Your YouTube thumbnails are one of the few ways you have to entice viewers to watch your videos. These screenshots are often the first thing people see when browsing their recommended videos. However, they work best when they remain static and that is not always the case.
YouTube thumbnails can change for several reasons. Sometimes, creators change thumbnails to test them. Other times, they change because of browser caching, or because the video is still in post-upload processing.
In either case, YouTube provides a default temporary thumbnail until the video creator uploads their permanent custom one. By reading further, you will learn how each reason can affect the thumbnail displayed.
Reasons Why YouTube Video Thumbnails Keep Changing
Great video thumbnails are the key to a successful YouTube channel. The platform displays these videos still wherever and whenever it displays the videos in any of its numerous lists and directories. Thumbnails are so important that often become what you remember the most about the videos you watch.
Because of this importance, YouTube video creators put a lot of effort into finding the perfect thumbnails for their videos. Sometimes, they will use a prominent screenshot from the video. These thumbnails take less effort to do, but you are at the mercy of what YouTube video processing leaves as frames in the file.
If no screenshots work as thumbnails, the creator may opt for a custom thumbnail, which are image files uploaded separately to the video. As they are separate files, creators must design and produce separately as well. They are also subject to additional upload restrictions. They are a lot more work, but the results are usually worth the effort.
1. YouTube Creators Can Change Video Thumbnails at Any Time
While the creator debates over the thumbnail to use, YouTube will automatically create a default temporary one based on screenshots. These default thumbnails ensure that all videos on the platform have a thumbnail. Because these thumbnails are chosen at random, they are not always the most best or useful images.
As a result, creators have an incentive to quickly choose a permanent thumbnail. However, they may not always pick the best one in their haste for one reason or another. Fortunately, creators can swap in and out thumbnails on the fly for as long as the video is on YouTube.
2. A-B YouTube Thumbnail Testing
For instance, a creator may want to test the performance of several potential thumbnails before selecting a permanent one. During the process, they watch how their viewer statistics change after swapping in and out various thumbnails. The testing may require several iterations before the best one is found.
Pro Tip: Use YouTube Thumbnail Templates for higher CTR thumbnails.
You know a YouTube video is undergoing A-B testing if you see the title change along with the thumbnail.
3. The Original Thumbnail Had a Copyright Claim
While YouTube creators strive to produce original content, they are not always successful at it. They might on occasion accidentally include someone else’s content in their videos. When this happens, the original copyright holder can file a claim, causing the video creator to make changes which may include the thumbnail.
4. Your Browser Cache Reverted to an Older Thumbnail
Not all thumbnail changes are intentional. Sometimes, they are the result of technology. Many browsers and devices save images to memory to speed up page load times. When the browser needs to display the images again, it can just use the cached copies instead of wasting time downloading them again.
While image caching makes browsing the internet easier, it may leave you with older images that may no longer exist. As a result, you will only see the new thumbnails after the old, cached thumbnails expire.
The same problem can occur between websites. Web servers usually save local copies of external files to speed up their operations. This can lead to different sites using different images for their embedded videos.
5. YouTube Changed Thumbnail Rules
To improve its platform or to add new services, YouTube may alter how it serves video thumbnails. Sometimes, YouTube will notify creators of the update. Other times, they will not. Either way, the update may invalidate older thumbnails, requiring the creators to make a new one.
6. The Channel was Hacked
Luckily, hacking is not very prevalent on the YouTube platform, but it does happen. Hackers can take over a channel through various means, and they can alter everything on the channel once they have it, including video thumbnails. Once the damage is done, it can take months to fix and bring everything back to normal.
A thumbnail is the face of a YouTube video. It is the first thing you see when to click on the video, and how videos are displayed on the site. Because of this, creators put a lot of effort into finding the right thumbnails for their videos. On occasion, that means changing an old thumbnail for a better-performing one.