social media how toAre you frustrated by the default random YouTube thumbnail option for your videos?

Do you wish you could create something custom to improve your views?

Since December 2011, YouTube has been making some radical changes to their site.

Everything from the home page layout, website colors and even the look and feel of the video players have changed dramatically.

But none of these aesthetic changes have had any real impact on the way we need to be marketing videos on YouTube.

However, this latest change may just be the biggest game-changer that savvy video marketers can take advantage of! Introducing the Custom YouTube Video Thumbnail.

From YouTube's Support Portal, instructions for uploading a custom thumbnail.

A Little Background

In April 2012, YouTube quietly rolled out the option for all YouTube channels to become “YouTube Partners.”  This original YouTube Partner Program consists of a selective club of content producers with a large audience and a ton of views.

These original partners have access to additional features and options to help market their videos that no one else had (for example, the Custom YouTube Video Thumbnail).

Then YouTube announced that anyone could become a partner, and everyone rushed to monetize their channel and fill their videos with a bunch of distracting ads and 15-second commercials that slightly annoy viewers. Yet there were still no special partner privileges like the Custom Thumbnail option… until now.

YouTube has been quietly (and selectively) rolling out the Custom YouTube Thumbnail function to some channels for the past month or so.

What Is the YouTube Custom Thumbnail?

No change or update has had me quite as excited as this one!

Until now, YouTube randomly selected (and when I say random, I really do mean completely random!) three still images for you to choose from to use as your video’s thumbnail.  This means you are probably forced to choose one of the worst screenshots possible.

video thumbnail

You can now choose your custom thumbnail.

But this is changing. Select users can now upload an image of their choosing to represent their video.  These users can now choose a thumbnail for their video and this thumbnail will be displayed in search result pages, related videos and as the start image on embedded videos.

Why Is This SO Important?

This is a powerful new functionality for YouTube marketers.

One of the easiest ways to get more views on your videos is to have an appealing thumbnail image.  When you have little control of your thumbnail selection, you leave a lot up to chance.

appealing thumbnail image

Choose thumbnail images that best fit your YouTube marketing goals.

But there’s more.  YouTube actually measures the click-through rate (CTR) of your video.

In short, if your video is ranked #3 for your prospective keyword, yet everyone is choosing to click on YOUR thumbnail over #1 and #2’s thumbnail, chances are YouTube will bump you up in the rankings!

A good thumbnail = more views

Do You Have the Custom Thumbnail Option?

How can you get the custom thumbnail option?  I don’t have an answer for you.

I’ve seen new channels, old channels, channels with a lot of views and channels with only a few videos that have this new option, while others do not.

I haven’t found a pattern, and can only assume that YouTube is slowly rolling this feature out to all (fingers crossed).

To check if you’re one of the lucky YouTubers, head on over to your Video Manager and select the Edit button on any one of your past videos.

Below the three options for thumbnails, you will discover the Custom Thumbnail button.

custom thumbnail button

Click the Custom Thumbnail button and upload a thumbnail.

What if You Don’t Have the Custom Thumbnail?

If you don’t have the custom thumbnail option just yet, my recommendation is to be patient.

In the meantime, I believe monetizing your channel helps your chances—even though I’ve found non-monetized channels with this function available.

account settings monetization

You can enable monetization on your YouTube channel.

In your YouTube Channel Settings, select Monetization and activate it.

Here is my strong recommendation: Even though you want your channel monetized, you can select which of your videos will have advertisements.  You’ll want to deselect as many as possible.  I decided to simply have three or four of my oldest videos monetized.

Unless you are bringing in millions of views, you will not see a lot of money from this.  It’s better to focus your video efforts on bringing in new leads and customers through your funnel.

What if You DO Have the Custom Thumbnail?

If you discovered that you are one of the lucky few who have already been given this powerful marketing gift, pay close attention: You need to create custom thumbnails for all of your past videos as soon as possible.

It’s my theory that this custom thumbnail option is too powerful and it will be abused.  When that happens, YouTube may just take it away for good.

Find a graphic designer to go in and add a custom thumbnail to all of your past videos.

What Should Your Custom Thumbnails Look Like?

Check out this short YouTube video on how to create the “perfect” YouTube thumbnail.

The following are a few tips to follow to make your custom thumbnails as effective as possible:

#1: Make it Relevant!

Just because cute babies and pictures of pretty women get more clicks doesn’t mean you should use them.

