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11 Great Tips to Create YouTube Thumbnails That Stand Out

Over the past decade, YouTube gradually worked its way to becoming an essential part of our daily lives. From cat videos to documentaries and streams of the latest movies from Hollywood, there is no doubt that it has something for everyone.

With a total number of 2 billion monthly active users and over a billion videos watched every single day, YouTube has deservingly earned its crown for the second most visited website in the world.

youtube thumbnails

This also means that it has become a huge platform for content publishers and advertisers who want to reach a highly targeted audience through them.

Today, we will talk about YouTube from the perspective of a content publisher, or how to leverage the full potential of your videos by creating YouTube thumbnails that stand out.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right into it!

To create YouTube thumbnails that attract the attention and drive more traffic to your videos, you have to make sure that they are unique, visual, authentic, with high-quality images, and go in perfect harmony with your YouTube title.

They should deliver additional information to support the title without being repetitive. But what’s more important, they should serve as a brief, but attractive overview of what people can expect from your video.

youtube thumbnails

When users scroll through their feed, YouTube thumbnails are the first to draw their attention even before they make the decision on whether to read the title or not.

So, how can you make them unique and catchy? Let’s see some practical tips:

Use a high-quality image from your video

The first tip to making outstanding YouTube thumbnails that draw the attention is to start with a high-quality photo, preferrably taken from your video.

The main reason why is because, as we mentioned previously, it will serve as a teaser about the video itself, and will help users make up their mind on what to expect from it.

Using images that have nothing to do with the video will most probably end up disappointing your audience, and ruin their trust with you as a content provider.

When preparing the image, make sure that you comply with the YouTube thumbnails specs established by the platform itself:

  • A resolution of 1280×720 (minimum width: 640 pixels);
  • An image format of jpg, gif or png;
  • A maximum image weight of 2MB;
  • Ideally, you should try using the 16:9 aspect ratio.

Use psychological triggers

The next step to creating great YouTube thumbnails is to use psychological triggers. For example, according to PsychologyToday, using images with faces naturally makes them more compelling because it has always had a survival value in our lives.

Humans has learned to accurately read faces as a survival mechanism in their lives to determine whether a person is a friend or a threat. In a similar manner, seeing a thumbnail with a face on it helps users determine whether they are interested in watching the video.

create youtube thumbnails tips

Because a thumbnail without a face makes this decision more difficult, users might simply choose to ignore the video instead of making any further action.

Additionally, ResearchGate discovered that images with faces have a similar success as they are 38% more likely to receive likes and 32% more likely to receive comments than any other image.

Express strong emotion

Another thing that highly clickable YouTube thumbnails often have in common, which also has to do with psychology and psychological triggers, is portraying strong emotions.

In addition to placing their faces on the thumbnail, many content providers add other elements to make this emotion seem even stronger.

youtube thumbnails tips

In the examples above, we can see that content providers are making specific faces and poses that emphasize their feelings about the particular topic that they are discussing.

In the example of The Grahan Stephan Show, we can see additional elements that make his emotion stronger. The red arrow, the huge number in striking red, and even the minus sign in front of it, all add to his shocked face, making his emotion appear even stronger.

Make use of the right colours

Now that we are still on the topic of psychology and emotional triggers, the next tip to create great YouTube thumbnails is to make use of colours and their meaning.

For example, as we saw in the example above, you would use a strong colour like red to portray something as powerful or exciting, or to transmit urgency.

On another hand, if you want transmit honesty and trustworthiness, you might consider using blue elements or images in your thumbnail. To serve you as a guide, here is how the psychology of colours is used in branding:

youtube thumbnails - psychology of colours

YouTube Thumbnails: Psychology of colours in branding. Image by Ogilvy.

Making use of the right colours can really help you express your message through the thumbnail. And most importantly, help people understand what they can expect from your video after clicking on it.

Use thumbnail maker tools

Another great way to create attractive, nicely designed YouTube thumbnails is to use thumbnail maker tools that will provide you with pre-built templates. This way, you will make them look even more professional. 

There are various tools out there, but I personally use Canva Pro for practically all of my designs. Canva is an online graphic design tool that provides hundreds of templates for everything, from posters through thumbnails or social media ads.

You don’t have to pay for the premium version to make use of their YouTube thumbnails templates. You can enjoy their free version forever, which is totally awesome on its own.

However, I personally think that Canva Pro is worth paying for (affiliate link*) – it gives you free access to a gallery of +60 million images, videos and animations, as well as hundreds of Pro templates to make sure that your thumbnails are unique and really stand out.

youtube thumbnails - canva

*You can use my affiliate link to try Canva Pro for 30 days completely for free. If you end up enjoying the service and purchasing the monthly or yearly subscription, I will earn a small commission from it. Of course, clicking on the link and starting the trial requires zero commitment, and you don’t have to purchase anything ever if you don’t want to.

