CREATOR’S GEM

YouTube channel makeover in 2023 — Drawing a line against fine design

My least performing videos on YouTube are dying over time. What can I — as the channel creator — do about it?

Najmi Akibi

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Showing two men in a car, where the one on the left looks like the unpopular version and the one on the right who’s driving looks cool. They are analogous to old YouTube videos with dying looks (left) and old videos but with new looks (right).
[Author’s original art collection]

Have you ever thought of what happens to children’s toys once the toddlers grow up?

80% of all toys end up in landfill, incinerators, or the ocean, hence is why some toy companies took the initiative to promote the practice of toy ownership transfer, where parents donate previously used toys to new beneficiaries.

Similar to the case of kids’ toys, YouTube videos may not be useful anymore to past viewers who aged over time.

But old videos with evergreen content can still be useful to drive traffic, and this is done by redirecting them to a new pool of audience.

THUMBNAIL UPDATES FOR OLD VIDEOS

👨‍💻 In order to rekindle dying videos, you’ll need to breathe a new life into them.

  • Make those vids appear young again. Transform them into a fresher look; give them a touch of new youth.
  • You may retitle the video, and rewrite the descriptions. But what I’d like to cover here is the thumbnail updates.

The question is, ‘Will a thumbnail update affect viewership?’

  • I’ll have to thank Reed Duchscher for this amazing sharing he posted on LinkedIN.
  • In that post, he observed the dynamics of Mr. Beast’s thumbnails from the same video over a period of time.

Let’s have a look at what the effects are:

Source: LinkedIn post from Reed Duscher

Ta-da! We’ve now established the notion that thumbnail updates do make a difference in affecting viewership. But hold on, let’s take a step back! Is ‘view count’ a reliable assessment metric to use in the first place?

  • A question on reliability is a question on trust.

During the first few days or weeks of starting a YouTube channel, I’m sure you’re able to recall the moments where you anxiously sat in front of the screen, observing the view count in the hopes that it would rise.

  • Did you notice that views for a video showed fluctuations?

I happen to have created a (faceless) channel myself (of which I don’t make publicly known anywhere). I still remember the time when one of my performing videos got its view numbers slashed. That feeling s**ks!

  • Viewership fluctuations occur every few hours or so.

And the reason for such fluctuations is because YouTube regularly audits views on the platform to ensure the numbers are fair. Some views are considered spams, and this has nothing to do with the channel.

It’s mostly because those accounts watching YouTube are considered ‘spam’ accounts for whatever reasons, which is not within the scope of this article.

Here’s a direct official quotes from Google (YouTube) regarding the matter:

We want to make sure that your metrics are high quality and come from actual humans and not computer programs. It takes our systems some time to figure out which views, likes, dislikes, and subscriptions are legitimate [..] After legitimate engagement events are counted, your metric count should update more often. The timing of these changes varies depending on a video or channel’s popularity and views. Keep in mind that we’re constantly confirming and adjusting engagement events.[..] Metrics are algorithmically confirmed to maintain fair and positive experiences for content creators, advertisers, and viewers. — Official source

In other words, view count is a trustworthy tool you can count on — no pun intended!

Now that we know we can trust the tool, yet we still haven’t established the connection between viewership and thumbnails. How do we actually know that the increase in viewership shown in the Mr. Beast’s case above is a result of thumbnail updates?

Well ..

LET’S GET DOWN TO THE NITTY-GRITTY OF IT

👨‍💻 Firstly, we have to acknowledge that viewership is multifactorial. We can’t make a 100% controlled experiment to single out a factor from the rest — that’s just logistically impossible to do.

Secondly, thumbnail updates themselves don’t directly affect performance. A video’s performance is determined directly by changes in user behavior. Such changes provide a feedback to the backend models, and models are constantly evaluated through validation tests such as user surveys.

In other words, if a thumbnail update makes a user clicks more (i.e. click-through-rate aka CTR increases), considering other factors as well, the video is promoted further, resulting in an increase in viewership.

On that note, here’s a direct quote from the official Google patent document relevant to the topic of viewer behavior:

[..] a data collection agent (DCA) is loaded to the player and/or to a web page that displays the video clip. The DCA passively collects detailed viewing and behavior information without requiring any specific input or actions on the part of the user. Indications of user preferences are inferred by user actions leading up to viewing the video, while viewing the video, and just after and still related to viewing the video. The DCA periodically sends this information to a central server where it is stored in a central database and where it is used to determine preference similarities among different users. Recorded user preference information may also be used to rate a video itself. — Official source

To translate the line where it says ‘Indications of user preferences are inferred by user actions leading up to viewing the video’ to everyday language, it means that even before you watch a video, YouTube is already collecting the relevant data.