If your thumbnails are not relevant to your content, your new-found audience may get angry.  Not only will they “thumbs down” your video, they will leave immediately.

YouTube tracks Time on Page.  And with an average time on page of just 3 seconds, your rankings and views will plummet.

make it relevant

Make the effort to choose thumbnail images relevant to your video.

#2: Find the Perfect Still Shot

Instead of using a random image, find a still shot from your video.  Take your time and look for the perfect shot that really describes what your video is all about.

This could be an action shot, or a close up of your face, or something that grabs people’s attention.

action shot

Choose thumbnail images that capture your viewers' attention.

#3: Add Text

Using photo editing software, add some benefit-driven text to this still shot.  People should be able to quickly read the text and know exactly what your video is all about.

thumbnail with text

This thumbnail image highlights the contents of the video.

#4: Add Color

Bright neon colors tend to stand out far more.  Incorporate bright, contrasting colors into your thumbnail so the viewer’s eye travels right over to you!

In Conclusion

Even though I’m really excited about this new feature, it doesn’t take away from the ultimate strategy for YouTube success:  Provide remarkable value!  As always, continue to deliver exceptional content to your audience and empower the viewer, and the results will come.

Go check your YouTube channel to see if you have the Custom Thumbnail option.  If you don’t, go ahead and activate the monetization feature on your account, and just be patient.

If you do have the custom thumbnail feature, you have some work to do!  Get those thumbnails made as soon as possible!

What do you think?  Leave your questions and comments in the box below.

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  • Awesome article James! I’m sure a lot of people are checking their Youtube accounts right now to see if they have the privilege of this cool new feature.

    We all better start following your tips soon! The cyberworld and social media changing so fast you never know what will happen tomorrow!

  • Wow, learning something new everyday!  Although I am having trouble with creating videos but this article will definitely be helpful in the future.  However, I have a question regarding to the importance of having a good thumbnail.  Getting more views is definitely good but will it really increase in ranking if it gets more view?  I thought YouTube said that they will stop using number of views of a video and start using time watched? 

  • $44796859

    Thanks for this great post, James! I have been using custom thumbnails
    for my videos for a few months now, and it has made a big difference. I
    even went back and added them to my older, most popular videos to give
    them a boost too, which I would definitely recommend people do! Check out examples of my thumbnails here:

  • I have the custom thumbnails and started making them for by back catalog already. When I want to grab a screenshot I use the Lightshot extension for Chrome. It’s the only browser extension I found that can grab screenshot of videos, most of the other extensions don’t work on videos.

    Thanks for the tips James! 

    Btw – why would you not want to monetize all of your videos? YouTube is going to show the ads either way, so why not take advantage of them? Even when they don’t show the pre-rolls, they will show the display ads over on the right.Those pennies add up!

  • oh, I cant make custom thumbnails at the moment… I will have to wait more..

    but, I think that people will really abuse this feature, I think an explosion of videos with misleading thumbnails is going to start… I love videos with real thumbnails, of parts of the actual video, not photoshoped photos likes those famous youtubers use….

  • $22641212

    Thank you for the great article, James. I have custom thumbnails option! How exciting!

  • BigJohnG

    Great Post, Thanks. Turns out I don’t have the option yet, but I did get to choose a slightly better thumbnail. Also from playing around in there I finally discovered how to add the title and my url to my video that I have wanted since I first made it. I’m definitely linking this post to my blog so all of my readers can enjoy this. Thanks again.

  • Hey James, Stoooked to see my fav video instructor writing articles as well. No wonder you can keep the tuition at VTA so affordable. Talk to you at your next webinar. Thanks for another great tip! 

    PS Can anyone tell me why my pic does not show. Logged in via Google.

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  • Thank you for this!  I’m checking often. 🙂

  • Hi James, I didn’t have the customize thumbnail button, activated the monetization option after reading your post and immediately the button appeared!  Thanks!

  • ZippyNut

    Hi there – just tested it and it only appeared when I monetized the channel.  So along with this feature and others such as links, helps with your business engagement.

  • Nate

    Although this is a cool feature one aspect of your article is incorrect. Thumbnails were not determined randomly. If you take the total time of the video and divide it by 4, the images at the 2nd, 3rd & 4th intervals are the designated thumbnails. 

  • brian park

    nice..great little trick that really works..

  • Mike Odden

    Thanks for a great tip and additional comments , am checking this out.

