After just one day, it was already 25-times more popular than the channel’s other recent uploads.
Whilst community excitement for the video’s release played a large part in driving views and increasing click-through rate (CTR), the packaging of the video — the title and the thumbnail — helped to drive an initial CTR that was 375% higher than the channel’s average.
And it did so by using a repeatable framework.
Here’s exactly how we did it.
Step 1: Understand the Audience
One of the biggest mistakes creators make when trying to package their videos is failing to understand why people would watch — and failing to turn that why into a visual representation of the content.
This is part of the reason that cheap, external thumbnail designers will often have limited success. They know the title of your video, or the idea of your video, and they make a thumbnail based on that.
You have to go deeper to be able to answer this question: what packaging will resonate with this specific video?
In an ideal world, you’d have a thumbnail planned before you even make your content (so that you can take the thumbnail in the moment of recording, where needed).
This wasn’t the case here, so I asked Jacky Chou, founder of Indexsy and the creator of the video in question, to send me the final version of his content prior to publishing.
I watched through the video and broke down three key things:
What is the content? What does it show? What subjects are discussed?
Who is going to watch this? What are they interested in?
Why are people watching this? What do they want to achieve from watching?
With Indexsy’s video — a case study about buying backlinks to websites to see if it helps them rank more highly in Google — I decided upon:
The what: Buying from a range of marketing services to see which is best, and if any of the services are even worthwhile.
The who: Internet marketers that want to know if the services will help them.
The why: People want to get more website traffic and make more money.
Now that we had the what, who and why, I could come up with a title and thumbnail that work in synergy to maximize curiosity and drive clicks.
Step 2: Find Inspiration
When trying to come up with a title and thumbnail idea, you rarely have to reinvent the wheel.
On rare occasions, a title will write itself because the idea is so impressive or unbelievable.
For example, ‘I Built The World’s Tallest Skyscraper’.
If you actually built the world’s tallest skyscraper and you recorded the process, you don’t really need to find any inspiration for a title because the idea is already incredible and people will probably be interested. It’s extreme and shocking enough to get attention.
Something like ‘I Made A Cake’ would not have the same effect, so I’d recommend using other videos for inspiration on what your cake-making video could be called.
Because the skyscraper title basically writes itself, you might think you wouldn’t need inspiration for a thumbnail. Following the same logic, you can simply show off the enormity of your skyscraper, right?
However, it may help to research other videos where people have already built really big things — even in totally different niches — so you know the exact way you want to show off your skyscraper in the thumbnail.
I put “I built the world’s tallest” into YouTube search, hit enter, and found a good thumbnail and a great thumbnail:
The first video in that example has 1 million views from 814,000 subscribers. If a video has more views than the channel has subscribers, especially at larger numbers, it’s always an impressive result.
But the second video in the example has 32 million views from 1.1 million subscribers. Over 29-times more views than subscribers — at large numbers! That’s insane.
With that in mind, we can assume the packaging of the second video is pretty darn good.
You could use it for inspiration when showing the scale of the tallest skyscraper you’d just built; instead of showing your large skyscraper, you could show how the size compares to the Empire State Building and the Burj Khalifa.
Scientific fact: the difference between a good thumbnail and a great thumbnail could be 31 million views. Source: Dr Luke Jordan, founder of Creator Kingdom, not a real doctor.
When looking for inspiration for Indexsy’s video, I found this from a popular creator in the ‘make money’ niche, Biaheza:
His video ‘I Spent 8 Hours Using Money Making Apps’ has 2.4 million views, around 2-times his current subscriber count, but was uploaded 3 years ago.
We can safely assume that he had a lot less subscribers when he originally uploaded this video, so the idea and packaging was even more popular than our numbers suggest.
I used this video for inspiration because:
- It followed basic thumbnail principles with good color contrast
- I could recreate it without being present during filming or editing
- It was a similar idea to Indexsy’s video; ‘I spent X on Y and these were the results‘
- It had a similar audience to Indexsy’s video; people wanting to make money
- We know it worked
The final point is the most important. We don’t want to take inspiration from a title and thumbnail that looks nice but didn’t deliver results.
YouTube packaging is psychological, and we already have a concept that is proven to resonate with people. This was an excellent contender to model our thumbnail on.
We can take the elements used, as well as the exact physical layout, to create our own thumbnail.
Remember to take inspiration, not the whole idea.
We’re not here to plagiarize like the example above that copied the title verbatim and used the exact same thumbnail format, whilst adding the probably-unintentional disrespect of an 8-minute-and-1-second video length.
If you’re unaware, 8 minutes is the minimum length required for midroll ads to show in videos. Many creators will intentionally stretch a video to this length because more ads equals more money.
Step 3: The Title
Now that we have relevant inspiration for packaging, and an understanding of our audience, we can come up with a title.
Again, in an ideal world, you’d have both your title and thumbnail planned before making a video. I was only involved in the packaging process after-the-fact. I’m sure many of you leave your titles and thumbnails until later in the process, too. 🙂
Because I knew that Jacky wanted a viral angle for this, I also took inspiration from the king of viral videos, Mr Beast. Yes, you can be inspired by creators from all niches as long as you make it relevant for your video and your audience.
