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How to create a video thumbnail that increases video views

How to create perfect video thumbnail youtube
Before you hit publish on your awesome video marketing campaign please ensure that you’ve created the perfect video thumbnail. Please do not let your hard work over past few weeks, or even months, fall at the final hurdle with a basic video thumbnail design that does not do your video content justice.

Think of your video thumbnail a bit like a movie poster on the outside walls of a cinema; a static image that encapsulates the essence of the entire movie with a clear goal to grab attention and drive customers inside to buy a ticket. Your online video thumbnail has a very similar purpose, instead of selling tickets its key purpose is to entice the user to click and watch the video.

What is a video thumbnail?

“A thumbnail is a small image that represents a larger one. A video thumbnail is a static image that represents a full video.”

The most important word in the above definition is ‘represents’ – a video thumbnail represents your entire video. The video that you’ve invested so much time and money into so far. As a video marketer you have two choices when it comes to creating a video thumbnail:

  1. Leave it to the platform you’re publishing your video on, such as YouTube or Facebook, to autogenerate one for you.
  2. Design a custom video thumbnail that perfectly portrays your video content

Option 1 is likely to generate a random, blurry freezeframe that will poorly represent your video. Therefore, we only recommend option 2, a beautiful custom thumbnail design can effectively ‘sell’ your video in one carefully curated static frame. According to Hubspot 90% of the best performing videos have custom thumbnails! Don’t let a lazy thumbnail put off potential viewers of your amazing video content.

The importance of a strong video thumbnail

A good video thumbnail is a small but mighty marketing tool and despite its significance it’s often the last piece of the video marketing strategy puzzle. A video thumbnail is the first piece of your carefully crafted visual story that a user sees and it helps them decide if they want to click to play, or not.

Your video marketing media plan has got your video in the right place, at the right time and in front of the thumbs and eyes of your target customer. Now your video thumbnail must grab their attention and make them click! It should scream click me, not necessarily literally – we’ll discuss best practice thumbnail design later in this post. If you get your thumbnail wrong the chances are high that you are losing out on video views from potential customers. Get it right and you’ll be progressing towards your video marketing campaign goals nicely.

video goals

The goals of a great video thumbnail

A well-designed video thumbnail will be aligned to your overall video marketing strategy goals. At a top level your video thumbnail is usually aiming to drive clicks, views, impressions, comments, likes etc. specifically for the video which it represents. However, there are a few more strategic goals that a video thumbnail can help a brand achieve:

  • Encourage longer views of your video and lower drop off rates, a strong view-through rate is a good indicator of a positive video/brand experience
  • Retain viewers longer on your channel or profile, this also indicates a good brand experience
  • Entice people to share within their social media and other online networks, increasing the reach of your video and brand

The benefits of video thumbnails for viewers

From a viewer’s perspective, a great video thumbnail design can help them decide if the video they are about to watch is right for them and fits with the goals they’d like to achieve (E.g. quickly learn how to make pancakes). It will also provide context on the content, such as tone and depth, and help them decide if it’s to their taste.

How to create a great video thumbnail design

It’s easy to create a custom thumbnail design, the key is in the planning. Follow these four simple steps and you can ensure every video you create for your brand has an eye-catching, click-enticing video thumbnail.

1. Use a high-quality, clear, attractive image

Do: The ideal way to capture a thumbnail image for your video is during the video shoot. Try to set a few minutes aside whilst you’re on set to capture a still life photograph with the main object or person as the key focus, compose a delightful pose or still life scene that will engage users. If that’s not possible, your video editor can capture a still frame for you during post-production. Cupcake Gemma uses beautiful food photography in her baking video thumbnails.


Thumbnail design specifications - Your image must be clear, vibrant, and attractive. Ensure that it is of the highest resolution possible so that it will look great on all devices including smartphones, laptops and even the TV. For YouTube, Hubspot recommends the use of images that are 1280×720 pixels, representing a 16:9 ratio, that are saved as 2MB or smaller .jpg, .gif, .bmp, or .png files.

