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How to Boost Video Views with Optimized YouTube Thumbnails [Video Influencer Interview]

Read Time: 3 minutes

I’ve got a riddle for you: What’s 1280 pixels wide, 720 pixels tall, and can boost video views for any content on YouTube? If you guessed an awesome thumbnail, you’re right!

Barely half the size of a Post-It, a video thumbnail is simply the static image your video displays before it’s played. Thumbnails create your video’s first impression and they tell your audience about a video’s ability to engage them. Many times, though, marketers and video creators aren’t totally sure how to create a custom thumbnail that entices their audience to click.

And without a custom image, seasoned digital marketers and YouTube video creators know that YouTube will, without a doubt, only suggest a thumbnail that shows them wearing the most awkward and embarrassing facial expressions. What’s a marketer to do?

To lure scrolling viewers to click on your thumbnail, we’re here to give you the inside scoop on how to optimize your custom thumbnails to win the click over your video making competitors!

To get to the bottom of this mission, our Chief Evangelist, Renee Teeley, met up with the Chief Evangelist of VidIQ, Jeremy Vest, for a tête-à-tête on how to create the best 1280×720 image the world has ever seen. Hint: It’s all about channeling your inner Purple Cow. Let’s get mooving!

Meet the 3 E’s

Fact: No one’s going to want to click on a boring thumbnail. That’s why it’s important to remember the 3 E’s: Eyes, Emotion, and Excitement. Breaking them down one by one, we’ll start with Eyes…


Whether you got two eyes or 👓four eyes, make sure you make eye contact with the camera for your thumbnail image! People naturally look for each others’ eyes. By making that virtual eye contact with your audience, you’ll be best positioned to catch their eye and get their attention.


Next up is Emotion. In addition to capturing eyes, create an emotional experience for the scroller that captures their hearts and minds. Think about the expression on your face, the other visuals that accompany your face, and any other visual cues to create the exact emotion your video generates.


Last but certainly not least, generate Excitement by looking excited yourself. For instance, there’s a YouTuber joke called giving the “YouTuber Face,” which is when, instead of just simply smiling, you do something a little more wacky for the camera and use that to stand out.

Saturate and Sharpen

Another way to make your thumbnail pop is to amp up the percentages on your image’s saturation and sharpness. Boosting both of those metrics using an online tool, or offline in Photoshop or your desktop image viewer to dramatize your custom image. Just a 30-40% increase on both those fronts will make a major difference.

About that Purple Cow

Not too long ago, Seth Gordin, a famous writer and businessman, came out with a book called Purple Cow. So popular it ran out of printed copies 23 times in the first two years, Purple Cow offers a great analogy of how to stand out from competitors.

Most people in their lifetimes have come across a black and white cow. After seeing enough of them though, you start getting a little bored when you see a new one. But what if you saw a purple cow? You’d probably do a double take. Your goal is to make sure that your marketing efforts are the purple cow in the herd of black and white ones. This also applied to your thumbnail images; make sure it’s head-turning-ly remarkable.

Brains and Patterns

Using custom thumbnails to win the click and the online battle for attention is only one side of the coin. The other often overlooked aspect of thumbnails that deserves a closer look is how you use your thumbnail to create brand consistency and recognition.

Our brains love patterns, which is why it’s important to use a consistent background or other elements in your thumbnail. This way, viewers can instantly identify new thumbnails and know — in a snap — that your content is the exact thing they’re looking for. Use this visual repetitiveness to spark joy while stopping them in their scrolling tracks.

Recapping the Rules-of-Thumb(nails)

When it comes to custom thumbnails, the key rule of thumb(nails) is to make your image pop. Be the purple cow that turns heads. Tap into your larger brand to create consistent recognition.

To learn more about how to win the click, be sure to check out Episode 4 of the #MakeItAwesome Show where Renee Teeley gets even more insights from Jeremy Vest (founder of VidIQ) on video thumbnails.

Who’s Got Two Thumbs and Can’t Wait to Hear What YOU Think?! (This Gal!)

Got any of your own tips for YouTube thumbnail optimization? Let me know in the comments below or on YouTube. Last but not least, don’t forget to subscribe to Powtoon’s YouTube channel for more episodes of the #MakeItAwesome Show and more awesome content from the Powtoon team! Stay Awesome!

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Shoshi Davis

Shoshi joined Powtoon as a Marketing Assistant. To read more of her stuff, you can find her content on Upwork and Business 2 Community talking all things inbound marketing for SaaS. After only 2 weeks at Powtoon, Shoshi was dubbed by the marketing team as having the superpower of "Unbridled Enthusiasm." So that was pretty cool.
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