Optimizing YouTube Video Thumbnails

In our last post in this series we took a look at a YouTube resource on Optimization.

Thumbnail Optimization

Strategy Overview

  • Create high quality, custom thumbnails for your videos that accurately represent the content.

Why It Works

  • Thumbnails act as miniature marketing posters for your videos – they attract viewers to your content and compel them to click through to watch.

How To Do It

  • Design and upload custom thumbnails for new videos. Update archive video thumbnails.


  • Search Traffic, Views, Suggested Video, Traffic.

Strategy Details

Thumbnails show up in different sizes and formats all across the platform, and outside of it. Make sure you’ve got a strong, vibrant image that pops no matter what size it is.

Visual Guidelines

  • Clear, in-focus, hi-resolution (640px x 360px min., 16:9 aspect ratio)
  • Bright, high-contrast
  • Close-ups of faces
  • Visually compelling imagery
  • Well-framed, good composition
  • Foreground stands out from background
  • Looks great at both small and large sizes
  • Accurately represents the content

General Guidelines

  • When shooting a video, take shots that will make great thumbnails
  • Always upload custom thumbnails with the video file
  • Design thumbnails that reinforce your videos' titles - make sure that together they tell a cohesive story
  • Make sure the thumbnail is not overly sexually provocative

Upload high-resolution thumbnails so they appear crisp and clear wherever viewers happen to see them.

How Metadata and Thumbnails Display Across YouTube Site and Devices

  • Channel Page Placements - Playlists show in the right column and on the videos tab. Featured Tab thumbnails are much larger than elsewhere on site.
  • Suggested Video Placement - Thumbnails appear in the right column that recommends additional videos for viewers to enjoy.
  • The Guide and Channel Feed - Channel icon appears prominently in the Guide. Thumbnails appear in subscriber feeds whenever new videos are uploaded or playlists are created.
  • Search - Video thumbnail, the first 60 characters of their titles, and ~140 characters of their descriptions appear in search results.
  • Mobile - Primarily thumbnail-driven given the limited real estate.

In our next post we'll take a closer look at Video Annotations.


Post Script: This content originally appeared on the YouTube Playbook - We have included it here as part of this series because we believe it is relevant and adds value to this series, and this series adds value to the playbook. It is not intended to indicate that we are the original author of this specific part of the Video SEO Playbook.... So, yeah, Google please don't sue me. That'd be swell! Thanks.





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