange, purple, green, blue, yellow, and pink can help your videos stand out and using them consistently can also create a sense of brand identity where viewers start to associate the colors with your brand and notice your videos more easily in search results.

Contrast is another important element to follow. You don’t want your text to go unnoticed because of your background colour. Using contrasting colors is crucial if you want your YouTube subscribers to be able to gauge the context of your video just by looking at its thumbnail.

Use accurate and relevant thumbnails

Using click-bait thumbnails may seem like a good option to you, but they will only do more harm than good in the long run. The higher bounce rates on such videos will signal to the algorithm that it’s possibly click-bait content and this will negatively impact your search engine results.

Benefit from text overlays and font

Even if you have a high quality image, your YouTube subscribers aren’t likely to understand what it means without having to read the title of your video. To make it easier for them to quickly understand what your video contains, make use of text overlays. You need to ensure these are in a colour that contrasts with your video’s background. Your text should be large enough to be noticed, even when viewing it from mobile phones, but don’t overboard with the text. The idea is to briefly communicate with your YouTube subscribers about what they can expect from your video. You don’t want to overcrowd your thumbnail.

Using text that drives the curiosity of viewers can help to get more YouTube views for your videos. You should even pay careful attention to the font you use for the text in your thumbnails. Using a consistent font can help your real YouTube subscribers identify your brand’s content from among the competition and also help you establish brand identity. Choosing a font that resonates with your brand’s personality will help with this.

Add graphics

Thumbnails featuring graphics or a combination of still images along with graphics can also help to get your audience curious about your video and encourage them to watch it.

Utilise still images

Creating custom thumbnails is the best option available to you, but if you’re hell bent on using a still from the video, make sure you use still images. Movements from the video can result in a blurred image of lower quality and this won’t make for a good thumbnail. Shoot a photo of the scene separately if you plan to use a part of the video as the thumbnail. Using this still image will ensure that it’s of high quality and that there are no blurs. You just can’t afford to compromise on high quality images.

Place your logo strategically

Placing your logo strategically in your thumbnail can help to reinforce your brand logo among your audience subconsciously. You don’t want your logo to occupy centre stage in your thumbnail – it should be discreet enough not to take away from the rest of your thumbnail, but noticeable enough to help your audience identify with your content.

Use whitespace

Effective use of whitespace can give your thumbnails a clean, organized, and professional look that can help your videos get more YouTube views.

Establish a personal connect with faces

Using faces in thumbnails has been proven effective in creating personal connections and can result in higher click-through rates for your videos. It helps your YouTube subscribers associate a human element with your brand, making it easier for them to relate to it.

Maintain consistency

Consistency is key if you want to achieve more trough your thumbnails. When your YouTube subscribers see consistency in the thumbnails you post, they can identify a pattern, making it easier for them to detect your content on the platform.

Test it out

Split testing different thumbnails and checking their click through rates will give you an idea of what your audience is connecting with more so that you can make appropriate changes.


First impressions make a huge impact and you don’t want to go wrong with them. The right thumbnail can help you see a growth in your videos’ engagement rates, but the wrong thumbnail can result in people scrolling right past your videos. Make use of the best practices described above to create compelling thumbnails that will surely attract your audience.

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