Topic :
Video Marketing

How to Optimize Video Thumbnails

Movie posters, newspaper headlines and magazine covers have one thing in common – they use exciting images to catch people’s attention.

Truth is, we’re drawn to appealing images, uninteresting images turn us off.

How does this rule apply to your online videos? And how can it help you increase the number of views it receives?

As with any other medium, you have to encourage people to interact with your content!

The best way to do this is with the “Thumbnail Image”.

Thumbnails draw the eye.

Video in Google Search Results
Thumbnails draw the eye.
The thumbnail is the still image that is displayed before your video is played – it is the poster ad of online video. It’s important…really, really important.

Look at just about any search result in Google and you will see video thumbnails displayed somewhere. Naturally these images draw our attention to them, and with that you have a golden opportunity to leapfrog higher search results.

And this doesn’t just apply to search results. Even the video sitting on your homepage needs to sell itself before people will watch it.

Unfortunately, many videos with excellent content are crippled by uninviting, unexciting thumbnail images that promise nothing to viewers.

How Can You Optimize Your Video Thumbnails?

Firstly – don’t use YouTube as your primary hosting option! YouTube doesn’t allow standard users to customize their video thumbnails – it will simply select three random frames from your video and allow you to choose one of those – this can lead to terrible results.

True, there is a way to choose custom thumbnails with YouTube, but only if you are a YouTube Partner – that means you link one of your videos to your adword account and pay when somebody clicks your thumbnail link from the Google search page. Obviously that can get really expensive, and only really serves to drive revenue to YouTube – I don’t recommend this option.

Other professional hosting providers are a much better option when it comes to customizing your thumbnail images.

Wistia, Vimeo and Vidyard all allow you to customize thumbnails – and they make it super easy.

Personally I like Wistia the best, check out their help page here for instructions on how to customize your thumbnail.

(If you’d like to know about different hosting options check out our Video Hosting Blog Post.)

Once you have uploaded your video and customized it’s thumbnail, make sure to create a Video Sitemap to help Google include your thumbnail in organic search results.

(Check out our Video SEO Blog Post for a quick and easy guide to creating and using Video Sitemaps)

What Should You Include in Your Thumbnail Image?
An effective video thumbnail needs to be:

  • Relevant

The thumbnail needs to accurately represent the content of the video, so make sure the image you choose prepares people for what they will see – this way you will attract the right audience.

This is especially important if you are optimizing the thumbnail for use on a specific page of your website. Make sure the thumbnail is relevant to the content on the page around it.

Try and use graphical elements that appear in the video so that there is a smooth style transition once the video starts.

It’s possible that a misleading thumbnail may produce a higher click through rate, but you’ll pay when people quickly abandon your video – Google will take note andd punish you with low rankings.

  • Clear

Remember that the thumbnail image is small, so don’t try and include a lot of intricate detail. You want something that is visually-appealing and uncluttered.

A short, written call-to-action like; “What do we do?”, “Who are BigCo Inc?” or even “Learn more” can prompt viewers to respond by clicking play. used this strategy to good result on their homepage.

  • Interesting

Remember the movie poster ads mentioned at the start? They’re never boring, and neither should your thumbnail be!

If the image you choose is clear and relevant but totally uninteresting, it’s falling short – ad some color, a good character shot or something to bring the scene to life .

This is especially important if you are optimizing for organic search results because your thumbnail probably won’t be the only one competing for viewer attention.

  • High-Quality

You want to do justice to your content, so make sure that the thumbnail looks professional and leaves people in no doubt that what they are about to see is worth their time and attention.


The easiest way to ensure that your thumbnails meet all the above criteria is to simply ask your production company to produce them for you. Here at, we provide a selection of thumbnails images as standard with each video.

A variety of different thumbnail images provides lots of benefits.

Firstly, it allows you to test the effectiveness of each thumbnail in attracting views. Constant testing is an essential part of any video marketing campaign, so test your thumbnail images to ensure you’re using the best performer.

Secondly, if you want to use your video in multiple locations and target different audience groups – changing the thumbnail is an effective and inexpensive way to appeal to different viewers without making expensive changes to the actual content.

Finally, occasionally changing the thumbnail requires little effort and keeps your video looking fresh to returning visitors (you can even customize your videos to fit holidays and seasons this way).

So there you go, who knew that such a little detail could improve your video’s performance so greatly, but then again, it’s true what they say: There’s nothing so important as a first impression.

Connect with Kenny on Google+

Kenny Simpson is a Creative Producer at 
If you would like to have an explainer video produced or would like more information, click here to drop us a line and get a FREE CONSULTATION and QUOTE.

Sign up for the


Our Video Marketing Newsletter can help you understand your business, product or other video prodcutions.
We will send you all kinds of offers and other promotions also.



    1-800-521-2649  |