The digital world has evolved over the years and fortunately under the difficult COVID times the industry grew and blossomed. No one likes them, but everyone clicks on them. Learn more about YouTube’s infamous thumbnails. A person covering their mouth with their hand looking surprised. You can’t avoid it these days; if you go on YouTube, all you see are video thumbnails showing someone with an overly exaggerated expression on their face.
Usually, it’s to show their reaction to something like a new product, enticing us to know more. But despite understanding this, the photoshopped image is, at best, annoying and, at worst, looks like clickbait. Why do all YouTube thumbnails look like this? And even though no one likes them, why does almost every creator still uses them? In this article, we’ll find out all of this and more.
Introducing the YouTube Reaction Face
A montage of YouTube video thumbnails showing people with big reactions on their face.
It’s called the YouTube reaction face, and you might recognize it instantly. On the thumbnail image of a YouTube video, there will be a screenshot of a face with wide eyes, a mouth open, and a shocked or quizzical look. You might also see large, bold text, question marks, and arrows.
In its early days, the trend of showing an image like this was a clear sign that the video was clickbait. The thumbnail promised a lot of intrigue, but the content wouldn’t live up to the hype generated by the dramatic image. Despite this, the trend continues to this day, even though both audiences and content creators find it annoying to look at.
Is It All Just Clickbait?
Screenshot of YouTube thumbnails from the YouTuber Marques Brownlee.
The problem is that this kind of thumbnail is great at making us click on a video to watch. But despite it starting as clickbait on the internet, that doesn’t mean that the majority of videos now aren’t genuine content.
One way to think about it is to imagine different levels of “clickbait,” as this YouTube video by Verulamium explains. On the one hand, you have true clickbait thumbnails that trick us into watching something that isn’t worth the hype. While on the other, an interesting title and attractive thumbnail set reasonable expectations for what we are about to watch.
The hard part nowadays is figuring out who strikes the right balance. Everyone from the most famous YouTube stars to your wholesome family-run channel use this style of thumbnail to make their videos look attractive to us.
Do YouTube Thumbnails Increase Viewers?
Many YouTube creators will swear that having a reaction face thumbnail does get more people to click on the video. It’s certainly a huge part of the equation for creators who want to get their hard work and passion out in front of people.
Since YouTube metrics were introduced, there are now real-time tools to see how many people view a video thumbnail versus how many people click and watch, also called the click-through rate (CTR). This gives creators hard proof that some thumbnails, like the YouTube reaction face, do far better at getting us to watch a video.
The YouTube Algorithm Likes Catchy Thumbnails
The YouTube algorithm is another reason why the reaction face thumbnail continues to persist, whether we like it or not. The best chance a video has of being watched is if the thumbnail is shown on the recommended video list. A high click-through rate and a stylized, attractive thumbnail help creators get their video on the suggestion list, which gives any video a chance to be seen by many people. So there is a real incentive for YouTubers to stick to using this thumbnail.
If you want your favourite YouTube channel to stop using the YouTube reaction face to “game the system,” sadly, there isn’t much of an alternative. YouTube is the largest video hosting platform out there. Sure, there are many alternative video sites to YouTube, but none of them have been able to topple YouTube’s position since it was founded in 2005.