2023 Ultimate YouTube Thumbnail Checklist for Growth

Improving your YouTube Thumbnails

Thumbnails are everything on YouTube. They’re the first impression your audience will have of you and your content. It’s important to make it count so you can win the click and earn their attention.

Let’s take a look at the key things to pay attention to when it comes to thumbnail design.

1. Does the thumbnail represent the video well?

It’s okay to exaggerate the thumbnail for dramatic effect. That’s how you keep it interesting! But there’s a fine line between exaggeration and pure clickbait.

Don’t get me wrong, a little bit of clickbait won’t hurt if it makes your thumbnail interesting and shocking to get more clicks.

But the thumbnail still needs to be relevant to the video. What you show in the thumbnail should actually appear in the video. Viewers are hyper-aware of clickbait.

If a video doesn’t meet expectations fast enough, they bounce. It’s important to make sure the thumbnail grabs attention without misleading what the video is about.

GOOD: Thumbnail is a dramatic, exaggerated representation of something in the video that ties into the overall message

BAD: Thumbnail shows something dramatic and attention-grabbing that is never shown nor discussed in the video (I’ve done this before and been called out on it!)

2. Are you using proper thumbnail format?

YouTube thumbnails should be in a 16:9 aspect ratio, and ideally 1280×720 pixels in size. If you’re not sure what size you have, click on the file to get more information.

If you’re on an editor like Canva, it’ll tell you the dimensions. If your thumbnail is the wrong size, it might show up blurry. To avoid this, create a new Canva project with proper dimensions and just copy and paste the old project’s thumbnail into it.

Thumbnails on YouTube need to be less than 2MB in size, otherwise YouTube won’t put it on the video. It could be a PNG or a JPG, but if you’re using high resolution images, you may need to click the “compress” box for the sake of having a file export smaller than 2MB.

3. Increase contrast to draw attention

Increasing contrast will make the thumbnail pop. You want contrast so the image stands out more and the colors appear more exaggerated. Think about what element in the thumbnail you want to draw attention to.

Is it the background? A person’s face? An object?

If you have different photos on Canva for the background, and a person’s face, and an extra object, you might want to increase contrast on some of these but not all. Do you want the background more contrasted than your face? Or vice versa?

4. Use high-resolution images

High quality images are important if you want to maintain a professional look on YouTube.Make sure the thumbnail background still shows clearly if it’s blown up to the size of a TV screen. You never know! Someone might be watching your video on Apple TV.

Being high-res doesn’t mean you need to pay for professional stock images. In fact, having an intentionally amateur-looking thumbnail might benefit you in some cases.

But either way, you’ll want a thumbnail that has high quality images that make it clear what you’re showing. Blurry photos don’t do a great job of getting people to click through to your video if it’s hard to tell what’s in the photo.

5. Use scale and perspective for emphasis

Do you want to add some dramatic effect to your thumbnail? Make a statement? Show something interesting that will drive more traffic to your video?

Exaggerating scale is one way to do this. Make things bigger or smaller than they really are to draw attention. But don’t overdo it to the point where it’s an extremely clickbaity thumbnail.

You can do the same with perspective and show something in a different way than people are used to seeing it. Look at how Apple uses perspective to advertise the new iPhone 14 Pro on YouTube.

camera perspectives

Can you show something upside down? Inside out? Or from a weird angle that might get someone to pause for a moment to do a double take of the thumbnail?

6. Show the results from the video upfront

This is ideal if the video is some kind of tutorial or progression. Whatever kind of progress or end result is at the end of the video, show some of that in the thumbnail.

If you’re building something, doing a transformation with before & after, or you’re making some kind of change in the video, showing a dramatic transformation will make people want to see how it actually happened.

7. Use your face when relevant

Using your face in videos can be helpful, especially for videos where you expect a high number of returning viewers. If you’ve build a loyal fanbase, a certain number of people should recognize your face on the YouTube homepage when the video is suggested.

Having your face is a great way to increase the click-through rate if they enjoyed the first video of yours they saw. Be cautious however… Not every video should have your face on it. If a video is aimed at reaching a new audience with viral potential, having your face in the thumbnail won’t be as helpful since you’re reaching viewers who have never seen you before.

8. Less than 5 words of text

Text takes up space in order to be readable, so use it wisely. You don’t want to include a whole sentence in the thumbnail. Keep it to a few words, and don’t copy the title. The thumbnail should stand by itself and ask a question, pique interest, or make a bold statement of some sort to get the most attention.

9. Remove background distractions

Sometimes less is more with thumbnail photos. If you have a noisy image with a lot going on, you may want to edit out the less important aspects of the thumbnail. If you can’t remove distractions, try placing text, emojis, or a face over distracting background objects.

You could also combine some of the previous tips like making something bigger in scale, or adding contrast to it in order to draw attention so it doesn’t blend in.