And it doesn’t take a highly smart person to put two-and-two together, to deduce that CTR is one of the metrics used, and that CTR is affected by thumbnails. Read more about CTR and impressions here.

So, it’s fair to say that a change in thumbnails does indeed make a difference. The question which comes afterwards, then, is:

How can I ensure that the change is for the better, not for the worse?

GETTING RID OF ‘MY DESIGN IS FINE’ MENTALITY

👨‍💻 It’s no secret that brand owners (in this case, YouTube channel creators) typically know exactly what they want, design-wise. But that, in and of itself, isn’t the issue.

  • The issue is when they come up to the designers with a specific design idea and they want the output to be exactly the same, without wanting any input from designers at all.

Designers may actually add value, either through experience, or through a design thinking methodology. With these two things, it’s advisable to take in their input as they might have your target audience’s best interest at heart.

  • After all, your thumbnail design is not meant for you; it’s for your YouTube viewers. It’s there not simply for aesthetic reasons, rather it serves a purpose to entice people to click and watch. And this is why it’s important for the design process to be designed (no pun intended) to serve the thumbnail’s original purpose.

If you go to Twitter now and switch to the ‘Latest’ tab column and type in ‘thumbnail like this’ without the quotation marks, you’d see so many YouTube channel creators looking for thumbnail designers with the ability to replicate other people’s thumbnail designs. For privacy reasons, I choose to not screenshot any such tweets here.

When hiring a designer, it’s okay to break open your design ideas to be challenged. When we’re confronted with something, we’ll be forced to question certain things, and sometimes those questions are unheard of until they’re being brought up to the very surface in a conversation. The answers to those questions may help justify for or against your design ideas. So, keep a healthy, honest and open communication with your designer.

On that note, here’s some commentaries from an experienced designer for us to ponder:

[..] no matter how long you work in this industry, you’ll never completely escape situations where you have little control over client expectations. Someone will reach out to you about a project, and you’ll get the impression that they want to work with you — in particular — only to realize they just want the work done, and done the way they want it. [..] When it comes to design, too many people still see this industry as a trade. They figure that anyone can do the job the way they want it done, and are just looking to hire someone to execute their idea at their direction. — Jon Robinson

ENOUGH TALK, LET’S SEE SOME DESIGNS

👨‍💻 I’ve chosen four famous influencers in the ‘money-making space’ of YouTube, some of which I’m a fan of, as candidates to source old YouTube thumbnails from.

As a disclaimer, this is totally a fan-made work coming from me, and we’re not affiliated by any means. The idea is to take the least popular videos from these already-famous YouTubers and redesign the thumbnails to demonstrate the potentials of purposeful design.

  1. Silicon Valley Girl — 1,050,000 subs

Here are her least popular videos:

A screenshot showing 8 videos at the bottom of the list, with an orange arrow pointing to one of them.
[Source: https://www.youtube.com/@SiliconValleyGirl/videos] The arrow points to the video I’ve chosen for thumbnail redesign.

The images below show the before-and-after of my thumbnail redesign:

[Click to enlarge] Original thumbnail (left) before redesign, and the newly envisioned thumbnail (right).

What I like about the original design is that it has an overall clean look, but to sell the message it wants to sell, the look is too simple and it leans more towards beauty and aesthetics than it does towards functionality.

In my purposeful redesign, I’ve enlarged the ‘Live Streams’ and ‘More Money’ texts to emphasize the cause-and-effect relations between the two. The props in the background represent the activities associated with going live on YouTube, either by using a mobile device or a properly tripoded camera. (yes, I just made the word up, tripoded — please excuse me)

2. Charlie Chang — 890,000 subs

Here are his least popular videos:

A screenshot showing 9 videos at the bottom of the list, with a yellow arrow pointing to one of them.
[Source: https://www.youtube.com/@CharlieChang/videos] The arrow points to the video I’ve chosen for thumbnail redesign.

The images below show the before-and-after of my thumbnail redesign:

[Click to enlarge] Original thumbnail (left) before redesign, and the newly envisioned thumbnail (right).

What I like about the original design is that it has a clear contrast look between the front objects and the black background, but let’s not beat around the bush — it looks, and I say this with respect, amateurish.

