Choosing Your Perfect YouTube Video Thumbnail

otter babies

Do you have the next great viral video? Do you have a video of otters? If you answered yes to the second question, you have the next great viral video. If you answered no to the second, we have some work to do, and most of that work involves tricking people into thinking that your video will have interesting content/possibly contain otters.

Nope. Still not Tom Hiddleston.

Nope. Still not Tom Hiddleston.

When you upload a YouTube video, it usually gives you the choice of three thumbnails to choose from. The one you choose will represent your video when it faces the masses of people who will scroll past it, so you need to choose wisely. For example, in the much-hated cover that I did of Flo Rida’s “Can’t Believe It”, I got to choose from three frames that managed to capture various stages of awkward motion. If you’ve never seen a still image of someone’s mouth that was taken from a video, it always looks like they’re trying to catch a piece of invisible fruit in their mouth, but they’ve only been told what shape the fruit will be in in the last millisecond. Combine that with the fact that neither I, nor do any of my friends, look like a wryly smiling Tom Hiddleston, and you have a formula for properly ignoring something on the internet.

When you choose your thumbnail, you must look for one of three criteria. Now, what you have might not fit into these, and that’s okay. It just means that you won’t be an internet success and will have to finish college like everyone else. The road to a YouTube partnership success is paved with sketch comedy groups that developed two videos before giving up and trying to spend more time with their girlfriends. You’ll have to be a brick among the foundation, a foundation that is constantly growing, and when I say it like that, it doesn’t sound so lonely, does it?

puppy charging

The first criterion is small animals, preferably many or one in plain sight. If you have one in plain sight, make sure that it’s looking directly at the viewer. It might be a great video, but if you’ve chosen a still image of the dog turned around, you’ll have to rely on people to actually read the title of the video to find out if they want to click on it, and that is too much work. Most “Thumbs Downs” on YouTube are less due to the quality of the video, and more due to that video not being what the viewer wanted, because the viewer didn’t read the title. If the viewer wanted to listen to “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, and clicked on a video that simply had the Avicii logo as its thumbnail, they’ll give it a thumbs down when someone’s dubstep remix starts playing. It’s not their fault that the wrong video started playing when they didn’t click the right one. Also, some poor kid’s DJ career has been ruined.

If you want to make your dog famous, put him front and center. And if you have a group of puppies, make sure that they’re either clumped together, or doing something that the internet identifies as cute. This includes “nuzzling”, or better yet “charging.” If they’re not doing anything special, you’re still on the right track. Having more than one puppy in the same shot gives your video a supreme upper hand by default.

The second criterion is a hot girl next to some logo. You see, there are about a thousand YouTube channels devoted to “Geek News”, and each one has their token hot girl. The hot girl is mainly in one of two poses: 1) They look pleasantly surprised, as if they suddenly realized that the entire internet is watching them, or 2) they look like they’re absolutely befuddled by the logo, usually one signifying a popular video game franchise, beside them.

Because they want the YouTube videos to be shared, and because they know that it will probably look weird to open a thumbnail that just shows a close-up of a cute girl in the coffee shop, they show what I like to call “Starbucks Safe Sexy.” Starbucks Safe Sexy includes no skimpy clothing, but appeals to the “Geek” demographic by putting the girl in some kind of geek-related merchandise. 99% of the time, this is a Tri Force logo. The other 1% of the time, it’s anything else video gam-ey. This draws the question: is that all it takes to make geeks click a link? A girl that they don’t know, nor will they ever know, wearing a shirt with a Mario mushroom on it? The answer is a positive one, because every geek culture YouTube channel makes sure to put an energetic girl next to the words “Resident Evil,” instead of a screenshot from the game. I’m all for hot girls telling me the latest news, but most of the time, the hot girl is the selling point, rather than the content it’s marketing. Thus, no one gets taken seriously – not the cute girl who likes geek stuff, nor the channel. In the end, it’s just a hot girl and a Pokeball jpeg.

In retrospect, I hate this criterion.

In retrospect, I hate this criterion.

The third criterion is that of someone expelling some form of bodily fluid, or about to expel that fluid. This can mean more than just throwing up. If you have an image of a man flying off his motorcycle that he tried to jump between two buildings, by all means, go with that one, because, if nature had its way, his fluids would be expelled all over the ground and the walls next to him. This is YouTube, so you probably won’t see the stain where Paul used to be due to the magic of helmets, but humans are biologically predisposed to associate gravity with all the parts of a person that gravity hates, splintering away and towards each other and the ground in violent fashion.

So, look at those three and pick your YouTube video thumbnail. Note that these criterions do not apply if the video is that of an otter. If you’re playing for keeps, never bet against the otter.

-Daniel

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