Research from Frederator.
Thumbnails are the most important aspect of any video’s release, other than the content itself. Seriously. This is because thumbnails, in combination with titles, are often the biggest deciding factor in whether or not a person will click to watch a video.
The main goal for our thumbnails is to get our audience, and new audiences, to view our content and then go on to watch more of our content. We have found that there are three main guiding principles that allow us to achieve this goal.
The Three Principles
The three guiding principles Frederator uses for making clickable thumbnails are:
1. Our thumbnails accurately portray the content in the video.
2. Our thumbnails get our audience excited about watching the video.
3. Our thumbnails draw the attention of our audience.
We discovered these principles by the methods I described above and abide by them because they work. We want to engage our online video audience and see it grow. In order to do that, viewers need to actually watch our content. And in order for viewers to actually watch our content, our thumbnails must be exciting and draw in their eyes. And in order for our viewers to to want to watch more of our content, our thumbnails must accurately represent what’s in the video and stand out among all the others on the YouTube platform.
1. Use close ups on faces, preferably making eye contact.
Humans have evolved to detect eye contact, making thumbnails with eye contact more eye-catching, especially if the whites of the eyes are visible. In addition to this, humans communicate in large part by reading emotional cues on the face.
2. Show strong emotions.
To take this one step further, showing strong emotions is also beneficial. Strong emotions are easily identifiable and makes the viewer feel that same heightened emotion through empathy. When a viewer becomes emotionally connected with something or they want to feel that emotion themselves, they are more likely to click on your video.
Deskillss: "Also, in the Frederator study, there are 11 additional design points. I try to follow all the recommendations in my thumbnails".
At Frederator we spend a lot of time on our thumbnails. As a result we really want to know how our thumbnails are performing. Unfortunately, there is no thumbnail analytics data available through YouTube analytics. However, there’s a secret method that we use to find out how your thumbnails perform.
Through Google’s TrueView advertising platform, a person is able to see the relative click through rate for all of the videos they advertise. This is a handy tool to compare thumbnails at an extremely low cost (a few bucks a day).
For example, over the last 20 months we’ve had 8 different templates for the thumbnails on Cartoon Hangover (another channel we distribute on YouTube). Some we kept for extended periods of time (four months or longer) and some we’ve kept for no more than two weeks. This is because we’re able to quickly see, through TrueView, how our thumbnails perform.
These are the thumbnails with the varying templates we’ve used for just one of our episodes over the last 20 months, along with their relative click through rates:
If you do not want to use AdWords, you can also look at your Views Per Unique and Views From Subscribers as indicators of how clickable your templates and thumbnails are. This metric is muddied by a lot of factors, such as your title, programming, and YouTube’s algorithm, but it can give you a general picture of how your thumbnails are doing.