10. Match the brand you want to create

This is more of a long-term tip. Once you start accumulating enough videos on your channel, it’s good to aim for some kind of consistency with your brand or channel identity. Ideally, make your thumbnails recognizable so returning viewers know it’s you.

11. Check your competition

Check out what the big channels in your industry are doing! Do you like their thumbnails? Is there something you think they should do differently? How can you make similar, but better videos and create thumbnails with more appeal and intrigue?

12. Use an appropriate font

With YouTube thumbnails, it’s more about choosing an appropriate font than choosing the right one. It doesn’t matter much, as long as it’s clear and easy to read. You might be better off picking the same font throughout your thumbnails for the sake of consistency, but if you have 2 or 3 variations, that’s also a great way to do it.

You want to avoid using a different font in every video. It’ll throw off viewers if they can’t recognize your thumbnail immediately. Even if they don’t immediately recognize your thumbnail and think of your channel, they’ll subconsciously see something familiar in a thumbnail of yours that replicates older thumbnails by using the same font.

Your best bet is to avoid the overly calligraphic cursive fonts that are a nightmare to read. Make it simple, clear, and understandable. You could choose between an all-caps font or not; I see it as a personal preference.

13. Include something recognizable

This isn’t always possible, but if your channel page has some kind of consistency across all thumbnails when you look at them together, you’ll want to consider having something in common. A recurring theme, colors, logo, or font across all thumbnails can make it easier for viewers to watch your videos again.

The recurring element isn’t important, as long as it’s recurring.

This could be the same colors, a font, a symbol, or (most common) a face. These elements that repeat across thumbnails will start to create your “brand” on YouTube. Be intentional about what you choose. Having a consistent, recognizable thumbnail style will make it easy to build an audience that comes back to your future videos that appear as suggested.

Viewers Vs Audience 2

14. Make the thumbnail stand out

Lots of ways to do this. Scale, contrast, colors, consistent text, whatever you choose for your thumbnail design, your goal is just to make sure it stands out and does not blend in with every other video on the page or in the search results. Be different.

15. Avoid the no-go areas on the right

Similar to point #2 about using proper thumbnail format, you’ll also want to avoid the upper and lower right-hand corners on your thumbnail that will get cut off by text that YouTube overlays. The lower right corner is where the video length is shown, and the upper right corner is where the “add to queue” and “add to playlist” options appear if someone overs over the video.

Pro tip: Zoom wayyy out when you’re editing your thumbnail to make sure you’re still in the safe zones for a mobile video. The video length time gets larger relative to the rest of the thumbnail when it’s being viewed on a phone, so it will take more space.

16. Avoid too much red, white, black, and gray

You don’t want your video to blend in with the rest of YouTube! Using red mimics the YouTube logo everyone is used to seeing. Depending on whether someone is browsing YouTube in light theme or dark theme, the background of the page is going to be white or black.

17. Increase saturation to avoid bland colors

Similar to the point above, if you’re using colors in text and images, you’ll want to make it pop. Even if you’re using interesting colors like blue, green, or orange, if it’s a dull shade or it’s too dark, it won’t stand out in the thumbnail.

saturations

Try increasing saturation or brightness to make colors pop.

If it looks excessive, it’s the right amount. You’ll want to make your thumbnails more exaggerated than you normally would make an Instagram or Facebook post. The thumbnail is here to get attention on the page, not look pretty.

18. Don’t replicate the title of the video

Most of the time, you’ll probably want to avoid copying the title in the thumbnail. They each represent a unique way to grab someone’s attention, and making them the same wastes an opportunity to entice someone who might otherwise not click on a video.

19. Zoom out to make sure it’s readable on mobile

Just like tip #15 with avoiding the no-go areas, you might want to zoom all the way out of your thumbnail when editing to make sure text is still visible on a small mobile screen. Remember the thumbnail shows up much smaller on an iPhone than it does on a computer screen, but the proportions stay the same, so if your text is too small to read on mobile, it’s doing your video a disservice.

Try increasing the font size or getting rid of filler words if your text is small and you don’t want to take away space from the rest of the thumbnail.

20. Match the vibe of the video

This is subjective to the video you want to make. Is it a professional video to get business? You might opt for a clean, yet compelling thumbnail. Is it a laid-back video where you get real and personal with the camera? You might want a more emotional thumbnail with facial expressions, emojis, and colors that reflect the mood.

21. Split test thumbnails to optimize performance

When you’re not sure about the thumbnail, split testing two different thumbnails is the best way to see which performs best.

Thumbnail A-B

Depending on how different the thumbnails are, you might find that they both perform similarly, but you could also do a split test and see a major difference in click-through rate for one thumbnail.

When split testing thumbnails, don’t just focus on click-through rate.

You’ll want to pay attention to the average watch time for each thumbnail. It could be the case where one thumbnail gets way more clicks, but if the average view duration is significantly lower, it means the thumbnail was compelling but not accurate enough for what people expected the video to be about.