YouTube Viewers EXPOSED!

October 12, 2007

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about “thumbnail cheaters” on YouTube. Each video’s default thumbnail is chosen based on its center most frame. Thumbnail Cheating is the practice of inserting a provocative image at that halfway point of your video. This image could be a half-naked attractive female, an image depicting a violent act about to happen (such as someone standing in front of a moving bus) or any other prepared image inserted only to attract views.

This practice violates YouTube’s Community Guidelines, which state, “Don’t try to cheat the system. No gamed thumbnails, spamming tags, or creating dummy accounts…”

Some users attempt to get around violating the Guidelines by mentioning the particular celebrity being shown for the thumbnail at that point in the video. Probably the most popular example of this is utilized almost daily by YouTube Partner, sxephil.

As part-experiment, part-joke, I decided to mention sxephil and his gamed thumbnails in one of my recent videos, while utilizing his trick and one of his recent provocative images. I did so in Episode Six of a YouTube series I’ve created called “Channel Surfing”. The series highlights three YouTube content creators each week that I personally enjoy.

The first five episodes were now the control group, having similar tags, similar running lengths and consistent titles/descriptions. For the experiment to work, the sixth episode, the video utilizing the gamed thumbnail, would have to be titled, tagged and described in a similar fashion. And it was. The only notable difference between the first five episodes, and the latest sixth episode, was the use of the thumbnail image.

Forty-eight hours after uploading Episode Six, here are the results of the experiment:

Cumulative views per episode:
Ep. One: 549 views (uploaded over two weeks ago)
Ep. Two: 431 views
Ep. Three: 356 views
Ep. Four: 136 views
Ep. Five: 515 views (episode mentioned on YourTubeNews)
Ep. Six: 5,981 views (after only 48 hours)

Episode Six, with its intentionally provocative thumbnail, had more than three times the views of all previous episodes combined, in just over two days. While it may be stating the obvious, an attractive thumbnail will land you more views. However, the episode had no more comments or ratings than any of the previous episodes. Proving that views alone won’t help you build an involved audience.

As an interesting side note, during the time Episode Six and all its hottness were on the Most Viewed list, I gained just over thirty new subscribers, a forty-eight hour record for my channel. Those viewers may have clicked for the cleavage, but stayed for the content.