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  • Love it, thank you…I’m going to check it out for a client right now!

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  • Awesome! There is so much we can do with this!

  • James Wedmore

    Thanks John!

  • James Wedmore

    Thanks Terrence!!!!

  • James Wedmore

    yes, patience!  I finally got mine!  🙂

  • James Wedmore


  • James Wedmore

    …once upon time that was true.  YouTube has totally randomized it (perhaps they have some reason to it), but we have done multiple tests of uploaded the same video, and each time on different accounts different thumbnail images are chosen

  • Great tips for making videos more attractive and eye-catching! That simple custom thumbnail does open up a lot more opportunities for video marketing. Hopefully, this option will be available for most of users sometime soon?

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  • YouTube is not just a video site but increasingly a powerful social network, and traffic referral tool. It makes sense to enhance your YouTube channel to maximize the benefits for your brand. Don’t miss any opportunities to do so.

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  • Agree, youtube thumbnail is very important for marketing purpose.

  • Am testing it on our videos now but so far it seems to work flawlessly and quickly. This finally puts YouTube on par (from a business perspective) with the other video hosting services. Thanks for the heads up!

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  • I recently added a couple of videos to YouTube and noticed the custom thumbnail feature and let out a shout, I am surprised you didn’t hear me. This feature is long overdue. The lack of a custom thumbnail feature on YouTube was the very reason why I started using other video sharing services.

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  • ᅠᅠᅠ

    People used to abuse that very predictable system by injecting their “custom thumbnail” simply as a keyframe in the exact middle of their video, leading to some people spamming videos with very misleading thumbnails. That’s why YouTube started adding randomness.

    It’s still not completely random though, I’m pretty sure they’re still very near the 25%, 50%, and 75% mark respectively, but they add a little noise so that you can’t predict which keyframe it’s going to take.

  • Ejohnson.28

    I am not a partner, so when I clicked the Monetization button it went all the way through. When it brought me back to the video manager page it was like nothing happened. Do I have to wait for it to process? Or should it be working right away? HELP

  • Sometimes it may takes time to get activated for those additional features.

  • T K

    Hey, I monetized my account (but I only did two videos) and now I have the option for a custom thumbnail, but then how do I find the still image? I hope that makes sense. Is there a was I can just drag to a certain point in the video and make that my thumbnail, or do I need to go back to the video and make it into a still image? Sorry, I’m not tech savvy whatsoever.

  • Thanks for the great tips on how to add custom thumbnail to Youtube (and insight into Monetization)

  • Felipe

    I have a doubt about it, if I activate the monetization and I use a thumbnail(icon of the video) that it’s not mine, this will be against the rules of the monetization?

  • Boom x 2! I just activated the monetization option and immediately got the Custom Thumbnail button 😀

  • PeterJGregory

    As soon as I just monetized my channel, the “Customize Thumbnail” appeared. Thanks for the help.

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  • stu

    Do you know if I can “unmonetize” my account after I monetize it? Is that allowed?

  • Canary Diamond

    How about this: I had a great thumbnail, but today it is different. I didn’t change it, yet on YouTube and every site where I’ve embedded the video, it shows this new, worse thumbnail. I also have three completely different thumbnail choices than I did when I uploaded the video. Is there any way to get that original thumbnail back?

  • John Webster

    What a waste of time

  • Oz

    I changed my channel to be monetized and , yep it worked !!!


  • Vlad

    so.. James is this ‘one’ of the reasons why I am getting a whole bunch of ‘aliens’ subscribing me??

  • Brent Michel

    Incidentally, you do not need to monetize your account. You just need to VERIFY it. Google will send you a text or send you an automated call to make sure you aren’t a robot, and once you put the code in, the custom thumbnail button appears. Yup, it’s that simple.

  • Natalie Katy Katrina reed

    TYSM james realy good tips you are amazing! =O=

  • Natasha Leeman

    thanks for this! 🙂 I’ve just found that if you go into your channel settings & ‘verify’ your channel you should get the custom thumbnail option (i did this & it worked!!) 🙂

  • Samantha

    My custom your own thumbnail does not show up.

  • shen

    brilliant! Done it, thanks so much 🙂 (so glad I don’t have to monetise to get a custom thumbnail…)

  • Christine Dee

    I recently watched this video and they said that YouTube ranks videos by minutes watched.

  • e

    Thank you so much for this. I just Verified my channel and got the custom thumbnail option. Thank you for sharing.