How to Create Standout Video Thumbnails That Grab Your Audience’s Attention

Carl Taylor | June 7, 2021

Your beautifully produced videos won’t stand a chance of getting into the spotlight if the audience doesn’t feel the need to click on them. That’s where a great thumbnail comes in and fulfils its role – to attract viewers.

In many cases, people’s first impressions determine whether or not they like something, and this applies to online content as well.

When you upload a video, your audience’s first experience won’t be the sound, lighting, or effects. It will be what they will immediately see – your video’s thumbnail.

The role of a visual leaving the first impression makes thumbnails critical in determining the video’s success. Based on that snippet, people will decide if they want to watch the whole thing. Good thumbnails will catch the audience’s attention and provide a preview of what’s to come.

Giving the audience a preview of what’s in the video is another crucial aspect of thumbnails. They set expectations and create the initial context. Thus, your thumbnail must simultaneously fulfil two roles: incentivise people to watch your video and be consistent with the content.

And this second role isn’t trivial at all. If the video starts and it’s drastically different from what the thumbnail promised, people will momentarily be disappointed and lose interest. They might even click away.

Finally, with the amount of content currently online, there’s plenty of competition since millions of videos follow one pattern or another. In other words, your thumbnail has to not only serve the two aforementioned vital functions but also be different enough from the majority of things out there.

As it’s apparent, designing a winner thumbnail is no easy feat. But do it right and you might get the chance to stand out instead of being just another drop in the sea of competitors.

In this article, we’ll show you how to make solid and catchy thumbnails that will set your video content apart.

Eight Tips for Creating Unique and Effective Thumbnails

Tip #1. Use Relevant Images

As previously mentioned, your thumbnail needs to be consistent with the video content. It should give the audience a sense of what they’ll be watching and ideally make your brand more relatable at first glance.

Using relevant and quality images will help you achieve just that.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to use an actual shot from your video as a thumbnail. Sometimes, a custom photo will serve your purposes better. There are also many stock photo sites where you could get a fitting image, but creating a unique visual will always be more effective.

Tip #2. Add Catchy Text to the Thumbnail

A few select words superimposed over the image will make the purpose and theme of your video apparent.

Once quality visuals attract attention, the text will provide further context. Naturally, this attraction happens in milliseconds, as the human eye is very adept at noticing specific imagery and recognising text.

It would help to view the thumbnail text like a hook or a teaser. So, avoid using complex long sentences and aim for no more than four or five words. Rely on the visuals to tell most of the story and use text to amplify or reinforce a specific idea by carefully selecting the words.

Finally, make sure the text pops out from the thumbnail – give it a heavy outline and use either a contrasting colour or a particular shade of one that appears in the image.

Tip #3. Focus on Branding

You can design a branded template for your thumbnails to guarantee the audience can immediately recognise and identify your videos.

When it comes to branding thumbnails, the standard techniques apply – use graphics, fonts, colours, and other elements that match your brand image. This is how you can reinforce brand awareness before the video even starts.

If you choose this route, it would be best always to use your template for each video. However, don’t fall into the trap of using the exact same style. This will make all of your thumbnails look the same, giving a playlist of your videos a monotonous feel.

Determine the most striking patterns that relate to your brand and use them as the basis for variations. Those might be the colour scheme, your logo, font type, or other recognisable elements.

Tip #4. Account for Different Screen Sizes

On YouTube, the ideal dimensions for a thumbnail are 1280×720. Making your thumbnail that size will ensure it displays correctly and clearly, but that’s not the only consideration.

A thumbnail could appear perfect on your PC or laptop screen. But once you see it on a mobile device or even a TV, you could find the image far less crisp. It might be very challenging to design a thumbnail that will work on every display, but you can easily test it out on different devices.

Also, try to not rely on small details. Make the visual elements large and bright enough – keep in mind that many people will see your thumbnail on their phones and this limits what they can see. While some models have massive screens, they can never compare to the size of a monitor.

Tip #5. Leverage Emotions

Whenever possible, your imagery should include a face, with particular attention to the eyes. The fact is, we are hard-wired to search for and focus on eye contact. Reading micro-expressions around the eye area helps us understand the emotional background, and this applies to still images as well.

