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How to Design a YouTube Thumbnail to Get More Views

How to Design a YouTube Thumbnail to Get More Views
Petra Tegefeldt April 22, 2024 · 6 min read

For years, YouTube has been a path toward fame and fortune for “ordinary people†with talent. It has become a colorful blend of all types of content, from grandmothers giving a tutorial on their holiday turkey techniques to school bands getting their music out there.

No matter what a channel’s content might be, though, one of the first challenges is convincing users to click and watch the video, and that all starts with the thumbnail. A well-designed thumbnail could be the deciding factor that catches a viewer’s eye and turns them into a lifelong subscriber.

How do you design a YouTube thumbnail that gets viewers to stop scrolling and start watching? Use these expert tips.

Be Authentic

First and foremost, don’t fall into the trap of publishing clickbait thumbnails. We’ve all seen videos in which the thumbnail image wasn’t representative of most of the video, or worse, it wasn’t in the video at all. This is a fast way to turn off viewers and lose loyal subscribers.

Use Consistent Branding

Branding is crucial in the overcrowded world of YouTube. You want users to see a thumbnail and automatically know whose video it is because it has the same tone and imagery.

An easy way to get started is with a professional YouTube branding kit. It comes with the colors and templates you need to produce thumbnail after thumbnail with on-brand images.

Thorough branding isn’t just about colors, fonts, and logos, though. You also want to be consistent in the types of photos or graphics you use. For instance, graphics should have a similar illustration style. Photos should have similar lighting styles or image effects.

All this combined will help viewers identify with the channel and become loyal viewers and subscribers. After all, the age-old Pareto Principle says that 80% of your engagement will come from 20% of your viewers, and those high engagement levels come from sustained loyalty.

Get a Face in the Frame

For introverts and extroverts alike, humans are automatically drawn to other humans, even if it’s just an image. Including a person’s face in your thumbnail is automatically more engaging and eye-catching.

Be sure that the person’s facial expression matches the tone you want to convey. They should be laughing if the video is comedic, or if it’s something down-home and comforting like a cozy cooking video, they could have a comforting smile.

Don’t Compromise Quality

Every designer knows the golden rules of image resolution: print images must be 300 dpi, while on-screen images only need to be 72 dpi. That may not be enough anymore.

Today, people watch YouTube on large monitors, huge TVs, and so on. They can zoom in and out as much as they want. Because of this, it’s now advisable to have high-res photography in your thumbnails so the image looks professional and put-together for every viewer.

Use Few Words with Great Impact

In general, the fewer words you write, the more people will read them. If you’re trying to squeeze a 20-word title onto your thumbnail, you can bet that nearly everyone will scroll by because it’s hard to read and it’s visually overwhelming.

The trick is to limit your thumbnails to a few words and make those words as compelling and enticing as possible. “Short and punchy†is your mantra. In your design, make sure those words also stand out enough to be readable at a glance.

Showcase the “Afterâ€

Most YouTube videos finish with something visually attractive. For instance, if the video is a makeup tutorial, the “after†is the finished look. A cooking video has a finished dish as the “after.†A reaction video’s “after†could be the reactor’s impressed or shocked reaction.

In these cases, feature the “after†in the video because it’s visually appealing and shows the viewer exactly why they should click. The exception is a situation in which this would create a spoiler. For instance, if your video’s title is bragging up a “secret celebrity guest,†don’t show the celebrity in the thumbnail.

Incorporate Diversity and Inclusion in the Big Picture

People are more likely to be attracted to a video or other type of media if it shows someone they can relate to. For this reason and to help to increase overall diversity and inclusion in the media, consider showing people of various races, genders, and ages in your thumbnails.

This is easy to do if there are multiple people in the video. If not, you could include illustrations that reflect the video’s content while incorporating diversity in the illustrations.

Know What Appeals to Your Audience

It’s the golden rule of marketing and design: know your audience. Fortunately, that’s easier on YouTube than in most other types of media.

Take a look at the channel’s audience analytics to see a snapshot of your channel’s viewers. You’ll see their geographic locations, ages, and other helpful data. This shows you the primary demographics of your fans and it also helps you find gaps in your audience.

Based on this, check out the top channels and videos for the viewers you want to target. Look over their thumbnails and look for patterns. Do they use bright colors or more muted tones? Do they include illustrations, photos, or both? What is the general visual style for their thumbnails?

Now that you’ve seen what thumbnails seem to be popular for your target audience, use them for inspiration. Don’t copy them too closely, but incorporate some of those elements into your own on-brand style.

Creating Click-Worthy YouTube Thumbnails

Design work that’s part of a marketing strategy is a tricky game. You’re walking the line between artwork and sales, trying to elicit a specific action while also being visually and artistically appealing. YouTube thumbnails require you to walk that same tightrope. The tips above can help you master thumbnails that get clicks but aren’t clickbaity, and those that are unique enough to catch the eye but similar enough to build a consistent brand.

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Petra Tegefeldt
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