Although we all know better than to judge a book by its cover… we still do it. In fact, you have only 7 seconds to make a strong impression—whether in person or in marketing. If you blow that first impression, you may not get a chance to further engage with your audience.
This first impression of your video content comes in the form of the thumbnail.
The Importance Of The First Impression
If you are running a video content strategy, you know that the play rate metric is at the center of your success. If people don’t play your video, they don’t see your content, they don’t get an impression of you, they don’t learn more about your brand, and they don’t convert or buy.
And if you want people to play your video, you need to entice them. You need to make a strong first impression that will leave them wanting more.
The first impression doesn’t actually come with the video itself. The second impression comes when the viewer clicks play and watches the first few seconds of your video. The first impression actually comes before they hit play; it comes with the content surrounding the video. They see the headlines, description, and thumbnail, which help viewers decide whether or not they want to click play at all.
So you need to tailor this first impression with a strong, optimized thumbnail.
What Are Thumbnails?
Thumbnails are reduced-size versions of a shot of your video. They’re called thumbnails because they were originally the size of a human thumbnail, though they tend to be larger now. The main purpose of the thumbnail is to visually alert the viewer that there is a video available to be played. This separates videos from other content on the page.
Thumbnails also help with search result optimization. Thumbnails take up less room on the page, which helps with visual appearance on your website. It’s been suggested that Google favors those sites and pages with video and associated thumbnails. In fact, some platforms like YouTube and Google Image Search even organize media based on these thumbnail images.
There are two key benefits of a thumbnail:
1. They attract a viewer to click on your video. If you have an intriguing and relevant thumbnail, your viewer will click on it to expand the video. This is the first glimpse into your video content.
2. They work as an opportunity to recall your video in the future. After someone watches your video, they will remember that thumbnail. If they want to search for your video again in the future, they can visually scan the page for a familiar thumbnail or shot of your video, even if they can’t remember the headline of your video.
Ultimately, your thumbnail can set apart your video to attract new and repeat viewers.
How To Choose Thumbnails
Imagine that your video and your competitors’ videos are all placed on a page. All you can see are the thumbnails. Your viewer has to choose which video to watch. They’ll pick the thumbnail that is most visually appealing and shows some sort of information about the content they will be watching.
This indicates two key aspects of creating a thumbnail to attract views:
• The thumbnail has to be clear, crisp, and aesthetically appealing in a way that will intrigue the viewer.
• The thumbnail should be highly relevant to the content in the video to accurately demonstrate what this video will be about.
Thumbnails are the lens into your content. Below you’ll find best practices for creating thumbnails that will intrigue your viewer based on appearance and relevancy.
What would a movie poster look like for your video? Which scene from your video would best describe the content? Your thumbnail is the “face” of your video, so it should be highly relevant to the content inside. Not all shots in your video will be relevant to the meat of the video.
For example, you wouldn’t want the thumbnail to be your opening scene of New York City’s gorgeous skyline at fall if you are really talking about ocean acidification and dying coral. Your video may have that opening scene as a link to ocean acidification, but the two aren’t directly related. A viewer wouldn’t know what the skyline has to do with ocean acidification at first glance.
Even if not intentionally misleading, choosing an irrelevant thumbnail will upset your audience. They will immediately disengage, click away from the video, and feel like you’ve wasted their time.
Often, you’ll want to choose a shot near the climax of your video. This will ensure the thumbnail is relevant and intriguing.
Take the Galaxy Unpacked 2017 ad for example. The thumbnail of the video on YouTube is the ending slogan—the climax—that encourages people to wonder why they should unbox their phone.
People respond to faces. In-person eye contact can connect two people and it does the same with videos as well. Choosing a thumbnail with a video subject making eye contact with the viewer is a subtle cue to make viewers feel more connected to the content. This is one of the major reasons that influencer vloggers can build a personal relationship with their loyal fans—they’re always looking directly at the viewer.
Moreover, we are compelled by emotion through an empathetic response. We see someone experiencing an emotion, and we want to understand why that emotion is occurring. We choose to watch a video because it promises to be sad, happy, exciting, inspiring, or even horrific or fearful.
Choose a thumbnail that shows the emotion that the video will incite. This will excite your viewer and pique their curiosity. They’ll click on the video to find out why that emotion is occurring. This is especially true if your video builds a narrative and tells a story.
Consider the following Tony Robbins videos. They are both discussing the same topic “How to build rapport.” Which thumbnail would you click on? You’d likely choose the one where he is smiling, because he is building a rapport with you through his happy and energetic face. Although the second video shows his face, it does not demonstrate an emotional response as clearly. (Plus there’s text in the first one, which will discuss further.)
The thumbnail should be clear and crisp, even in smaller sizes. Viewers don’t click on blurry images. The higher the resolution, the more likely they will play the video. The thumbnail should be visually appealing and eye-catching. High contrast complementary colors, bright backgrounds, and strong lighting will show the quality of your video.
Use a professional editing software to resize and modify shots or images from your video into a still shot. Contact True Film Production for assistance and resources maintaining a quality shot from your video.
Moreover, aside from quality clarity, you want a clear shot of the subject. You don’t want the thumbnail to be ambiguous or confusing. Your viewer shouldn’t ask what the thumbnail is (unless your goal is to trick or intrigue with ambiguity).
If you don’t have a compelling thumbnail available, use embedded text to further intrigue your audience. For example, if your video is a narrator talking to the camera, a headshot of that person may not be relevant or intriguing. Text proves relevancy by telling the viewer what the video is about. Keep the text clear, professional, and readable.
You want your thumbnail to be clean and clear. It should be easy to see and understand. Focus on one element: the face, the text, the screenshot, or the scene. Don’t try to fit it all in one small image.
In the same way that you want the thumbnail to be relevant to the content of the video, you want it to be relevant to the copy surrounding the video. The headline and the thumbnail should be intricately linked. This boosts optimization and makes a more user-friendly experience for your viewer.
You want a consistently branded look and feel to your videos, which means you should also have a branded thumbnail. A consistent thumbnail will create brand and video awareness. Loyal customers and viewers will know they are receiving quality content when they see your branded thumbnail. This means they will be more likely to click and engage with your brand. The thumbnail is another layer of engendering trust and loyalty with your consumer. This is especially important if you are hosting a video campaign with a series of episodic videos.
This can be as heavily branded like Backlinko’s green background, white text with black background, Brian Dean speaking, and an icon in the corner. Or this branding can also be more subtle by simply keeping the thumbnails consistent, like how Ted Talk always uses a close-up shot of the speaker on stage.
The Bottom Line
Your thumbnails are the first impression of your video content and brand. Use your thumbnail as a lens into the content in a way that will encourage your viewers to click “play.” Your thumbnails should be as clear, professional, engaging, and branded as the video itself.
If you want a thumbnail that will intrigue viewers to push “play” and quality videos that will engage them— contact True Film Production. Let’s work together to improve your metrics and grow your marketing.
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Whether you want to launch an idea, spark a movement or simply get people talking about what you do, you have one shot at delivering your message in a way that matters. Let’s make sure you do it right.