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How to create impactful clickable Youtube thumbnails

An expressive but simple thumbnail with a face, a backdrop and a short phrase in big large letters.

Clicking on a video is a time investment for your viewer.

Have that in mind, as your video is competing with hundreds of thousands if not millions of  hours of similar related content on Youtube. Think of your thumbnail like the cover of a book that viewers will often judge with just one quick glance at the thumbnail. 

This  means the success of your video hinges on whether or not you make a thumbnail that people  even want to click on. A good video thumbnail draws the viewer in and shows them what they’re  getting into. 

Here are best practices for creating an impactful video thumbnail, so that  more people click on and watch your video.

In this video I’ll give you a few simple tips that people use when they make their Youtube thumbnails. 

Most times simple is better. 

A simple thumbnail with picture and copy in bold fonts.

Is there a great moment in your video that you can create a thumbnail from?

Okay, use that! 

People will then expect to see  this moment in your video and with a few simple tweaks like an eye-catching font and maybe some additional touches, you’ve got a ready to go thumbnail

This may sound oversimplified and isn’t a solution for each  video, but it’s often a good place to start.

It can be really effective and it makes sense if the  video is instructional or contains screen captured footage without a person’s face in the video.

Thumbnails with pictures work well to express emotions, even if silly faces are involved.

Put your face or your product in the thumbnail. 

Think of your thumbnails like movie posters, the most eye-catching  ones usually feature highly expressive faces or a large image of the subject of the movie.  

On Youtube the highest performing thumbnails usually do the same thing. Including a close-up of  your subject’s face is a great way for potential viewers to feel a more personal connection. 

Your  thumbnail like a movie poster should include a bit of the video title. Now because the title is always visible under the video you don’t have to include everything, often a few larger  font keywords will do the trick. Even better just make sure they reference or match the title  and still accurately convey the content of the video. 

We actually use the web-based editor to make our thumbnails a little faster, but  almost any image editor will do the job, so use what you’re comfortable with. 

Another simple expressive thumbnail. A face without background, a beach backdrop, and a phrase in large letters.

Make sure that the thumbnail is effective on all devices and  platforms 

Remember the video runtime often covers up the bottom right corner of the thumbnail, so  if there’s crucial information on your thumbnails stay clear of putting it in that region. Your  thumbnails only occupy a small portion of your  viewer’s screen real estate before they click on  it, and what if that real estate is a phone? 

Only about one third of your viewers are watching on a  desktop. Mobile is becoming the dominant viewing  platform for video on the internet so make  sure to check that any text on your thumbnail  is legible on mobile devices too. 

Leave a margin on the edges of the thumbnail and put the copy within these margins.

Clicking on a video is a time investment for your viewer.  

Make sure that the thumbnail does a good job  of conveying the actual subject of the video  

or else they may think that you misled them or  just wasting their time.   

With these steps and a little trial  and error, anyone can make an effective Youtube thumbnail. 

When the text on the thumbnail needs to create urgency or surprise, here are the ways to get people interested in your video by creating urgency on the thumbnail copy or the video title.

  1. Limited Supply – This needs to be used very cautiously. Honesty is absolutely essential with internet marketing. You can say that your time is very limited, so you really can only take on a few clients at a time. 
  2. Limited Time – Placing a time limit on an offer is one of the more common and effective methods of creating urgency with both products and services. 
  3. Reduced Price – Price is always one of the first things people want to do to entice sales. 
  4. Added Benefits – Instead of dropping the price of something you’re selling, add more to it. And leave the price the same. 
  5. Create an Overwhelmingly Compelling Value – This is the holy grail of urgency. Create a product or service that speaks directly to your buyers’ needs in a powerful way. Create massive value, and show them in detail how you can help them create huge pleasure or avoid pain in their lives.

Ok, but how do these emotional triggers apply to a thumbnail about a specific topic?

Many of our decisions are based on emotions and not logic, appealing to our feelings and not knowledge, making our emotions an influential tool used by many Youtubers to attract clicks on their thumbnails.