I have been using Canva Pro for several months now, and for someone like me who needs to make a ton of designs for my blog posts and the agencies I provide Marketing services for, it has been an extremely easy and helpful tool. 

If you only plan to make a couple of thumbnails, or not upload videos so often, you will probably not need the Pro version. However, if you really plan to invest in YouTube as a way to earn more money, I highly recommend that you try it.

Of course, Canva isn’t the only YouTube thumbnail maker that you can make use of. You can also try others such as Adobe Express and Visme – however, I haven’t tried any of them, so I really don’t know how they work and whether they are worth it.

Include a catchy phrase

As we mentioned previously, your thumbnails should act as a catchy teaser for your video, and they should go in harmony with the title of it. I see many YouTubers using the title of the video in their thumbnail as well:

And of course, this is one way to do it that might work well for you. This way, you make sure that the content of your video is perfectly clear whether the user is reading the headline or the text in the thumbnail.

However, I personally think that it may come off as a little bit redundant, as you are practically repeating the same thing in both the thumbnail and the title.

Another option, which I think is more natural and actually adds to the title instead of repeating it, is to summarize it in the thumbnail. Or simply take out the most important keywords from it. Such as in the examples below:

In this case, we can get an idea about the content just by looking at the keywords in the thumbnail. Even if we hadn’t read the whole YouTube headline yet.

Of course, these strategies might work differently for content providers, especially considering the industry. So, the best way to find what works for you is to try both of the strategies explained above and see how your audience reacts to them.

You can also test out YouTube thumbnails without any text on them to see if they work out better for you.

Use numbers in your thumbnail

In my article, 12 Awesome Tips for Writing YouTube Titles That Get Views, I talked about the use of numbers as a way to attract the attention to your title. And this strategy applies to thumbnails, too.

Numbers are a great way to draw attention because they give a more specific overview of your content, and give structure to it, making it easier to process.

Let’s take a look at the example above. Imagine if the title was “We took these actions to retire early”. Sounds interesting, right? However, it also sounds rather vague, and doesn’t provide a tangible value to the thumbnail.

However, “We took these actions to retire early with 2.5 million” definitely sounds more specific and  interesting, especially considering how promising this number is. I mean, we would all want to retire with that much money, right?

At least I would :).

Pay attention to font styling

Next on our list of tips for writing great YouTube thumbnails is to pay attention to your font styling. Ideally, you should always use the same font style to work on your branding.

This way, users will instantly recognize that it is your channel just by seeing the particular font style on your thumbnail.

youtube thumbnails / style

For example, popular lifestyle YouTuber RemLife always uses the same font, styled with a black contour and an additional, bright pink contour around it.

This way, users can instantly recognize her videos from the thumbnail even if they haven’t read the title or the name of the YouTube channel yet.

Optimize for smaller devices

Considering that today’s YouTube audience is increasingly watching videos on their mobile devices, it is essential that you design your YouTube thumbnails in a way that they are easily seen and processed from smaller screens.

For example, creating thumbnails that look fine on desktop but blurry or unclear on mobile might significantly hurt your views.

You should also make sure that the words that you’ve written on your thumbnail are big enough to be read on any screen. Sometimes, they can be too small, or too many, or the font that looked fine on desktop has become illegible and difficult on the eye.


Be authentic

And of course, among all the tips for great YouTube thumbnails, one of the most important is to stay authentic and remain true to your channel and your audience.

It is not always the best strategy to look way too professional. In many occasions, taking your own photos is better than downloading them from Shutterstock or having them professionally taken.

This will make you more relatable and your audience will resonate with you even more. It will also make you look more trustworthy in their eyes. Of course, make sure that they have enough quality, and are not blurry because this might have a negative impact.

This is especially true for channels that are reviewing products, although not exclusively.

In the example above, seeing that the YouTuber has taken his own images of the Tissot watch is much more trustworthy and powerful than simply downloading them from the company’s website. This way, the user is more likely to trust the review due to its authenticity.

Keep an eye on the competition

And of course, don’t forget to keep an eye on the competition within your industry, especially if we are talking about channels with long history. After such a long time, these channels probably know their audience really well, and have adapted to it.

For example, if you see that most of your competitors don’t use text within their YouTube thumbnails, it might be a sign that this strategy is not resonating well with their audience. You may also notice that all of them have a particular colour as a thumbnail background.

results focused digital marketing campaign - target marketing

Paying attention to your competition is always a great way to see where you are positioned within the industry, and how you can improve your own offering.

Whether we are talking about your YouTube thumbnails, headlines, or the actual content of the videos. The idea is to use channels who have already learned from their mistakes so you can apply this knowledge to your own content as well.

And that was all from me for today! As always, taking for taking the time to read my article on creating the best YouTube thumbnails, and I hope to see you in the next one! In the meantime, you can find some great examples in my article Top 25 Brilliant YouTube Thumbnail Examples for Extra Inspiration.

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