Text on YouTube Thumbnail? – Expert’s Answer (2024)

Article last updated on:
June 03, 2024
  • Should you have text on a YouTube thumbnail?
  • Do thumbnails with text get more views?
  • What do you even write on a thumbnail?

We’re answering all of these questions in this guide.

Key Takeaways

✅ When to Use Text ❌ When Not to Use Text
1. Clarity for complex topics1. Self-explanatory image
2. Intrigue with questions or teasers2. Simple & minimalist style
3. Highlight key points3. Emotional impact
4. Briefly describe the situation4. Video teasers with mystery

Let’s break it all down.

Text vs No Text: YouTube Thumbnails

“Should you have text on a YouTube thumbnail?”

You don’t necessarily need to have text on your YouTube thumbnails.

Add only if the background image doesn’t tell a bit of the story and raise curiosity.

1. When to USE Text

You should add text to a thumbnail where the background doesn’t give enough context. Always keep it short, though.

Example of a well-done thumbnail:

YouTube Thumbnail with Text Overaly - "2023, A Look Back" from Vox
  • Not too much text: ✅
  • Bolded (great font) + Highlighted the keyword: ✅
  • Raises curiosity: ✅
  • Bonus → Logo + Title are also short and on par ✅

You may think this it short, but the views tend to disagree! Keeping it simple is your best option.

2. When NOT to Use Text

You don’t want to have text in thumbnails where the background image is already self-explanatory. Especially if it already raises questions or controversy.

Example for when NOT to add text:

Colorful YouTube Video Thumbnail
Flags already tell the story → No need for Text

When to skip adding text:

  1. Strong Image: If your thumbnail image is already super eye-catching and clearly conveys the video’s content, text might be unnecessary. A stunning scene, a funny reaction shot, or a product image might be enough to grab attention.
  2. Simple & Minimalist Style: If your channel branding leans towards a clean, minimalist aesthetic, text can clutter things up. Trust the image to do the talking and maintain a consistent visual style.
  3. Emotional Impact: Aiming to get an emotional response with the thumbnail? Let the image do the heavy lifting. A look of surprise, a breathtaking landscape, or a heartwarming scene can spark curiosity without needing text.
  4. Video Teasers with Mystery: Building intrigue for a mysterious or suspenseful video? Text might give away too much.

Thumbnails are all about grabbing attention in a quick glance.

TRICK: How To Know When To Add Text

A/B Testing is the way to figure out if your thumbnails need text or not.

This image from our Gaming A/B Tester should explain it better:

Cover image - YouTube AB Testing Tool For Gaming

A/B Testing for Thumbnails is figuring out which thumbnail is most clicked by your audience.

How it works: Just upload a thumbnail with text and another version of it without text → The software sends it to segments of your audience → Analytics tell you which thumbnail is better.

The best part? It works for old videos too — meaning that you can easily revive old content as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many words per thumbnail?

Generally, stay under 6 words. There’s no strict word count for YouTube thumbnails, but it’s all about keeping it short and impactful.

Here’s why we believe this:

  • Small Space: Thumbnails are displayed rather small, especially on mobile devices. Too much text will be hard to read and appear cluttered.
  • Focus on Impact: The thumbnail’s job is to quickly grab attention and convey the video’s message. Short, punchy text is more likely to achieve this.

2. Can I use emojis in thumbnails?

Yes, emojis are great in thumbnails — but just 1 or 2 per image. They’re small and save you from adding more words and overcrowding the image.

Great things you can add to your thumbnail include:

  • Emojis: Can add personality and highlight emotions.
  • Numbers & Symbols: Lists (“Top 10”) or percentages (“70% Off”) can be effective.
  • Strong Visuals: Let a clear, eye-catching image do the talking.

Test different approaches to see what resonates best with your target audience.

3. What do you write in a YouTube thumbnail?

In a YouTube Thumbnail, you want to write something that tells a bit of the upcoming story, yet not giving its essence away.

Include clear, bold text that teases the content.

Heads up: You don’t want to clickbait or lie through the thumbnail because…

  • People will see that your thumbnail doesn’t match the video
  • They click away
  • Your CTR goes down.

We don’t want that. Instead, we want you to improve your CTR through the thumbnail.


It’s always best A/B testing your thumbnails to see which is better for your audience. Here’s our last example to argue why:

  • Explainer videos or tutorials might benefit more from text than a “funny cat compilation”.
  • A clear, eye-catching image might not need text to be effective.

Thank you for reading this,
Thumbnail Test

About the author

David is the head of the editing team at ThumbnailTest. With his help, the editorial team is able to provide you with the best free guides related to YouTube thumbnails and A/B testing.