One of the most used elements in thumbnails is the surprise element. A Netflix research found out that the more emotions the better on thumbnails for movies. 

Images with several protagonists are more successful if each of them shows different emotions. The images with serious and sober faces do not connect with the user.

A common element on thumbnails on Youtube in the last year is the surprised face emotion. And you see a lot of those faces all over Youtube.

They are supposed to elicit in the watcher, a feeling that what they did in the video and what they are about to watch is something extraordinary or unknown and that during the video they found out something new that could be rewarding or surprising.

The exclusivity trigger

The exclusivity trigger being used in this thumbnail by Think Media Podcast.
The exclusivity trigger being used in this thumbnail by Think Media Podcast.

This thumbnail from a video from Think Media Podcast conveys emotion by telling the viewer to keep that a secret between them. It’s like, if you watch the video don’t tell it to anybody (even though I’m making the information about how to write viral titles widely available online).

To create that thumbnail,  elements were used, the main was the face without a background in front of a chart going up and to the right, a Youtube logo and a calendar like element to the right. And the copy “Viral Titles”. Simple but effective.

The 3 am trend and the surprise element

Remember the wave of videos of what happens at 3am? Yes, those videos brought us a new trend in use of emotions to elicit clicks on thumbnails. That trend probably created the dumb surprised face trend, and it still lingers around the internet these days. 

But hey, who can blame them, it may work!

The scared face is common on Youtube.

The guy in red seems really scared of something that he just saw. Look how he brings his hands up to his face.

The 3am trend practically started the scared faces thumbnail trend.
The 3am trend practically started the scared faces thumbnail trend.

The character above probably ate something that didn’t go well for him at 3am!

Scared face = Clickable thumbnail

Remember the trends of doing something at 3am and telling on a video what happened? Most times, nothing happened but they sure were creative in making videos.

Scared face and extra element for identification.
Scared face and extra element for identification.

How scary could Obunga have been to scare this dude so much to the point of making him deform his face on video? Anyway, my point here is how simple it can be to make a thumbnail like this. 

This thumbnail has a few elements: his scared face on the foreground with a very expressive face, the surprise element in the background with a red element that highlights it and shows it in more details. Canva has elements like this that allow you to quickly add details to your thumbnails and remove background of pictures to bring into the main picture.

The 3am surprise element again and again.
The 3am surprise element again and again.

The 3am videos of 5 years ago continues to this day.

Relaxation and an escape from reality

Other feelings on thumbnails. Here the relaxation element.
Other feelings on thumbnails. Here the relaxation element.

Other feelings can also be expressed through a smart thumbnail. Here is a Yoga video with a very soothing thumbnail. The yogi is laying down sideways a white stripe with the simple phrase  “Yoga to heal stress.” That’s it.

Thumbnails like this help users with imagining an escape from their reality by immersing themselves into other people’s ideal world. And it leads us to our next emotional trigger.

The pursuit of happiness

The pursuit of happiness is a neverending race that almost every person finds himself in. We often mistake the feeling of happiness with the fulfilled basic necessities, that’s why it is so easy to appeal to this emotion in advertising.

Because happiness tends to be such a broadly defined term, psychologists and other social scientists typically use the term ‘subjective well-being‘ when they talk about this emotional state. Just as it sounds, subjective well-being tends to focus on an individual’s overall personal feelings about their life in the present. 

And you can be subjective on your thumbnails too to convey happiness.

A simple smiling face will do.

Happy faces make clickable thumbnails.
Happy faces make clickable thumbnails.
Happy faces depict success on Youtube thumbnails.
Happy faces depict success on Youtube thumbnails.

The ancient philosopher Aristotle suggested that happiness is the one human desire, and all other human desires exist as a way to obtain happiness. He believed that there were four levels of happiness: happiness from immediate gratification, from comparison and achievement, from making positive contributions, and from achieving fulfillment. 

Try to reach that on your next thumbnail. Mix an expressive smile with a short copy and boom. IT’s done.

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