You want to watch the video below. Heck, you probably aren’t even reading this. You just scrolled down to click play. And that’s all thanks to the amazing video thumbnail.

Unless you’re a National Geographic filmmaker, your videos probably won’t captivate people so easily. And that’s ok. Because…

People don’t care about your video.

They don’t. They care about themselves, their time, and the problem that brought them to your website looking for a solution to a specific problem. They want to fix a leaky sink, learn Spanish, and organize their IT team. People don’t want to be marketed to. Except they kind of do.

Here’s where it gets tricky:

People love video. It’s quick, engaging, and solves problems. But to be a success, your video has to solve peoples’ problems, before they watch it.

That’s asking a lot, I know, but you can actually speak to your viewers before they click play. You just have to employ these three “pre-click” techniques to master the art of the click.

  1. Enticing Video Thumbnails
  2. A Viewable Video Length under Two Minutes (it’s complicated)
  3. A Catchy, Honest Video Title

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

Choosing the Right Video Thumbnail

Video Thumbnail Examples

Be Interesting

The Best Vines Compilations” videos that flood YouTube have millions of views. Why? The video thumbnails dare you not to click.

vine video thumbnail

Yes, they’re over the top. Yes, they pander to the lowest common denominator by showing bikini clad college girls, however these video thumbnails promise to solve a massive users “problem” – boredom.

I want to clearly state, I am not telling you to use gratuitous or misleading images as your thumbnail. There I said it. However, you can learn a thing or two from these videos and try to replicate it with your own.

You’re In Control

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, you firm handshake, your dating profile picture. People don’t have the time to watch every video they see, so make sure they want to watch yours.

Take a look at the video snippet from two search results for the same term – “animated video.” When we compare the animated video thumbnails we see drastic differences.

animated video thumbnail

The first video is obviously a random thumbnail. The image of a book(?) is small, the cover is impossible to read, and it tells you nothing about the video. Not only is it visually unappealing, it broadcasts an air of unprofessionalism. No thanks.

The second video thumbnail features a dramatic low-angle shot of compelling animation. A quick glance gives the viewer a sense of the character animation, as well as a hint of the theme. To top it off, the character is staring into the camera – right at you – telling you to click. This is deliberate, and a fantastic use of a compelling video thumbnail.

How could you not click this?

Your video snippet needs to align with your brand, so don’t misrepresent yourself, however the video thumbnail speaks more about your company than you realize, including your professionalism. It’s what shows up in search results, and can often determine if people even visit that website you spent $20,000 designing. Make it as compelling as you can.

Flatter Yourself

Be a narcissist. Seriously. Find a flattering moment in the video and use it. If you don’t think it looks good, other people won’t either.

If it’s live action, show off your subject’s winning smile. Is there an exciting chase scene? An explosion in the background? A puppy? If you take nothing else away from this article, remember – always lead with puppies.

puppy video thumbnail

Scroll til You Can’t Scroll No Mo’

animated video thumbnailChoosing 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 don’t look great out of context.

I find that scrolling slowly through the video helps highlight the exact moment when the action is particularly captivating. This is often expressed through tension and anticipation, but try to find that magic moment just before something happens.

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

scandis video thumbnail static

If we chose the image above, it would be a fine thumbnail. The color and composition are pleasing, and it represent the quality you can expect from our brand. However, if scroll just a half second forward…

Scandis video thumbnail dynamic

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

Here’s another example for how to use text that’s already in your video:

scandis action video thumbnail

Again, it’s a pleasing still frame that represents the tone and feel of the video, but if we scroll back just a hair…

scandis action video thumbnail logo…we get a great frame with our heroine, and the logo for Scandis is right there on her luggage. This thumbnail subtly promises more to the viewer, and represents the brand.

Choosing a thumbnail is all about maximizing what’s already there. It is not about misrepresentation. Don’t ever lie to your viewers. Never ever. Only use images from the actual content of your video because very 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 reshoot.

Tell Me What I’m Going to Watch

There’s nothing wrong with being a little obvious. People like knowing what they’re going to see – we’re weird like that. However, you don’t have to give away the farm. Use text to make your thumbnail that much more informative, while still hinting that the answer could go either way. PBS IdeaChannel does this perfectly.

PBS Idea Channel video thumbnail

Be warned: text thumbnails are harder than they look. 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. Even click-bait giant Upworthy makes their writers create 25 unique headlines for every single article. Every single time.

video thumbnail - Upworthy Editorial Process - 25 headlines

The key to a magnetic headline, is to sprinkle in a little mystery.

Upworthy thrives from their expert use of the “curiosity gap.” Their headlines inform (or shock), but don’t provide an answer. For that you have to watch the video. It titillate users into finding out more.

While it might sound cheesy, it works. After employing the technique, Naomi Dunford copywriter and founder of IttyBiz, reported a 927% increase in clicks on a pricing page of all places.

A little text can go a long way, especially combined with a great image.

The Death of the Author Photo and Rise of Rich Video Snippets

Recently Google announced that they are doing away with the author photos appearing in SERPs. What they aren’t getting rid of are rich video snippets. (Always use puppies).

puppy video thumbnail

This means that 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.

Video Thumbnail Best Practices:

Red X1 Don’t let YouTube auto-select your thumbnail

green check Photoshop text into your thumbnail

green check Use vibrant colors

green check Submit a video sitemap to help Google crawl and categorize your video snippet