How To Create The Perfect Video Thumbnail
06.05.2018 | by Amy Onorato
Video Marketing

How To Create The Perfect Video Thumbnail

People love video. It’s quick, engaging, and solves problems. But to be a success, your video has to offer a solution right from the start. An engaging video thumbnail image can actually speak to your viewers before they click play. You just have to employ these three techniques to master the art of the click:

  • Create your own video thumbnails (avoid auto-select!)
  • Use text and creative headlines to build engagement
  • Optimize your video for SEO

What Is A Video Thumbnail?

A thumbnail is a pre-selected frame taken from the body of the video, or an independent customized image that’s uploaded and featured as the “title” frame of the video. It is the image that is visible before you click play. A thumbnail is not defined by the video file; it is set up in the video hosting platform (such as YouTube, Vimeo, or Wistia.)

Today’s post shows you exactly how to create an enticing video thumbnail, and why that matters to your video marketing strategy.

Thumbnails For YouTube and Vimeo – How It Works

Before we get started on the creatives, let’s nail down the technical stuff first.

To create a video thumbnail for YouTube:

  • Head over to the Creator Studio and click on “Video Manager”
  • Choose a video you would like to add a thumbnail image to
  • Click “Edit” and then choose your desired thumbnail
  • Click to save changes

Note: If you want to upload a custom thumbnail for your video, you need to have a verified YouTube account.

Pro Tip: YouTube video image sizes: Thumbnail images must be uploaded as an image file  (.jpg, .gif, sizes for YouTube video thumbnails:

Vimeo allows for more flexible options.

Head over to “Settings” and scroll to the “Thumbnails” section. You will be presented with three options:

  • Choose: This option will let you scroll through the video frame-by-frame to choose the image you like.
  • Random: Vimeo will generate eight random images for thumbnail selection. If you don’t like them, you can click again for new options
  • Upload: Upload your own custom thumbnail image (must be uploaded as a image file)

Our advice? Ditch the auto-select

You get to choose the video thumbnail. Why would you leave it to chance and hope YouTube picks something captivating? The thumbnail is your first impression. People don’t have the time to watch every video they see, so make sure they want to watch yours.

Choosing a thumbnail is all about maximizing what’s already there. Your video thumbnail speaks more about your company than you realize. It highlights your brand. It’s what shows up in search results. And it can often determine if people even visit your website.

Only use images from the actual content of your video because every video – even a “boring” video – has great moments. If you can’t find that winning thumbnail by scrolling through the footage, it might be time to re-shoot.

Choosing An Animated Video Thumbnail

Choosing a video thumbnail for animation can be trickier. A lot of shots look great in motion (duh), but can seem flat as a static image. Animators also use a lot of techniques, like “smear” frames that look awkward out of context.

Scrolling slowly through the video helps highlight the exact moment when the action is particularly captivating. This is often expressed through tension and anticipation. The key is to find the magic moment just before something happens.

If you’re struggling to find the right image, and want to create your own custom thumbnail, there are plenty of ways to do it. Free content creation tools like Canva or Adobe Spark can help you get started.

Creating A Narrative With Video Thumbnails

Here are a few video thumbnail examples from a video we did for Scandis:

This image is a fine thumbnail. The color and composition are pleasing, and it represent the production quality you expect from our brand. However, if scroll just a half second forward…

…you get a thumbnail that tells a story. The character takes the money from someone off-camera. Who is that? What’s the money for? The thumbnail creates a narrative, and you want to see more.

Writing Video Thumbnail Headlines

What’s great about video thumbnails is that there’s nothing wrong with being obvious. Use text to make your thumbnail more informative, while still leaving some room for mystery.

It takes a deft hand to condense your headline down to a readable length in a thumbnail – especially one that begs a question – so don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to get the right headline.

The key is to start with a short, snappy title to begin with. The recommended length for YouTube videos in general is 70 characters (including spaces). If your video title runs long, consider the options — can it be abbreviated into something shorter, without losing its meaning?

Ted-Ed does a great job at overlaying bite-sized text headlines onto their thumbnail images.

Here’s an example of three different videos (both live-action and animated) with text overlays in the thumbnail images. If you notice, the headlines along the bottom of the video differ slightly from those on the thumbnail image, but they tell a similar story.


Design-wise, all four text overlays share similar features:

  • Bold, strong fonts
  • Contrast in colors against the background image
  • Titles do not take up more than 50 percent of the thumbnail image

When considering title text, make sure it’s relevant, but doesn’t overpower the image as a whole. Striking a balance creates a perfect blend of imagery and text, that can engage a viewer right from the start.

Video Thumbnails And SEO

Engaging video thumbnails can be the icing on the cake for your video SEO strategy.  As we’ve written about before, video can help improve your SERP rank, increase engagement, and provide quality link opportunities. Click-through rate is one of the signals that Google uses to rank content, so odds are that a good thumbnail can improve your video’s SERP prospects. Make sure your thumbnail image is optimized with appropriate metadata (like relevant alt text). Also be sure to include your video (and the thumbnail) as part of your Google sitemap.

Video content – with enticing video thumbnails – has the potential to drive more visitors to your site than ever before. If you want more than just an author byline, include video into your homepage, landing page, or blog posts, and watch the clicks stack up with an enticing video thumbnail.

Want to learn more about how IdeaRocket can help you create a winning thumbnail? Give us a shout.