The Importance of the YouTube Gaming Video Thumbnail

When people think of making a YouTube gaming channel they often think it’s all about the videos.

There’s just something extremely exciting about creating a video and launching it on YouTube. Thoughts of your video going viral, getting millions of views, and you becoming a YouTube celeb flood the mind. 

However, it’s easy to forget that success as a YouTube gamer is dependent on many moving parts. And the videos you make are just one of hundreds of spinning cogs grinding away inside the great YouTube machine.

One of the most important parts, one that is often ignored and quickly skipped over in the excitement of launching a new video, is the video thumbnail.

But why is the thumbnail so important?

Don’t worry, I’ll explain why thumbnails are vital in the following sections. I’ve also thrown in a few bonus tips on how to improve your thumbnails. So let’s get started. 

Why are thumbnails so important to your YouTube gaming channel’s success?

Here’s something you need to remember: Your video’s thumbnail is the number one thing that grabs attention on YouTube and sells the view of your video.

Your thumbnail, when viewed on YouTube search or YouTube suggestions, is in direct competition with every other thumbnail on YouTube. Each thumbnail is jostling with millions of others for a viewer’s attention.

Good thumbnails grab people’s attention, grow interest by providing information on the video’s content, and sells the click of the video. All within a split second. 

Bad thumbnails don’t grab people’s attention, they don’t grow interest, nobody clicks on them, and the video goes unwatched.

Most people think the quality of the video is the most important thing on a channel. It’s not. 

It’s the thumbnail that does the most work. The thumbnail attracts an audience to watch your video, the video keeps the audience. If your thumbnail is poor, you’ll never attract an audience regardless of how good your video is.

How changing the thumbnail can affect video views 

Video thumbnails show up in a number of places on YouTube. You can find them on the home screen, YouTube suggestions at the end of videos, and in the YouTube search results. 

When a person sees your video’s thumbnail on these YouTube pages its called an “impression”. 

A video thumbnail will often get a vast number of impressions per day. 

However, only a small percentage of people actually click through to watch the video. This is called the “click-through rate”.

For example, a video may have 1,000,000 impressions on YouTube every month.

But out of those 1 million impressions only 10,000 people might click through to watch the video. That equals a click-through rate of 1%. So 99% of people who saw the thumbnail didn’t have their attention grabbed enough to stop, click on it, and watch the video. 

But this click-through rate is where the power of spending time on your thumbnail can pay off massively. That 99% of people your thumbnail failed to grab the attention of, offers huge potential for growth.

If you could change the thumbnail and increase the click-through rate by just 1%, from 1% to 2%, you would increase the video’s views by 100% from 10,000 views to 20,000 views! 

Let’s take a look at a real world example from one of my smaller YouTube Channels. 

Example of a thumbnail’s affects on a real YouTube Channel

Below, I’ve attached an image of the current viewing figures from another one of my smaller channels, EveryFactEver.  

As you can see, the channel got 11,300 impressions over a 28 day period. Remember, that’s the number of people who see the video’s thumbnail in the search or suggested content sections.  

Now notice on the next step down on the funnel that there’s a click through rate of 7.7%. That means 7.7% of all impressions that see my video’s thumbnail in the search and suggestion sections click on the video to watch it. 7.7% is 865 views. 

The video’s thumbnail, and to a lesser extent the video’s title, are directly responsible for this low click-through rate. 

Now imagine I changed the thumbnails on all the videos on this channel and increased the click-through rate from 7.7% to 11.55%. That small increase in click-through rate would subsequently increase the video views from 865 views to 1298 views. An increase of 50%!

Improving your thumbnails can have a dramatic effect on how much your videos get viewed. In turn, increasing video views will have a massive effect on how much money your channel makes, as more view means more money generated from ads.

But how do you create great thumbnails that grab attention and get people to click? 

A few tips to help you craft good thumbnails

It’s worth keeping in mind that this is not a “Good Thumbnail Guide” article. Such a guide would be well beyond the scope of this article. However, I did want to leave you with a little bit of actionable advice.

1: Don’t use the same text in the video’s title and in the thumbnail. 

The thumbnail and the video’s title give you two chances to grab people’s attention. Some people (me included) put the text that’s in the main title directly into the thumbnail. This is a mistake. The title should have different text that gives more detail about what’s in the video. The thumbnail and the title give you two chances to sell the video, don’t waste one of those chances by saying the same thing in both. 

2: Keep in mind most thumbnails are viewed on mobile devices. 70% of all YouTube vids are watched on smartphones. So it makes sense to make thumbnails that are designed to be viewed easily when they are very small on Smartphone screens. So don’t use a lot of text, have bold colours, and keep the thumbnail as simple as possible. 

3: Use a tool like Canva to speed up your thumbnail’s production. Canva also comes with a load of free images and templates for you to use. 

4: Spend 25% of your time crafting a thumbnail and a title for your video. I know that sounds crazy. Shouldn’t you be spending all your time making amazing videos? Well, no. As you know the thumbnail is vital for converting impressions into views. Without an attractive thumbnail to tempt people to click on your video, nobody will ever watch your video.

5: If you want to know what type of thumbnail to make, there’s a simple way to find out: look at your YouTube channel’s competition and copy their thumbnail style. I don’t mean directly copy, that’s wrong and illegal. What I do mean is look at your competition and use their thumbnail style as a reference for what your thumbnail should look like. For example, if you are doing game reviews, check out what thumbnails channels like IGN and RockPaperShotgun are making. You should then make something similar.

6: Let data drive your decision making. Don’t trust your gut instinct. Gut instinct is something you build up over time with thousands of hours of experience. Instead gather as much data as you can and let that data drive your decisions. For example, if you are not too sure what type of thumbnail you should create for a particular video, look on YouTube for similar videos. Look for elements that all the thumbnails share, like particular styles or images on most of the thumbnails. This way you’ll discover what you should and shouldn’t add to your thumbnail. So gather data and let it drive decisions.

Ok, now you know just how important thumbnails really are, and you know a few ways to make your thumbnails better. 

Do you fancy learning how to create fantastic thumbnails that’ll send your click-through rate sky rocketing? 

Of course you do! 

Then sign up to the CareerGamers Newsletter now and I’ll let you know when I launch my new course on how to create viewer attracting thumbnails for your gaming YouTube channel. 

You’ll be the first to know when it launches, I’ll even send you a money off voucher to grab the course on the cheap when it launches on Udemy.

Can’t wait until then? I don’t blame you! 

In the mean time, I’ve put together some other goodies for you! By signing up to the newsletter you’ll get immediate and free access to my YouTube gaming success resource repository (What a mouthful!). This is the place where I put all the resources I use to create my own gaming websites and YouTube channels.

Also, I won’t spam your inbox. You’ll only ever get one email per month, and it’ll be full of all the latest updates that’ll help you make a success of your YouTube gaming channel. 

So sign up now! 

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Nick Sinclair

Nick Sinclair, a gaming aficionado since the Commodore 64 era, studied Creative Computer Games Design in university before founding his own gaming company. Discovering a passion for content creation, Nick now helps gamers squeeze every drop of fun out of their favorite gaming hardware

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