Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Leo Wattenberg

Case studies: Title/Thumbnail combinations

Recommended Posts


There are a few resources on what thumbnails and titles should look like (if you haven't seen them, they're at the end of this post), so instead of going through the theory again, let's look and discuss some concrete examples.

scr-2018-08-02 12_41_24.png

At first glance, this thumbnail isn't exactly great: It has some black-blue mess in the background and white text and that's it. However, it clearly is successful, and not only because the channel, austinmcconnell, has a lot of subscribers - the video is roughly 4x as popular as his subscriber count, and 10x as successful as his regular videos. So what's going on?

What this title thumbnail combination does is the opposite of clickbait and how newspapers used to operate: It tries to get you to care about the details of a story by presenting the most astounding things about it first (instead of withholding it, like clickbait does). You get the information you need with only reading the headline (title) and subheadline (thumbnail), and you only need to read the article (watch the video) if you care about the details. And this story is interesting! How did non-disabled people participate in the paralympics? How did they get caught? Why did nobody notice before the competition? The only way to get answers to this is to watch the video.


scr-2018-08-02 13_06_16.png

This combination does two things:

  1. It throws a huge yellow rectangle on your screen. This makes it automatically stand out of any group of other thumbnails and is guaranteed to get your attention.
  2. It tries to get you with a contradiction: The title says "this is not yellow", yet, the thumbnail clearly is yellow. So why is the title saying that it isn't? The only way to find out is to watch the video. 


scr-2018-08-02 13_14_54.png

These combinations seem to do everything wrong. Not only is the title of the show - Hello Internet - abbreviated to H.I., the thumbnail is literally just a number, the same number can be found in the title again, and the rest of the title isn't super interesting. And you can already tell that whatever the video is about is going to take around 2 hours of your time. 

Yet: They don't need to. This is a podcast that also is hosted on YouTube, it doesn't really want to be found on YouTube, instead, it wants to be found via iTunes and other podcast apps. The content isn't time-sensitive, it's banking on having people stumble upon the show at some point and then binge-listening to the entire thing, and for that purpose, this combination is quite good: You can immediately tell where you'll find your next episode.

Further, the thing is ran by two YouTubers that have interesting videos and title/thumbnail combinations in their regular videos. This format basically is fan service for fans of their other channels, it, again, isn't there to be found by outsiders, but by fans of the other channels.

So overall: Don't make your thumbnails like that if you want to attract new viewers. But if you want to make a format that you only want your fans to care about, go ahead. The same is true for instagram stories, btw.


scr-2018-08-02 13_39_34.png

This thumbnail at first glance looks rather strange, and I don't think it's too compelling to click on if you don't know that this video is about how walls, floors and ceilings work in Super Mario 64. And I don't think it really is possible to make this connection without either looking at the channel itself or by having some degree of knowledge on how game devs would make schematics. If this information was included somewhere, this would probably be quite a good title/thumbnail combination as it immediately makes clear what it's trying to do in a fairly unagitated and sober way. 


scr-2018-08-02 14_06_08.png

Hello red arrow. 

Unlike in many other thumbnails where the red arrow points to the only thing that's in the foreground anyways, this red arrow actually sort of serves a purpose as this map has a lot of different colors on it, and you may not know which of the colors is Buckingham otherwise. Together with the title, it's a relatively straight-forward promise of what you'll see when clicking the video. The fact that it also has some comedic value isn't really visible here, the only hint on that is the "unboringed", which unfortunately is covered by the timestamp. 

Takeaway: Don't put text down there. 


scr-2018-08-02 14_17_44.png

This combination does a lot of things wrong: 

  • There is a lot of text in the thumbnail
  • The text itself is very thin
  • The text is repeated word by word in the title

Overall, it looks like exactly the standard corporate help content made by people who don't know how to make proper videos. YouTube's newer combinations are better in comparison:

scr-2018-08-02 14_20_31.png

The big icon in the thumbnail is the share icon that the title talks about, there is a person in the thumbnail indicating that there are, in fact, humans working at YouTube and not just algorithms, and the composition is relatively clear.


scr-2018-08-02 14_49_50.png

The title/thumbnail combination here looks like it's fairly straight-forward, as far as artsy things go, but there is something special here: This is not a custom thumbnail. This is a frame from around the 1:10 mark in the video. 

In my personal experience, I found that thumbnails that just are a frame of a video are fairly clickable compared to poorly done custom thumbnails with too much text or just episode numbers on nothing. 


scr-2018-08-24 18_54_34.png

Speaking of which. This thumbnail does a lot of things wrong: It has a lot of text on it, and the only differences between thumbnails in this "The next lebel play" series are the number of the day (which is covered by the timestamp here) and the background image (which is just a pretty picture that has nothing to do with the video; in fact, I don't believe that any of the characters depicted in the thumbnail actually in the video). The title then goes on to just repeat the thumbnail, but has so much information crammed into it, that the name of the series gets truncated. 

As such, it probably isn't too surprising for you to learn that while this channel has 1.5M subscribers, this video series only gets 20k-50k views per video and that virtually all other content of their is more clickable. For example: 

scr-2018-08-24 19_40_31.png

While this one is super basic and also rather repetitive (the only thing that ever updates is the number), it at least doesn't overwhelm the viewer with visual clutter. It goes a bit into what I've said with those other number thumbnails further up: You are unlikely to attract anyone new with this, though this one arguably is better as the viewer may get this recommended when watching some other "Dota Fails" video, so the viewer at least has an expectation that this is going to be a "fails compilation", but overall, this is more fanservice than anything else. 


Anyways, that's it from me.

If there are some thumbnail/title combinations you like (or dislike) in particular, feel free to share them below!

Learning resources: 



Edited by Leo Wattenberg
Added example

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Member Statistics

    Total Members
    Most Online
    Newest Member

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.. You can find our privacy policy here Privacy Policy and our terms of service available here Terms of Use