Throw out the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” idiom—videos with high-quality thumbnails and intriguing titles are what get clicks on YouTube. To set your video up for success, you need to do a bit of planning before filming to ensure your title, thumbnail, and description all harmonize. The goal is to give a clear idea of what your video is about (without giving everything away) and draw the viewer in at the same time. First, we’ll look at what makes a good YouTube thumbnail before moving on to titles.
How to Make a Good YouTube Thumbnail
Make a Custom Thumbnail
Don’t choose one of the premade thumbnail options that YouTube offers, as they are just snapshots from your video and don’t offer text or graphics. To make your video stand out, you’ll need to actually create a thumbnail using graphic design software like Thumbnail Maker, Canva, Photoshop, etc. YouTube recommends you create a thumbnail that is 1280x720 pixels.
Don’t Use a Still Image
If you’re thinking about taking a still image from your video, don’t. For one, the image quality is usually poor. Also, it can be difficult to find a flattering image. Instead, take some time before or after filming to sit down in front of your set and pose. You’ll be able to immediately review the photos to ensure you have some suitable thumbnail candidates. Use the timer function on your camera or recruit a helper to be your photographer.
Keep It Simple
Your thumbnail will be drastically decreased in size once you upload your video to YouTube. Therefore, any small details you add will likely get lost. Furthermore, too much text or graphics can muddy up your thumbnail. Simple thumbnails are best as they look clean and polished.
Make Sure Your Text Is Legible
As we mentioned, YouTube will shrink down your thumbnail so it can be viewed on all sorts of devices. If you’re going to add text, make sure it’s still visible. Try resizing your thumbnail in your design software to 50 or even 25% of its size to double-check. Also, be sure to choose a bold, easy-to-read font—avoid fancy, script fonts (remember, not everyone can read cursive).
Add New Information
The last thing you want to do is add text to your thumbnail and repeat the exact same text in your title (more of creating the perfect title in a second). Though your thumbnail text won’t count towards your SEO rankings, you can still add new, interesting information to inspire viewers to click. For example, a 5,000 calorie challenge video could have “Easy!” written on the thumbnail. Though it teases that the YouTuber was able to complete the challenge, viewers will want to know how they were able to “easily” complete such a difficult challenge.
Try A/B Testing Your Thumbnail
At this point in the game, we all know that doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results, is pretty much the definition of insanity—especially in the world of content creation. When it comes to thumbnails, testing new versions may be the best option. There are a few ways to do this.
- YouTube Test & Compare feature—YouTube announced that they are in the testing phase of a new thumbnail A/B testing feature that allows you to test multiple versions of thumbnails on a single video to determine which has the higher click-through rates. Though this feature is currently only available to select creators, the platform hopes to roll it out to all users in the coming year. Some creators who have access, such as Mr. Beast, have already seen some useful insights using the feature relating to facial expressions.
- Alternative Plug-ins such as TubeBuddy—If you’re looking to supercharge your presence on YouTube sooner rather than later, opting to use a plugin such as TubeBuddy to A/B test thumbnails may be worth the subscription fee. The first tier membership ($6 per month) of TubeBuddy allows you to get AI predictions of thumbnail performance based on heatmapping, which essentially gives you an idea of what viewers will focus on most in your thumbnails. The next tier, priced at $26.39 per month, allows you to A/B test thumbnails by simply updating thumbnails.
- Manual A/B Testing—If you don’t have access to YouTube’s Test & Compare feature (yet) or care to pay for a plugin, you can manually A/B test thumbnail performance by posting similar content on the same days and times with varying thumbnail styles and tracking the performance. Additionally, it may be worth updating your thumbnails of previously posted evergreen videos, repromoting, and taking note of any new engagement or traffic.
How to Write a Good YouTube Title
Hopefully, you read our section on YouTube SEO and have a general understanding of how to help your videos rank. You’ll want to include your keywords in the title without making it sound too spammy. Here are our tips for writing YouTube titles.
