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Thumbnails: Your video’s billboard on YouTube

By Andres Palmiter

Audience Development Strategist

This is part of an ongoing series sharing tips from the YouTube Creator Playbook, a resource of best practices and tips you can start using on your channel and videos right away. As we move along in this series, some posts will be focused for more advanced YouTubers or YouTube Partners, like this week’s tip.

With YouTube seeing 48 hours of video uploaded every minute, it’s important to think how you can get your content seen by your regular and new viewers. In many cases, thumbnails are the first point of contact for your channel and a relevant thumbnail can make the difference for someone about to watch your (awesome) content.

Thumbnail Basics
During the upload process you have the opportunity to pick one of three frames from your video, or to upload a custom image file. For either option some basic best-practices can be applied:

1. Your thumbnail should look good, either scaled small or large
  • Faces work better and engage the audience
  • Visuals of the finished product work better than the process (e.g. show the cake, rather a picture of the batter)
  • Good thumbnails follow the same rule as good photographs - composition, contrast, and color count  

2. Choose images that accurately portray your video’s content

  • Accurate thumbnails allow viewers to more easily browser and enjoy your content.
  • Misleading thumbnails lead to poor audience engagement and will hurt your channel’s performance in the long run
  • Safeguards are in place to find and penalize channels that upload racy thumbnails—take a look at our Community Guidelines for more information 

3. For channels with the ability to upload custom thumbnails, upload a high quality image

  • There is no limit on pixel size (though 1280x720 is recommended)
  • The image file has to be less than 2MB
  • Accepted file formats: PNG, BMP, GIF, or JPEG  

Thumbnail Placement

Thumbnails for your videos, playlists and even your channel are used throughout YouTube to promote your content. Some common placements for thumbnails are in search results, along the far right column of your video’s Watch Page, on your Channel page, and in the video player after a video stops playing (the video’s end card). Through these placements viewers can discover your videos, playlists, and channels.

You also should try YouTube Analytics to understand and measure the impact of these tips, and to learn more about thumbnail optimizations and other tips, check out the YouTube Creator Playbook.