How to Create Thumbnails That Drive Clicks

You must have heard of the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But most of the time, we do, right?

Video thumbnails are pretty crucial to your overall video production process. You have done the hard work of creating a well-put-together video; you have uploaded it, but it is hardly getting any views or attention. That’s because you have missed out on one final but very important detail: your video thumbnail.

Should you use a still from your video as the thumbnail?

Ideally, no. That’s because it’s much less effective than a custom-made thumbnail. If you create a dedicated picture. You will have more room to be innovative with colors and scenes to make the thumbnail pop.

Custom thumbnails are a better representation of the original content in the video with higher resolution and better quality. They also give your content a chance to make a good first impression.

Viewers notice the video thumbnail before anything else when they come around to your video. And if it isn’t enticing enough, your content is totally going to get ignored instead of getting clicked on.

YouTube reports that 90% of the videos have embedded custom thumbnails in them. So, keeping that in mind, if you are not using custom thumbnails, then you are not making hay while the sun shines.

If you’re not a graphic designer, here’s a quick tutorial on how to make a custom video thumbnail.

In this blog post, we will be sharing different techniques and ingredients you can take into account while creating custom thumbnails for your videos through which you will witness hike in the views.

So, let’s get to it!

Display Excessive Emotions

Whenever people are scrolling through their timelines on social media, they always end up clicking on videos if they see exaggerated headshots in the thumbnails. Faces that showcase excessive emotions such as fear or annoyance usually entice the curiosity in audience and they eagerly want to see what the video is going to be about.

So, don’t be afraid to embellish your surprised face through action shots in the thumbnail as it will going to persuade the inquisitive minds to check out your video and enjoy your content.

Be Bold with Text

Texts can help you add mystery to your thumbnail. If you can play it right, you can generate more interest from audience. Add bold texts with readable fonts in the form of a question or a caption such as “TOP 10 THINGS” etc.

Video titles that pose a question are also effective because they make the viewers sense that there’s a gap in their knowledge. The content thus becomes a promise to fill in that gap. This makes use of people’s itch to know things and gets all the clicks when done right.

thumbnail examples

Credits: Ahrefs, Insider

Apart from the type of language you use, make sure to add complementary color contrasts with the background to make the text stand out for the audience to read. Since there is only so much space on the thumbnail, you have to keep it short and clever enough to tempt your audience.


Don’t Compromise on Quality

There may be limited space for creativity on the thumbnail, but these constraints will force you to think out of the box.

Now, it’s perfectly fine to get creative with thumbnails, but you mustn’t forget that your content’s quality is still priority number 1.

So, make sure you don’t get too carried away with the process, you don’t want the thumbnail to look too click-baity. Those normally annoy viewers and can make you look less credible in the eyes of more mature audiences.

Apart from that, you also need to make sure that your thumbnail is of adequate size and has embedded high resolution so it doesn’t come out blurry. Add attention to details and close up shots in the overall theme of the thumbnail such as incorporating stickers and clever graphics.

Take rule of thirds into account and place the center of your subject image along the intersection lines, which will keep it well-balanced and aesthetically appealing. This will allow your audience to notice it and connect with it better with it.

Read more: Our line-up of the 6 Best Free GoPro Editing Software

Keep It Simple Though

One thing you need to be wary of is to keep it clean and uncluttered. Instead of overloading your thumbnail with tons of details, work with a select few effects which you think will make a solid impression on your audience.

Test different things and see what works. Shrink down the details to make it more interesting and understanding.

Here a video thumbnail from one of our videos. Click on the image to check out the video.
80/20 rule simple thumbnail - MotionCue

Highlight Your Visual Identity and Branding Consistently

It’s integral to regularly feature your branding and visual identity to gain more recognition and build trust among your viewers. Once you have established a dedicated and trusted fanbase, they will easily notice your videos, and hence click on it right away.

Here’s how you can include branding in your thumbnails

  • Add your logo or watermark
  • Dedicated set of fonts
  • Consistent styling and color schemes
thumbnail examples - branding

Credits: Vsauce

The only downside to highlighting your branding and visual identity is to sticking to the same style. It’s hard to break away from the very foundations of the relationship that you have cultivated with your audience. But there are always creative ways to work with what you’ve got.

Don’t Mislead Your Audience

We talked about showing exaggerated and excessive emotions in the beginning of this post. It’s very easy to get carried away and come up with an entirely deceptive thumbnail to get more clicks, but that shouldn’t be your goal.

In race to get more views, you should never find solace in misleading your viewers. It will badly affect your reputation, and once that happens, undoing the damage becomes an uphill battle.

Read more: Why You Shouldn’t Be Hell-bent on Creating Viral Video Content

So, always make sure your thumbnail is in line with your content, and is not intended for click-bait purposes. It will result in the increasing number of bounce rate, and eventually, YouTube will stop showing your content in the search results or users’ recommendations.

Now, if you’re someone who doesn’t have a design background, take a look at Roberto Blake’s simple tips on how to make great video thumbnails.

5 Tips for Making YouTube Thumbnails


  1. Master Your Software

Here are some options: Adobe Photoshop ($10 per month), Affinity Photo ($50 – one-time payment), GIMP (Free and opensource)

  1. Don’t Make Cluttered Thumbnails

Keep it simple, especially if you’re new to this. You don’t want to overwhelm or distract the viewer.

  1. Choose Good Fonts and Don’t Use Too Many All at Once

The text needs to be readable, keep mobile viewing in mind as well. Try the billboard test. If your thumbnail would work as a billboard, chances are it’ll work fine.

  1. Think About Color Combinations

The color theory can help you pair the right set of colors. You can also look at other popular brands or sports teams and the colors they use to gain inspiration from.

  1. Context

Thumbnails should tell a story and mustn’t be misleading. Make your thumbnails click-worthy rather than click-baity.

For details, check out Roberto’s full video:


Final Thoughts

Your thumbnail is the opening act or an appetizer for your video content. If you want to make sure that the audience stays through the final act or main course, you have to make it compelling enough. You have to give them enough reason that if they don’t click on the video, they are about to miss out on something very valuable.

To make your thumbnail pitch perfect, you have to be creative enough to pique the interest of your audience. Experiment with styles, do A/B testing to see what works, and don’t make misleading images to inspire clicks. Do the right thing, and if you are not too sure what would work for your video, just send us a message. We’d be happy to help you out.

Read more: 15 Simple Tips to Increase Your Video Views on YouTube

Posted by Adil Ashraf

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