YouTube Rolls Out Thumbnail A/B Testing To All Channels

YouTube Rolls Out Thumbnail A/B Testing To All Channels

YouTube will launch a new “Thumbnail Test & Compare” feature for all channels over the next few weeks.

This tool allows you to upload and test up to three different thumbnails for each video to see which performs best.

How Thumbnail Testing Works

The ‘Thumbnail Test & Compare‘ feature lets you upload multiple thumbnail options when publishing a new YouTube video.

During the testing period, YouTube will randomly display the different thumbnails to some of the video’s viewers.

After collecting enough data, which takes around two weeks, YouTube analyzes which thumbnail generated the highest “watch time share” from viewers.

It will then designate one of three potential outcomes:

  • Winner: A clear winner outperforming the other options based on watch time. The winning thumbnail is automatically applied.
  • Preferred: One thumbnail likely performed better than others, but the results are less certain statistically.
  • None: No thumbnail emerged as a clear winner. The original uploaded thumbnail is kept.

You can manually select your preferred video thumbnail even if it isn’t the winning option.

For a full demonstration, see the video below:

YouTube Thumbnail Best Practices

As part of the demonstration, YouTube outlined best practices for designing and testing thumbnails.

YouTube suggests creators start by testing thumbnails on a limited number of older videos to get initial guidance. Then, apply any learnings to testing thumbnails for more recent videos.

For thumbnail design itself, YouTube offers these tips:

Balance & Focal Point

“Ensure your images are balanced with a focal point to direct viewers’ attention towards.”

High Contrast

“Utilize high contrast allowing your subject to stand out against the background in both Light and Dark mode.”

Facial Expressions

“If there’s a face in your thumbnail, consider emotion. Be expressive and consider how you want viewers to feel when seeing your thumbnail.”

Concise Text

“With text, remember that fewer words can be impactful while too much text can be difficult to process while scrolling.”

Depth & Blank Space

“When it comes to depth of field keep your background in mind and play with blank space.”

Rollout To All Eligible Channels

All channels can access the ‘Thumbnail Test & Compare’ feature in the YouTube Studio desktop application. To do so, the “Advanced features” setting must be enabled.

YouTube is gradually rolling this out over the next few weeks to all channels that have opted in and meet those requirements.

The company says it will provide updates on expanding availability, such as potential mobile app support, in the future.

Optimizing For Watch Time

In an FAQ addressing common questions, YouTube explains that thumbnails are judged solely based on their ability to drive watch time, not other metrics like click-through rates.

YouTube states

“We want to make sure that your thumbnail and content gets you the highest amount of viewer engagement, so we are optimizing for overall watch time share over other metrics.

We believe that this metric is the best way to guide your content strategy decisions & support your chances of success on the platform.”

Why SEJ Cares

The Thumbnail Test & Compare tool addresses a pain point by allowing true A/B testing. Previously, creators had to rely on best guesses or small-sample polls when selecting thumbnails for new videos.

By optimizing for watch time as the key success metric, YouTube is putting an emphasis on long-term viewer engagement over short-term clicks.

However, it’s understandable that some channels may also want data on how thumbnails impact initial impressions and click-through rates.

How This Can Help You

Smarter, higher-performing thumbnails could boost your content in YouTube’s recommendations and keep viewers watching more videos.

Video openers and thumbnails are the first make-or-break moments on YouTube, so having data-backed tools to perfect those first impressions could be a difference-maker.

Featured Image: Chayjitti Hongmanee/Shutterstock



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