YouTube’s Thumbnail Algorithm, Explained (2024)

Article last updated on:
June 03, 2024

The YouTube thumbnail algorithm isn’t public, but it’s clear that thumbnails play a big role in getting clicks.

This guide explores how it works.

Is there an Algorithm for Thumbnails?

There isn’t a specific “thumbnail algorithm” on YouTube. However, a great thumbnail helps you win in the broader algorithm for your whole channel’s performance.

Essentially, thumbnails are part of YouTube’s larger algorithm.

How does YouTube’s Thumbnail Algorithm work?

The answer is: Nobody really knows!

A sure thing is that the Thumbnail Algorithm loves it when you stick to 1280×720 size, keep it simple, and show what the video is really about.

These are great thumbnail examples, all loved by the algo:

The next section focuses on what the best thumbnail for the algorithm looks like.

Let’s go!

Best Thumbnail for the YouTube Algorithm

The best thumbnail for YouTube’s Algorithm must be 1280×720 pixels and have short text that can be read on across all screen sizes.

  • Question: “What is the best thumbnail for YouTube algorithm?”
  • Answer: The best thumbnail for YouTube’s algorithm must be the right size, accurately presents the video’s content, and is relevant to the time being.

This table should make it easier to grasp:

What to useHow to win the algorithm
1. Vivid ColorsUse bright, contrasting colors to stand out in the feed.
2. High ContrastHigh contrast between elements grabs attention.
3. Clear FacesShowing expressive faces can evoke curiosity and emotion.
4. Text OverlaysUse minimal, bold text to complement, not overshadow, the image.
5. BrandingConsistently include logos or color schemes for brand recognition.
6. ResolutionOpt for high resolution (1280×720 pixels minimum).
7. SimplicityKeep it clear. One clear focal point is key.

You have to get it all right to be the best in the algorithm’s eyes — so, let’s break down some of the most important elements.

1. Grab attention

  • High contrast and bright colors: Make your thumbnail pop against the background, avoiding colors that blend in with YouTube’s branding (red, white, black).
  • Clear and concise text: Briefly tell viewers what your video is about in a large, easy-to-read font.
  • Intriguing visuals: Use high-quality images that represent your video’s content or use curiosity gaps to pique interest (e.g., surprised expressions, questions).
  • Emotions: Use your face to tap into emotions like excitement, fear, or curiosity to grab viewers’ attention.

2. Make it clear

  • Relevancy: The thumbnail should accurately represent the content of your video. Avoid clickbait tactics.
  • Branding: Consider incorporating your channel’s branding elements (colors, fonts, logo) for recognizability.

3. A/B Test

Illustration of thumbnail testing on YouTube
  • Test different thumbnails: A/B testing with different thumbnail options can help you see what resonates best with your audience.
  • Optimize for mobile: Most YouTube views come from mobile devices, so ensure your thumbnail looks clear and uncluttered on smaller screens.
  • Follow YouTube’s specs: Use the recommended dimensions (1280×720 pixels with a minimum width of 640 pixels) and file size (under 2MB).


1. Does changing the thumbnail effect the algorithm?

Yes, changing the thumbnail can affect the algorithm. Thumbnails are like the cover of a book; they can entice viewers to click on your content.

A great thumbnail can improve click-through rates, which is a signal to the algorithm that your content is engaging. This can lead to better visibility and recommendation of your content by the platform.

2. How does YouTube pick a thumbnail?

YouTube automatically generates a few thumbnail options for your video based on different frames from the uploaded content.

The choice of thumbnail is crucial because it significantly influences click-through rates, impacting how often your video is recommended by YouTube’s algorithm.

This also answers: “What is the algorithm behind the YouTube thumbnail picker?”

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.