YouTube thumbnails (a guide) – the frontdoor to your videos

YouTube thumbnails – an often overlooked tool to grow a YouTube channel. Why are they so important and how to make them work? This is my guide on YouTube thumbnails – the frontdoor to your videos!

 Written by: Marianne Eggink – Doctor Video’s sidekick

Before getting down to business, let’s get in the right mindset first!

You come across a lot of advertisements on the internet, daily. But have you ever stopped and noticed what they look like? They never consist of just a bland picture of the product. It’s a combination of things that make them atractive: a high quality picture, pretty fonts and the promise of something interesting. Yet when uploading video’s, many creators on YouTube do not give much thought to their thumbnails. Eventhough a thumbnail on YouTube is in fact an advertisement on the internet.


Sure, making video’s might just be a hobby for you. But you’re not fooling anyone – you want people to see them! Otherwise you wouldn’t have uploaded them. So basically you’re asking a random stranger on the internet to give you the gift of time. And as an internet addict you know how precious time is and how quickly you are distracted. So before your audience even clicks your video, they must be pretty convinced that they’re gonna have a good time when they do.

Think about it. Your target audience is browsing YouTube and looking for that makeup tutorial, movie review or let’s play gaming video. They search and end up with thousands of options to pick from. OR they are watching a video and their eyes wander to the suggested video’s.  It’s only natural for them to pick the thumbnail that stands out most, looks the slickest, funniest or gives them the idea that it’s gonna be worth it. You can’t really blame them for not picking yours if you just used a suggested video stil. So that’s my first tip: don’t use just a video stil.

The frontdoor

This is why I use the frontdoor analogy. If the door doesn’t look inviting, then don’t expect people to open it. It’s pretty simple! For me as a youtuber everything continues to be a learning process. I’m not saying my thumbnails are perfect, but these are the things I learned upto now. A few steps that will help to get to flashy, funny or recognizable thumbnails.

1. Branding and logo

Before improving your thumbnails, make sure you have a logo and branding for your channel. In between the millions of thumbnails it’s really difficult to be recognized if yours aren’t showing something unique. Make sure to use your branding and logo on your banner AND on your profile picture. So that it shows up when you comment, not just on your own videos but also on other peoples videos.

Editing thumbnails in Gimp

Use colors that are eyecatching and different than YouTube’s standard colors: red, white and black. We owe Brian Dean a huge thanks for this insight, check out his video on actionable YouTube Seo tips.

Once you have a logo, start using it on all your thumbnails. Preferably in the very same spot every time. Do you need expensive software to make logo’s and thumbnails? Not at all. We use Gimp – it’s free and open source! Keep your eyes peeled for a tutorial on how to make thumbnails with Gimp!

2.The thumbnail needs to say it all

Research shows that people hardly read titles anymore when browsing YouTube. And would you blame them? The majority is watching on their smartphone (Not convinced? Check your analytics!). Try browsing on your smartphone and notice how prominent the thumbnails are, while most titles are cut off. This means that if your thumbnail isn’t really saying much about the content, people will skip it.

Your thumbnail needs to explain:

  • what this video is: Is it a review? A vlog? Let’s play? Tutorial? A rant?
  • what is it about: is it about Black Panther? Or is it about a new lipstick you’re trying? Show us the subject!
  • who is presenting: is it you? or is it a colab? is it you and your friends? is it your family?
When in doubt, use pots, pans and hammers 😉

This last one is overlooked often. But remember you also have your preferences when watching a tv-show. Sometimes maybe you don’t even mind the subject as long as that one funny person is presenting! So if your audience doesn’t really know who’s presenting the video, then they might skip ahead. Also, knowing the presentor can give the video a certain authority on the subject if they are known for this. The question of who, can also be answered with your logo. But remember: people are subconciously drawn to faces.

3. The thumbnail shouldn’t contain many words

Eventhough your thumbnail needs to be self-explanatory for the video – you shouldn’t flood it with whole sentences or bullet points. You’re probably making your thumbnail on a laptop or desktop, but remember people are browsing on their smartphone mostly. So if it’s not readable when it’s tiny, or if it’s more like the page of a book – people will skip it. Use clear and bold fonts!


There are a lot of new channels out there with a big chaos of thumbnails with no consistency at all. Different logo’s, different colors, different fonts – every. single. time. I understand that some people may be testing the waters, but seeing a whole page full of very different thumbnails is just a bit of a turn off. The good news: you can always change the thumbnails at any time you want, so it’s not too late 😉

5. Try to be funny (or other personal quirks)

Hands down the most compliments we’ve had for our thumbnails is that they’re funny. It’s not difficult to imagine that this will atract people. YouTube is after all the place where cats won the internet with their FUNNY antics. For us, it matches our video style – we like to be a bit silly. But if funny isn’t your style, then ask yourself:  what personal quirk or characteristic about you, stands out most in your video? What are you known for? Try to inject it in your thumbnail!


As a bonus – and this may be old news to some of you – I give you the ‘rule of thirds’. The human eye is very atracted to pictures that fit in the rule of thirds. Read up on it and apply for extra clicks on your thumbnails!

Now what?

So now your frontdoor looks all pretty and flashy – what to do next? Time to do some market research: type into YouTube search the title of your video and see what kind of thumbnails you’re up against. This will give you some inspiration on how to tweak your thumbnails to stand out, or it will confirm that your hard work was worth it!

Want to learn more? Check out my blogs on:

How to use SEO for your tags and titles on YouTube? A guide!

Five tips for making YouTube videos on the cheap