In my purposeful redesign, I’ve considered some info I got when I watched the video. Charlie did mention that he (spoiler alert!) regrets not to continue the momentum after he made his first successful attempt in sales when he was younger at school. If he did, probably it would make him learn the ropes faster in his solopreneur journey today. I therefore embedded this message as a simple text on my redesigned thumbnail. It has a good color contrast, it’s short and sweet, it doesn’t give away much of the details of the story and it creates that tension & curiosity for people to want to know what he’s regretting about. I also like how my overall color temperature appears warmth & nostalgic (by the way, the background photo was taken from the snippet in the video itself), and the fact that Charlie’s almost unhappy facial expression aligns with the mood/emotion derived from the ‘I Regret This’ text.

3. Vanessa Lau — 684,000 subs

Here are her least popular videos:

A screenshot showing 12 videos at the bottom of the list, with a green arrow pointing to one of them.
[Source: https://www.youtube.com/@VanessaLau/videos] The arrow points to the video I’ve chosen for thumbnail redesign.

The images below show the before-and-after of my thumbnail redesign:

[Click to enlarge] Original thumbnail (left) before redesign, and the newly envisioned thumbnail (right).

What I like about the original design is that it has an overall clean look and the color contrast is great! I love the font used, too. Even her facial expression matches the mood of the message from the text. However, the ‘Nightmare Clients’ text is merely repeating what the title says — How to Avoid Nightmare Clients (Top 5 Signs!). The title is worded perfectly, but repeating it in the thumbnail creates information redundancy. That’s a big No-No! from me — it’s a waste of opportunity.

In fact, my purposeful redesign takes the opportunity to do for Vanessa what I did with Charlie’s thumbnail previously. I created a simple text just enough to arouse curiosity. The audience will ask in their mind, ‘What do I need to stay away from?’ It shall take them aback, and the red color signifies danger, sending them a message that aligns with the title of the video. It’s sending a message about working with nightmare clients — people whom you don’t want to get involved with and how to avoid them. This is an example of how a good title-thumbnail combo looks like; the information complements one another rather than one parroting the other. This Twitter thread by Mr. Beast’s ex-content strategist discusses title+thumbnail combo with real examples showing real results — highly recommended.

4. Davie Fogarty — 227,000 subs

Here are his least popular videos:

A screenshot showing 7 videos at the bottom of the list, with a blue arrow pointing to one of them.
[Source: https://www.youtube.com/@DavieFogarty/videos] The arrow points to the video I’ve chosen for thumbnail redesign.

The images below show the before-and-after of my thumbnail redesign:

[Click to enlarge] Original thumbnail (left) before redesign, and the newly envisioned thumbnail (right).

What I like about the original design is the simplicity of it, and again, the color contrast between the frontal objects and the background. In saying that, though, similar to the Vanessa’s case previously, we can see the text repeating the title. What a waste of opportunity, sadly.

My purposeful redesign keeps the ‘Live’ element in the thumbnail, because I think it’s important to inform the audience that the video is a live recording. I’ve also included the red arrow logo at the bottom right to show an upward trend. This is in alignment with the text message emphasizing the higher sales during holiday seasons. I applied what’s in design called ‘visual hierarchy’, where I start the text with a small font size, and slowly increasing it as I go through each succeeding line. The message is clear: Double your sales during Halloween or Christmas periods. Even though my color repertoire might come across as too varied, with the yellow, blue, black, green and red color combos, I stand by this decision because each color occupies their own space. Yellow represents cheerfulness, while blue and red together represent the Christmas spirit and feel-good vibes. Besides, I didn’t mess up the contrast between the background and the front despite having all these colors in the frame — perhaps the tiny exception goes to the word ‘Stream’ in the ‘Live Stream’ text which happens to be red in color appearing on top of a red background. But other than that, it’s a decent design. Could be better, I admit.

IS UPDATING THUMBNAILS ALL THAT IT TAKES?

👨‍💻 O’ hell no! To revive old videos, as I briefly mentioned in the beginning of the article, the evergreen factor is crucial.

When it comes to video selection for reuse, it’s imperative to be selective.

Unless of course, your channel is still relatively new that your overall collection size is still manageable.

Check out my next article where I discussed the 4 steps of a YouTube channel makeover in a more detailed writeup:

Consider to be notified in your email if you don’t like missing out:

Which one of my four thumbnail redesigns appeals most to you? How would you do it differently? Let me know by commenting below.

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Najmi Akibi

Whether you create ads, content, brands, or designs, I help you do what you do better. Let's hang out on LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/najmi-akibi/