Creating YouTube Thumbnails That Drive Click-Throughs: Design Strategies for Web Designers

YouTube Thumbnails design

The thumbnail on YouTube is one of the most important aspects of any video. Think of it like a book cover: While common knowledge says you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, people still do, and the same applies to your YouTube thumbnail. Your video's thumbnail can make or break people deciding to check out your content. You can buy views all you want, but a good thumbnail can help you bring organic traffic to your content. As a result, you should put careful effort into creating the best thumbnail for your video.

Create a High-Quality, Optimized Image

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, your thumbnail should be optimized and look as clear as possible. If you use a low-quality photo, it may turn off many people from watching your content.

So, what is the best way to create a high-quality image? Know YouTube's rules. Ideally, you'll want an image that is 1280 x 720 pixels max or 640 x 360 minimally. The aspect ratio should be 16:9, and the file size should be 2 MB, or YouTube may not accept it. It should also be in the JPG, GIF, BMP, or PNG format.

Use a Face

You may notice that many YouTubers like to use their faces if you surf around YouTube. The face may show surprise, anger, curiosity, and more. Usually, the face can show a reaction to something.

Some people may find the face to be a bit silly, but the truth is that there is plenty of psychology to support it. People are more likely to click on a video if they see a person experiencing emotion. It can bring intrigue and form a human connection. So make a funny face and put it on the thumbnail.

Be Sure it’s Readable for Smartphones

About 75% of people watch YouTube on their mobile devices. Because of that, you want your thumbnail to be legible on a smartphone. Zoom in on the object in your video that you want to focus on, be sure the text is big enough, and test it out by looking at the image on your phone.

Use Text and Use the Right Font

Thumbnails tend to have text on them. They may have an interesting fact, detail more about the video, and have other ways to bring an audience in. What text you put on your thumbnail and the font you use is vital.

Font can carry particular meanings to it. Using a sans-serif font, for example, can give your video a sense of professionalism. A script font can give your video sophistication. Some fonts look like a video game, which can be great if you're discussing video games.

Look at different thumbnails and see which fonts would best fit your video. Experiment with them until you find the correct thumbnail for the job.

Follow the Rule of Thirds

You've probably heard of this rule if you know anything about photography. But if you haven't, here's the gist of it. Divide an image into nine sections using two horizontal and vertical lines. Where these lines intersect, whether on the left or right side, is where you should put the most critical aspect of your subject.

The same principle applies to a thumbnail. A person may be more fascinated when the subject is not dead center but on the left or right side. That way, people’s eyes will focus on the subject. It also is a great way to make it so that they’re not just blindly looking at the image smack dab in the center.

Use Strategic Color Choices

If your video is exciting, you may want a mixture of bright colors. Cool colors may be a better choice if your video is to relax. Another thing to remember is to complement the colors or create contrast to enhance photos.

Be Consistent in Your Branding

Your thumbnail should have consistent branding throughout the channel. Use similar font color choices, and implement your logo. When someone is scrolling through their subscription feed, they are more likely to see your thumbnail and immediately recognize that it's you.

This is not to say that you cannot experiment with styles, but be sure that it’s part of a gradual rebrand if that’s the case.

Do Not Mislead

Thumbnails should entice the viewer to click to learn more. In modern YouTube, you have to be a little clickbaity if you want to succeed. However, there is a difference between that and being utterly misleading.

In the early days of YouTube, people would use beautiful women or put other things in the thumbnail that weren't part of the video to attract people to click on the video. However, they were quickly penalized for this. If your video is misleading, YouTube will probably remove it or penalize your account.

Don’t Be Afraid to Change the Thumbnail

Video underperformed? Sometimes, altering the thumbnail may give it more numbers. This practice is quite common, with many YouTubers changing their thumbnails within a week or so. Try it, and it may show some results.

Don’t Forget About Everything Else

Your thumbnail is essential to your video's success but is not the only focus. You should have an optimized title with the right keywords and a good description, and you should ensure that your video is engaging and makes people want to watch it to the very end.


If you look at how people did thumbnails ten years ago, they have a different style than they do now. Aesthetics and audience preferences change; as a creator, you must evolve with them. Change your thumbnail style with the times, and you may retain or even gain an audience.

Final Thoughts

Thumbnails are an essential part of any video, so make them count. Don't think showing a random screenshot of the video is enough; your video should have a thumbnail that looks like a movie poster or a book cover that interests people to learn more.

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