The Biaheza title was ‘I Spent 8 Hours Using Money Making Apps’.
Or, more simply, the format was ‘I Spent X on Y’. Nothing more was needed to make the video a massive success.
Mr Beast does something very similar with his titles:
- I Survived 50 Hours in Antarctica
- I Didn’t Eat Food For 30 Days
- I Spent 50 Hours In Solitary Confinement
There’s never any added detail.
That’s not to say additions like ‘…And It Changed My Life Forever’ or ‘(Shocking Results)’ don’t have a place, but I didn’t think they were needed here.
Jacky had spent $10,000 on backlinks. In his niche, that’s an impressive study that will turn heads and get attention.
My suggested title was simple: ‘I Spent $10,000 on Backlinks’.
My initial reservation was that backlinks might be too niche of a topic but Ahrefs* search volume data says that ‘backlinks’ is searched 54,000 times per month globally, with ‘linkbuilding’ searched 13,000 times. This quick piece of research gave me the confidence to go with it.
*No affiliation, I am a paying customer.
Step 4: The Thumbnail
With thumbnails, it’s easy to fall into the trap of repeating what you’ve already said in the title, or writing out what you couldn’t say due to character constraints.
Your thumbnail is your chance to do something different to your title in a way where both work in harmony.
Your title can be your ‘what’. The thumbnail can show your ‘who’ and ‘why’. This doesn’t guarantee harmony (or synergy) because you still need the title and thumbnail to have an obvious connection, but it can certainly help.
The most important thing to remember is who will be interested in this video and why they’ll be interested in it. What are the elements that will resonate with them?
We return to the Biaheza thumbnail that we used for inspiration:
The ‘what’ of this thumbnail is that Biaheza spent a lot of time on his phone trying to make money. This is expressed visually by pointing to a phone in his hand, and the expression on his face has the feeling of “I can’t believe this worked!”
He doesn’t need to include “8 HOURS ON MY PHONE!!!” or “I MADE HOW MUCH???” in big text, so he doesn’t. Take note.
The ‘who’ is the average person on the street, skewing slighter younger in age. The PayPal background will feel very familiar to them and it’s relevant to the idea, as many apps would probably pay out via this platform.
The ‘why’ is people want to make money. A dollar figure in the background is blurred but shows a balance of $3,062.60 (or a figure very similar to this if my eyes are deceiving me) and this will resonate with the intended audience.
The dollar figure is intentionally pixelated whilst still being readable, e.g. you can see he’s trying to suggest he made $3,000+ from his experiment.
This isn’t accurate, he actually made $17.11 (spoiler alert).
It verges on clickbait but I think it falls on the side of OK — only just on the right side — because he never sold you on the promise that he’d made a lot of money, he just hinted at it. The title isn’t ‘I got rich using mobile apps‘ which would be a lie.
I planned to recreate each element of Biaheza’s thumbnail for Indexsy’s video, tailoring it to his content idea and audience.
This is the concept I came up with:
Please note: I am not a designer (as you can probably tell). I’m a concept guy.
The ‘what’ is the money being spent, or burned, in this expensive experiment. It’s the ‘I spent $10,000’ in visual form.
I told Jacky to buckle up for the cringefest and to send me some pictures of himself holding cash, wearing dark clothing because this would contrast nicely with my planned background in the exact way Biaheza did.
The ‘who’ is internet marketers. The blue on white graph with faint grey lines, replicating Google Analytics, is extremely familiar to people in this field. A graph going up-and-to-the-right would still resonate with people that didn’t know what Analytics was, too.
I hand drew (or mouse drew) the graph in Photoshop using the paintbrush tool and fill bucket. You don’t have to overcomplicate things.
The ‘why’ is people want to grow their traffic as quickly as possible. This is expressed by a sharp increase in traffic on the graph and a ‘DAY 1’ to highlight that shortly after the experiment started, traffic started going up.
Just like with the Biaheza video, I straddled the line between ‘artistic license’ and ‘clickbait’ by adding a pixelated ‘250,000’ subtly in the top right corner, hinting that traffic could have gone as high as 250,000 visitors.
It felt a bit dirty and you can’t get away with this very often, and I generally don’t recommend doing it.
I don’t think we sold people on the promise that the experiment led to 250,000 visitors, though, just hinted at it. And it was so small that many wouldn’t even notice it. The video’s experiment led to a traffic increase and that’s what it shows.
Hey, my sole task was to get clicks with the title and thumbnail. Don’t hate the playa.
Happy with my concept, I suggested that Jacky should pass it to his designer and ask him to recreate it with a higher quality of editing than I’m capable of.
To my surprise, he published the video with my concept image as the thumbnail…and it started to fly.
This video launched with a CTR that was 375% higher than the channel average.
It became the most popular video on the Indexsy channel after 1 day, with plenty of visits coming from YouTube recommendations and other YouTube features:
Credit to Jacky for building the hype around the project and driving relevant external views to the video, and I think the packaging of the video played a crucial role in its performance too, especially as the thumbnail was also used on other platforms outside of YouTube.
My next task is to convince Jacky to go through the Explode on YouTube course within Creator Kingdom to get his retention skyrocketing too. 🙂
CTR drives traction, but retention+CTR is what turns a video with traction into a viral hit.