Keep It Simple
The best YouTube titles are straight to the point and written in simple, everyday language. While you can tailor your language to your desired audience, avoid using too much slang or confusing jargon. Here are some examples for a video where the YouTuber bought an absurdly large stuffed animal:
I Fulfilled My Wildest Dreams by Getting This Stuffed Animal from My Childhood
This title is long, wordy, and doesn’t use the main keyword (Kirby). Furthermore, the SEO potential for this title is very low. Lastly, “getting” would be better used as an action verb, such as “buying.”
$300 MEGA KORB PLUSHY
While most Kirby fans will chuckle at the use of “Mega Korb,” it would still be better phrased as “Kirby.” If the YouTuber really wants to add the Kirby slang, they can write it in the description or add text to the thumbnail.
I Bought the World’s Largest Kirby Stuffed Animal
Here is an example of a simple yet powerful title. We know exactly what this video will be about, but we still have so many questions that can only be answered by watching the video (such as, “Just how big is the world’s largest Kirby?” and more importantly, “Why did they buy it?”). Combined with an enticing thumbnail, this video will likely get plenty of curious clicks.
No one likes clickbait, and we recommend avoiding it at all costs. Not only will clickbait likely result in dislikes and comments from annoyed viewers, it leads to decreased watchtime and retention. In short, the views you might get from a clickbait title will be negated by the fact that people aren’t watching the video for long and aren’t sticking around to see what other videos you have to offer.
YouTube viewers have gotten smarter and will outright avoid videos with clickbait or spammy sounding titles. However, it is possible to walk a “fine line” between clickbait and reality, provided your video actually delivers upon the expectations created. To illustrate the differences, let’s look at some examples for a video on how to deal with art block.
Become a MASTER ARTIST in Seconds!
This title is a clear example of clickbait. The video content deals with art block, not how to become a “master artist.” Viewers who click on this video will likely be upset at being tricked by clickbait, since there is no real way to become a master artist without years of practice.
The Insane Way I Beat Art Block
Here is an example of a clickbaity title that could possibly work, provided the YouTuber actually provides a strange or surprising tip for overcoming art block. However, if the video is filled with the same old tricks that every artist is already familiar with, this title will likely work against the video.
How to Easily Overcome Art Block
This is a perfect example of a simple yet effective title that doesn’t have the slightest hint of clickbait. Anyone in an art funk is sure to click on this video.
Complement Your Thumbnail
As we mentioned before, make sure you don’t simply repeat the text from your thumbnail in your title. Instead, title your video using your keywords and use your thumbnail text to add intriguing words or teaser phrases. Your thumbnail is also a good place to add SEO terms that are difficult to rank for due to hefty competition. For example, “sketchbook tour” is a more competitive term than “sketchbook flip through” so you could title your video, “2022 Pen and Ink Sketchbook Flip Through” and make your thumbnail a picture of one of your favorite pages with the text “Sketchbook Tour.”
Try Adding Numbers
Certain studies have shown that YouTube videos with numbers in the title tend to perform better. This may be due to the fact that viewers love “listicle” videos, but either way, it’s a good tactic to try. Rather than typing the number out as “five” or “ten,” use the numerical digits (5, 10, etc.). A YouTube video titled “10 Easy Hacks for Deep Cleaning Your Home” will likely rank higher than “Easy Hacks for Deep Cleaning Your Home.” Even better if you add chapters so viewers can skip to the hack that is most interesting to them. See if any of your video ideas can be supplemented with numbers and watch your view count rise.
Though it can be difficult to find your groove with titles and thumbnails that get clicks, the more you practice, the better you’ll get. If you learn to love YouTube analytics, you can perform experiments to see if a new thumbnail style or title format causes a significant change in your CTR (click-through rate). Don’t hesitate to draw inspiration from various creators whose thumbnails and titles appeal to you—just don’t copy! If you find thumbnail and title styles that are uniquely you and apply them to all of your videos, you’ll have a professional-looking channel that will effortlessly draw in viewers.
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