The Importance of Choosing a Thumbnail

It’s always critical to create a good thumbnail for your video. YouTube says ‘90% of the best-performing videos on YouTube have custom thumbnails… creating visually interesting, click-compelling thumbnails of your own.’ will drive more people to watch your video.

Thumbnails show expected content of the video

But thumbnails aren’t important just for people who run YouTube channels. They’re important for marketers, communicators, educators, storytellers… anyone who puts video online. For instance, as an editor for Sparketh, an art education series, I choose representative thumbnails that show the subject matter of the course – instead of something like just an instructor’s face, or an empty desk.

I see so many videos embedded in websites – or videos that I embed on my own company’s corporate website – that have a thumbnail that is either bad, unflattering of a certain person (think: CEO’s squinty face), unrepresentative of the content, or worst, unintentionally offensive.

Here’s an example:

Look at the thumb to the left. Do you know what the video is about – why a viewer would click on it? Does it look like a high-quality, produced video or a personal video?

This thumbnail does not indicate what the video subject matter is. It also doesn’t represent the quality of the video. While this thumbnail looks like it might be the typical grab-your-cell-phone-from-your-pocket shaky cam video, it’s actually a well-produced, high-quality video.

This video is in fact a ‘sizzle’ reel for a tourist spot (College Football Hall of Fame), showcasing what visitors will find at the venue. I assume the goal is to have people watch this video to learn and get excited about the cool stuff on the inside. But this thumbnail doesn’t entice people to click on the video to watch it. It’s an easy decision to skip one more amateur handheld piece of footage.

But if the video thumbnail indicated that is in fact high-quality, and showed a bit more context, it would be more enticing to click on that view the video. Here’s a few thumbnails I would consider for this video instead:

This thumbnail shows context and indicates high-quality video (not just a shaky cam vid)… but it’s not very exciting is it?
This thumbnail also indicates a high-quality video and shows someone smiling – always a plus in thumbnails – but it really doesn’t provide much context, does it?
This thumbnail shows someone having fun and smiling, shows some kind of context in the background, and I think indicates enough high-quality to assume it’s not a shaky-cam vid. I’d go with this one.

Whenever I create a video, whether it’s for a non-profit, a live event, a promotion, I carefully choose a thumbnail. If I’m going to spend all that time and effort making the best video possible, you better believe I’m going to want to most people to watch the video – and a thumbnail is a great way to do that.