Making the eye colour stand out might be a good idea if you don’t overdo it, but having the whites visible is a must.

If your thumbnail depicts stronger emotions, it will likely garner more attention. Most people have the capacity for empathy and they’ll recognise whatever the characters on your thumbnail are supposed to be feeling. Viewers might even feel the portrayed emotion themselves.

Keep in mind that empathy is a double-edged sword. People can spot a disingenuous emotional display just as easily as the real deal, so it would be best to make any emotion appear as authentic as possible.

Tip #6. Contrast, Colours, and Outlines

Whether the audience members use the default YouTube display settings or prefer the dark mode, bright and lively colours will always make a thumbnail pop out. Of course, a neon colour scheme might go against your branding, but the crucial point here is to avoid dim and neutral colour tones.

If you’re using a less glaring colour scheme, setting up a strong contrast between the foreground and background will prove invaluable.

Combine the contrast with outlining and you’ll make the essential elements more visible. At the same time, the thumbnail will gain an illusion of depth, which is, again, very useful for making shapes in the foreground stand out. Images with perceived depth are usually more enticing than ‘flat’ ones.

Contrast isn’t only a matter of colour intensity and brightness. It also can refer to the colour palette you’re using.

Certain colours have low contrast because they’re relatively similar – an example would be yellow and bright-orange. On the other hand, some colours have high contrast, like black and white. This kind of contrast is apparent in complementary colours that often form the most attractive combinations – think blue paired with yellow or orange.

On the subject of outlines, you should make sure to use them differently depending on what you’re outlining. People and foreground objects should have a subtle yet clear outline that differentiates them from the background. On the other hand, the text should be outlined more strongly.

Tip #7. Comparisons with the Competition

As is the case with many other aspects of marketing, it’s always a good idea to see what your competitors are doing. So, look at companies and channels in the same or similar niche to yours. Analyse their videos and thumbnails and spot how they use various elements.

Naturally, it would be best to focus on those videos getting more clicks. While you can’t get direct insight into video metrics for other channels on YouTube, there are tools like the True View platform by Google to help you get a clearer picture.

Comparing your thumbnails and number of clicks with the competition will tell you a lot. You could get helpful ideas about possible improvements and try introducing similar elements to see whether they’ll boost performance.

Similar is, of course, the key word here. Since thumbnail imagery is closely related to branding, copying someone else’s colour scheme or style is out of the question. Not to mention it could actually hurt your campaign – nobody likes copycats.

Tip #8. Be Honest

Clickbait is very effective in getting clicks and views but with a single, crippling flaw: It will only work once.

Avoid misleading thumbnails at all costs. If you don’t, your brand’s reputation will quickly take a nosedive, which can be very challenging if not impossible to recover from. In fact, click-baiting could lead your brand to a downwards spiral due to specific technical aspects.

It’s a fact that YouTube’s algorithm doesn’t favour videos with high bounce rates. This means that if enough people click on a misleading thumbnail and turn the video off soon enough, those videos will stop appearing in search results.

Always keep your thumbnails consistent with the content. Doing otherwise will undoubtedly damage your campaign and brand.

Honesty in this regard could even prove a great guideline – if you can’t seem to create a thumbnail that’s enticing enough, perhaps you should reconsider the overall theme of your video.

Boost Your Views with Powerful Thumbnails

Plenty of care and attention to detail goes into designing a perfect thumbnail.

Sometimes, it might even seem to require almost the same amount of work as making a video. But once you develop a reliable pattern and learn how to keep your thumbnails interesting, relevant, and informative, the process will become more straightforward.

With Automation Agency, getting great thumbnails for every video of yours can be a breeze. Contact us on this link and let our Concierge Service help you create just the right visuals and thumbnails for your brand.


About the author 

Carl Taylor

Carl Taylor is the Founder & CEO of Automation Agency. For the past 10 years Carl has been building businesses and marketing them online through the use of Sales Funnels, Email Marketing Automation, Landing Pages, and Wordpress Websites. Carl is also a #1 author and highly sought after speaker and consultant whose work has impacted thousands of businesses across various industries worldwide.

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