Your video thumbnail is a billboard telling your potential viewer whether or not it's worth clicking on. Learn best practices when creating video thumbnails.
Your video thumbnail is the second most important element of your video. Your thumbnail along with the video title tells your viewer whether or not your video is worth clicking on.
Custom thumbnails are available only to those who opt into the youtube partner program. An auto-generated thumbnail will be available for you to use until you opt in to the partner program. More on that later.
Lets take a look at college humor’s channel.
Taking a step back, collegehumor is a comedy channel, they make both original and spoof content. Notice how the thumbnail art works hand and hand with the title of the video. Together they communicate why you should watch.
Here’s a simple example. Take a look at this video here, its titled “i really like you” without music (carly rae jepsen) the thumbnail is a companion to that title with the words “music videos without music” the picture of tom hanks is a frame pulled from the video.
If we watch the video, the title and thumbnail are exactly what you will see… literally. Lets take a look at it so you can see the connection:
Now lets look at another approach, that can be combined with the prior: putting branding in to the thumbnail. Branding your videos helps to not only associate your channel name with that video but it’s also a great way to help your video stand out within the sea of videos.
Lets look at the verge’s channel. They state that they cover “the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture”. At just a quick glance, all you see is branding. Their logo is placed at the same location, at the same size on every one of their thumbnails. Now they don't put any other associated verbiage about the video on the thumbnail, but that doesn't mean they couldn't, in fact, it's recommended that you do both. However if you were searching something on youtube and the verge had a video about it, and you happen to like their videos… it might make an easy choice to watch their video.
In your thumbnail you want to tease what it’s about but not give it away. Find a small statement, less than 5 words; the fewer the better. That small statement will hint at what the video is, but still leave the potential viewer some mystery.
Lets look at the star wars channel. Looking at their thumbnails, you see they have simple graphics on them, for instance, starwars dot com 10: best starfighters, or another starwars dot com 10: best yoda quotes.