When people search for videos, they tend to do so very quickly – often in a matter of seconds. Same thing goes for email marketing, where marketers need to fight for attention amongst a flurry of work emails, newsletters, and spam. If you want people to click on your video, you need to catch their attention with an attractive and relevant thumbnail.
This tiny image functions as a link to your video, but it’s much more than that. It also acts as a poster for your video. Either it will convince people to watch, or it will deter them from watching.
In this guide, we’ll review what makes a good thumbnail and how you can test it to set up your video for success.
The Rule Of Thumbnails
Most hosting platforms will automatically choose a thumbnail for you – usually a still image extracted from the middle of the video. In most cases, that image won’t be good enough, so you’re much better off designing and uploading your own.
Below are some tips to help you design a winning thumbnail.
5 Considerations For Optimizing Thumbs
1. Explain Your Video
The first priority is to show potential viewers what your video is about. Of course, a thumbnail can’t accommodate a great deal of information, so choose an image that represents your video’s overall content.
2. Put a Title in Your Thumbnail
This is one of the few times that a word is worth a thousand pictures. Sometimes people eyes are more drawn to the thumbnail text than the actually title in the search window. Just don’t write too much; the thumbnail is already pretty cramped.
3. Choose an Enticing Image
Naturally you want an image that will draw the eye, and entice people to click. Some people have taken this to extremes, using swimsuit models for thumbnails in videos that have nothing to do with swimsuits (or models). There’s no point getting people to your video just to have them stop watching.
4. Make it pop
Solid backgrounds, bright colors, bold patterns – all of these will help to make your image stand out. Even a snazzy border can distinguish you from the other thumbnails in the list.
5. Fill the Frame
If your thumbnail includes a person, make sure they’re framed close-up so they’re not too small. Even a mid-level shot might be difficult to see.
Thumbnails ideally should be planned in the creative development process and considered during filming or animation, in case a specific image is required. It can sometimes be difficult to find a suitable frame in a finished video, especially when filming people speaking.
We’ve all had the experience of browsing videos, and we all know how important that thumbnail can be in the decision to click. If you’re already investing the time, energy, and money to make a video, putting the extra effort to create a winning thumbnail is a great way to get ensure success.
How to Add Video to an Email Newsletter
Including video in email is a proven way to increase conversions. But what is the best way to add a video?
A video can’t be embedded or attached directly to the email since video files are typically much too large. You should instead link to a video which is then embedded on your website which will also provide a way to track clicks and conversions.
There are two techniques you can use to accomplish this.
‘Click to View’ Image
You can link to a video which is embedded on your website or on YouTube with a regular text link, in the same way you would link to any other webpage. However, this hardly takes advantage of the inherent appeal of video content. Using a thumbnail image of your video instead creates the allusion of the video having been embedded directly in the email, giving extra incentive for people to click through.
A nice trick is to use a screen capture of the video right within its player and including the big play button. You would then add a hyperlink to the image the same way as you would with any other image in an email.
This assumes that your newsletter is being sent as an HTML email, as images cannot be embedded directly in a plain text email. Be sure to include appropriate text (eg. “Watch video on YouTube”) for the ‘Alt’ and ‘Title’ tags in the image, in case the viewer has images disabled in their email software, as this text will appear in its place instead of simply an empty box.
It might be a good idea to also include a regular text-based hyperlink to the video underneath the image, just in case.
Animated GIF Image
A nice variation on the ‘Click to View’ image is using an animated GIF instead of a regular JPG image. GIF images allow you to include multiple frames of the video as an animation, simulating the effect of a video.
Note that this is not meant to act as alternative to the video itself as there is no support for sound content and you typically can’t achieve a frame rate of much higher than 10 frames per second (as opposed to 24-30 per second for regular video). GIF images also ‘play’ automatically upon loading and cannot be controlled. They also don’t seem to function on mobile email clients due to the increased CPU load required and typically result in much larger file-sizes than JPG images.
Side Note: Embedding Videos in a Blog
Unlike an email newsletter, videos from YouTube can be easily embedded directly into a blog post, especially when using applications such as WordPress. The only problem with this approach is that when your blog is viewed using an RSS reader, embedded videos often simply show up as a blank spot in the page.
Using a ‘Click to View’ image is one solution, although it would force a viewer to click through yet another webpage when already viewing your blog on your website. A better solution may be to include an alternate text-based hyperlink underneath the embedded video (eg. “Can’t see the Video? Click here…”).
Using A/B Split Testing
Will an image of a person work better than a close-up on your product? How about text in your thumbnail explaining what the video is about?
If you’re unsure what kind of thumbnail might yield the best results, why not setup a controlled experiment to see which one works best?
By setting up different versions of a landing page, each with a different version of your video embedded, you can then compare the results. You might find that one version has a better retention rate or is better for conversions. You never know until you try!
Below are 5 things you may want to test in order to optimize your thumbnails to get more clicks.
5 Things to A/B Test
1. Thumbnail Image
Video hosting platforms will automatically generate a thumbnail for you, but that image won’t necessarily be relevant, so you’re much better off designing and uploading your own.
Will an image of a person work better than a close-up on your product? How about text in your thumbnail explaining what the video is about? Thumbnails act as a poster for your video and can make a huge difference in play rates, making them the best place to start with A/B testing for your videos.
Read more: 5 Considerations for Optimizing Video Thumbs
2. Testing Your Call-to-Action
Believe it or not, the difference between “Download a free ebook” and “Download your free ebook” can result in tangible differences in click through rates. The timing of a call-to-action within a video is also an important consideration, as it won’t be seen if it’s too late in the video.
This one may require a re-edit of your video, unless you’re using a professional hosting solution like Wistia which allows for custom CTA’s during the embedding process.
3. Testing for Video Length
It’s tempting to simply say that “shorter is better”, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, videos that are longer than 2-3 minutes may be shared more often, possibly because it takes time for your audience to establish a strong enough emotional connection for them to forward the link to other people. The Kony 2012 documentary is a good example of this.
Studies have shown that average viewer retention rates tend to be roughly the same for online videos around 3-4 minutes in length as 5-10 minutes, but that viewers decide within the first 30 seconds whether they will continue to watch the rest of the video – a clear indication that expectations matter.
So how long should your video be? The answer is probably something like “long enough, and no longer”. But one way to know for sure may be to make two versions of the same video and put them to the test.
Read more: The Long and Short of Video Length
4. Testing Placement and Size on Page
You’ve invested a lot in this video, so let’s make it the focus so that it can do its job, placing it ‘above the fold’ and free from other links or distractions.
Then again, the video may require some setup with the use of copy and a strong call to action (eg. “Watch the video below to learn more..”) in order for visitors to hit that play button.
5. Testing With and Without a Video
By setting up a ‘before and after’ test to compare the same landing page both with and without a video, you might actually find that the absence of video is better for conversions – although this tends to be rare.
Being able to quantify any increase in metrics such as conversion rates can help you accurately measure ROI for your video marketing efforts, hopefully allowing you to justify investing more in video in the future.