Category Archives: Audience Development

Eye Tracking Reveals New YouTube Thumbnail Tricks

Mashable and EyeTrackShop did a study of several social media sites and buried in the data are two eye tracking studies on the YouTube homepage.

There’s little debate that thumbnails are critical to a video’s performance and this study punctuates that (especially in terms of subscribers, who get your videos through their homepage). But the study also reveals a little wisdom about what kinds of thumbnails specifically perform the best in a competitive environment. Here’s what you’ll notice:

  • All of the top thumbnails contained faces and humans. The most effective ones were close-ups.
  • The 3 most effective thumbnails featured women.
  • The most effective thumbnail, by far, featured a close up on a woman and what appears to be a bright red heart.
  • Most of the top 6 thumbnails had a high-contrast background in either black or white. Two of the top 3 thumbnails were actually completely in high-contrast black-and-white. Black-and-white thumbnails aren’t widely used so this is a really interesting discovery.
  • The least effective thumbnails appeared to be pulled from “bootlegged” footage from TV or a movie.
  • Thumbnail effectiveness trumps upload order and probably even title in terms of fixation.
  • It appears that after a user sees a thumbnail, they read the title of the video.

Another interesting note — people are quite likely to fixate on their own profile icon and the adjacent functions there near the top of the page — comments and inbox. So, don’t count those out as effective ways to reach an audience.

YouTube’s Secret New Related Videos Design

YouTube is occasionally showing users a new, re-designed related videos grid. You won’t see it at the end of every video (YT is probably just testing it), so here’s a peek.

I’ve seen lots of eye-tracking studies on video sites and users BURN the frame where the video is, so end cards like this get a really high click-through-rate. This is valuable real estate. Notice that share functions are much more hidden than before. YouTube is trying to encourage users to engage in longer viewing sessions — focusing them on watching another video rather than sharing, replaying or embedding. But sometimes giving users too many choices like this results in a poorer aggregate CTR, so we’ll see where this goes.

YouTube recently acquired Next New Networks and folded them into a “lab” part of the company focused on improving the platform for creators. This new design looks EERILY similar to the end cards that Next New puts at the end of each of their videos. Something tells me they had a part in this…

The main difference is that Next New’s end card is animated; the videos are playing versus the still thumbnails in YouTube’s design. This might up the CTR. But still — given the new redesign, is it worth creating end cards any more?

Update: Looks like this “end-screen” is here to stay. YouTube just announced it.