Don’t: Use a grainy, dark, blurry or low-resolution image.

2. Overlay an accurate, engaging headline text

Do: Add a concise, text headline to add extra context and support your video title but only if you need to. When you add text keep it to a few words, use high contrast colours in a clear font so that the text is easy to read. It’s likely that that the viewer will see your image first before the title so think how you can describe your video in snappy overlay text. Pamela Reif consistently creates great thumbnails for her workout videos with bold, short titles that make the user want to take part.

Don’t: Clutter your image with lots of text and never cover your main object or person’s face. Avoid using misleading words such as ‘shocking’ if you’re video content if it’s not shocking. These ‘click-bait’ techniques will annoy viewers and negatively impact your video’s view-through rate and reputation, bumping you lower down in search results on platforms such as YouTube. Also, avoid placing any content at the bottom right corner which may be covered by video length on YouTube.

3. Create a distinctive look and feel for your brand

Do: If there a multiple videos within your campaign they should have a cohesive look and feel, they are a collection after all. You can create a signature look and feel through your use of fonts, colour palette, placement of text/objects/emojis and logo. Aim to create a thumbnail design that viewers will be able to easily recognize as your brand. Jamie Oliver’s official recipe videos are easy to recognise thanks to his yellow branding which acts as a border on every video thumbnail.

Or, to make your video thumbnail pop you may wish to design a graphic in your brand colours and overlay the main object or person rather than a photograph or still from your video shoot. A cohesive brand look and feel to your videos will also look fantastic as a set of your channel.

Don’t: Make your thumbnail design too busy and lose the context of the video.

4. Include a human face (if relevant)

Do: If there is a human or human(s) in your video then feature them in your thumbnail design. Ensure that their eyes are visible so that they can make a human connection with each user and drive clicks. Convey an emotion that is relevant to your video context, you may need to exaggerate it slightly for more impact.

Don’t: Capture movement and create a blurry image, never cover eyes and ensure that nobody looks bored.

The value of a great video thumbnail on YouTube

When you publish a video on YouTube it’s attractive video thumbnail will be featured across various placements on the platform:

  • Video search results pages when a user uses the search bar
  • Video page recommendations, the video list on the right-hand side of each video page
  • Homepage for each logged in user
  • And, your brand channel page

In each of these placements your thumbnail is there to grab attention and drive clicks, when it does this well and the user is engaged with your brand as a video creator your video(s) are likely to get more exposure from YouTube. There are three positive behaviours YouTube is looking for from user’s once they click a video thumbnail:

  1. They watch the video in full
  2. They watch more videos from the same creators
  3. They subscribe to the video creators channel

    An engaging and realistic video thumbnail which represents fantastic video content should drive the above behaviours and gain maximum exposure on YouTube, leading to plenty of video views.

    How to enable custom thumbnails on YouTube

    The final step after you’ve completed your fantastic video thumbnail design is to add to your video. On YouTube follow these simple steps:

    1. Log In to YouTube and click “My Channel”
    2.  Click “Video Manager” located at the tip of your profile, next to your view count
    3. Select the video you are updated the video for and click “Edit”
    4. Click “Custom thumbnail” beneath the auto generated thumbnails
    5. Select your file and click “Open”
    6. Hit “Save” and your video is ready!

    Video thumbnails may also show on Google

    Google now features video in its search results. This means that your custom video thumbnail may also feature on Google for user’s searching your specific video content too. Google does not feature a random freeze frame it will feature the assigned video thumbnail from the platform page (E.g. YouTube) it is pulling the search result from. Your video thumbnail has an additional goal to drive clicks directly from Google.

    Let’s make a video with a distinctive Fresh Cut

    Are you ready to invest in video for your brand? Fresh Cut are a leading video production company helping brands tell their stories on TV and online since 2006. With studios in Leeds, Manchester and London we are proud to work with brands and budgets of all sizes. Take a look inside our fantastic portfolio of creative video content  and get in touch with our talented team to discuss your video project.