Optimizing a YouTube channel is like building a brick house, you need a lot of bricks, and while it seems okay to leave one of two out, doing so can have a big impact. Optimizing and creating a system for your thumbnails is one of these bricks - and ultimately, it might not seem to have a big impact, but from my experience, it’s part of the cumulative building that’s essential.
TechSmith had over 450 videos before we got really serious about optimizing YouTube custom thumbnails. We were of course creating thumbnails, trying to follow the YouTube playbook, but it was mostly an after thought. We have 3 full-time team members creating and uploading on a regular basis, which end in multiple thumbnail styles. The styles changed with the flavor and season, making the channel as a whole look unorganized, incohesive, and frankly, unattractive.
Creating a Cohesive Custom Thumbnail Strategy
In addition to other optimizations, the team set of to update our style of our thumbnails. Our goals were to:
- Unify the branding to indicate that the videos belong with the TechSmith channel
- Use the thumbnail as an organizer so viewers could quickly distinguish between products and and video types.
- Create consistency and enhance the overall visual look (professionalism) of the thumbnails.
Following the YouTube Creator Playbook Advice
We started off by reviewing the YouTube Creators Playbook again. Where it made sense, and when we can we decided that faces need to be a primary consideration for thumbnails. Because we are a software company and many of our tutorials are screen videos that don’t include faces, we knew we had a challenge in front of us. Ultimately, for videos where there was no compelling image, which are mostly tutorials, we decided that we would use a transparent color layer to indicate product. Since this dulls the image, we also added shortened title text to indicate what the video is about. For other thumbnails, we don’t add a color layer over the image and for the most part avoid text.
Visual Grouping to Help Identify Different Content
Next we wanted to create visual grouping (outside of the use of playlists), that would associate together the type of video, such as customer stories, product overview videos, tutorials, and others we add to our channel. Prior to our updates it wasn’t clear what type of video you’d get until you watched it or read the description.
To help address this issue, we used icons that sit in the left corner of every thumbnail. Examples include gears for tutorials, laptop for product updates, and a mouse for business customer stories. We do not explicitly talk about or release a guide indicating the meaning behind these icons. So it’s still unknown how helpful and effective the glyphs are in guiding viewers, however, we do feel when viewers see multiple TechSmith videos they will easily pick up on the relationships between videos and guide them to related content.
I wish we could take full credit for developing this system, but as we researched other channels and looked for examples of how others were doing it, we came across Sesame Street’s channel
I also wish I could say that the effort has driven 10,000 new subscribers. Not true. However, it’s one more brick in the building process. As we’ve made the change to our thumbnails and other optimizations we’ve had six of the last seven months see the best subscriber growth since we started our channel in 2010. It’s definitely not a silver bullet, and it is a lot work to adjust and change every thumbnail, but I believe it’s established us for more growth, provides a better experience for our channel visitors, and has helped set our channel apart.