Become a Writer Today

Jake Thomas of Creator Hooks Talks Headlines and Thumbnails

May 08, 2023 Bryan Collins Season 2
Become a Writer Today
Jake Thomas of Creator Hooks Talks Headlines and Thumbnails
Show Notes Transcript

When writing for YouTube, many top channel creators say the headline for a video and the thumbnail are the two most important things creators must consider. 

So, what can you do if you need help writing your headline and figuring out a complementary thumbnail? What other channels do you consider if you want to start a YouTube channel that complements your blog, book, or writing?

This week's interviewee is Jake Thomas. He's developed a fantastic product, which I recommend you check out. It's called Creator Hooks and Creator Hooks Pro. 

Creator Hooks is a free newsletter where Jake debunks or analyzes top YouTube videos, including their headlines, the thumbnails, and what made them go viral.

Creator Hooks Pro is like a swipe file where you can get in-depth insights into these videos. It's a real time saver for writing headlines and gives me ideas for other videos. 

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How Jake came up with Creator Hooks
  • The best way to use it
  • What's working on YouTube today

Even if you're not currently running a YouTube channel, the principles behind headlines, thumbnails, imagery, and so on come straight from the world of copywriting. You can apply them to other types of writing, including — yes, you guessed it — blog posts, newsletters, Twitter threads, social media, and so on.

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Jake: The main idea is knowing who your audience is, why they're searching for what they're searching, and what's the big benefit. It seems like people often want to cook fast, right? The reason they are searching is because — or the main big benefit is they want it fast. So, 15-minute meals, how to meal prep for the week in under an hour.


Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan: Writing for YouTube — a lot of top channel creators say the headline for a video and the thumbnail are the two most important things creators must think about. So, what can you do if you need a little bit of help writing your headline and figuring out a complementary thumbnail? What are other channels doing that you should consider if you want to start a YouTube channel that perhaps complements your blog, or your book, or your writing?

Hi there. My name is Bryan Collins, and welcome to the Become a Writer Today channel. So, I've spent the past year or so focusing on growing a YouTube channel for Become a Writer Today. I focused on growing a YouTube channel for a number of different reasons. Firstly, I've been writing online for nearly a decade. So, I wanted to try a different channel and a different medium, or I could explore different ways or different types of creative work. Secondly, years ago, I was running my site on the side of a busy job. Now I work on Become a Writer Today full time, so I had a bit more time to experiment with video. I certainly wouldn't have been able to do that years ago when I was working 8, or 9, or 10 hours a day in a corporate job. Thirdly, SEO is getting a little bit harder. If you spend some time writing content for a website, you got to follow specific guidelines about the headline, the sub headlines, and what the article should contain. Some of that creativity has been taken a little bit out of blogging. Now, the exception is if you're running a newsletter or a Substack. However, it seems to me that YouTube offers a bit more room for creativity. Finally, I have a body or a library of articles on Become a Writer Today, some of which would be added too if I could create complimentary videos. Because people consume information in different ways.

To be honest, creating or recording videos for YouTube is just fun, too. So, when I started exploring how creators succeed on YouTube, that led me to the importance of the headline and the thumbnail. That brings me to this week's interviewee. His name is Jake Thomas. He's come up with a fantastic product, which I recommend you check out. It's called Creator Hooks and Creator Hooks Pro. Now, Creator Hooks is this free newsletter where he debunks or analyzes top YouTube videos, including their headlines, the thumbnails and what made them go viral. Creator Hooks Pro is like a swipe file where you can get in-depth insights into all of these videos. It's a real-time saver for me for writing headlines, and it also gives me ideas for other videos. I wanted to catch up with Jake to ask him how he came up with the idea for Creator Hooks, the best way to use it, and what's working on YouTube today. Even if you're not currently running a YouTube channel and it's not on your to-do list, the principles behind headlines and thumbnails and imagery and so on come straight from the world of copywriting. You can apply them to other types of writing, including — yes, you guessed it — blog posts, newsletters, Twitter threads, social media, and so on.

I hope you enjoy this week's interview with Jake. If you do, please consider leaving a short review on iTunes. Because when you leave a review, it helps more writers find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. It does help up rankings for the show. And of course, if you really do like this week's episode and you know somebody who wants to improve their YouTube channel, who wants help with writing for YouTube, then perhaps you could share this show with them as well. I would really appreciate it.


Bryan: Jake Thomas, welcome to the show.

Jake: Thanks, Bryan. I'm happy to be here.

Bryan: It's really nice to talk to you. So, I've been using Creator Hooks for a few months now. I use it both to write headlines and also to come up with ideas for videos. But before we get into what are those, perhaps you could set the scene a little and explain why you decided to set up Creator Hooks in the first place?

Jake: Yeah, so, I used to be a channel manager for a fishing company. We published two videos every day, seven days a week. So, I had to come up with a lot of ideas.

Bryan: That's a lot of videos.

Jake: Yeah, it is. It was a lot of work to do. It's really kind of taxing in your brain to come up with 14 good video ideas every week. At first, I was really bad. I actually almost got fired because I was so bad at writing titles. I finally figured out the secret to writing a good YouTube title is just to model what has proven to work, either in your niche or adjacent niches. So, we were in fishing. We were kind of like educational fishing. So, I would find something in maybe like finance. So, it'd be like the '10 best credit cards for 2023.' We would do '10 best fishing lures in 2023.' Or in fitness, '10-minute workout to get abs.' This would be like 10-minute strategy to catch more trout or something like that.

I was just getting information from other industries and bringing it to ours. Then once I figured it out, alright, this works really well, and it doesn't really matter what industry you're in, I started put together a little newsletter. I send it out to a couple of people. They said they'd be interested in it. That was a year and a half ago. Then I quit my job about a year ago. And here we are. So, it's been growing well, and it's been helping a lot of people. It's been helping me, too. So, it's been great.

Bryan: Congrats. Congrats on all the success. What you're describing is almost like a swipe file, which is a copywriting principle.

Jake: Exactly.

Bryan: For collecting headlines and sales letters, or whatever it is that people have used and that has worked in the past. At what point did you decide or did you know that Creator Hooks was going to become something more than you'd send an email to perhaps friends and a few of your followers?

Jake: I went to a couple of conferences and just chatted with people about it. It started growing organically. I'm one of those guys who started a lot of projects online, and a lot of them failed. But this one just seemed a little different. It was growing faster. People were sending in screenshots like, hey, I used this title from your email last week. This video did really well for me. It was a 1 out of 10, which is a YouTube thing. It seemed to actually really work. It was cool because I was using it at my job first. I was the original Creator Hooks subscriber. That worked out really well. People getting results and it growing let me think like, wow, this could be something pretty serious.

Bryan: Fantastic. Could you describe to the listeners the best way to use Creator Hooks?

Jake: Yes, so, there's Creator Hooks and Creator Hooks Pro. Creator Hooks is a newsletter where I send out five video ideas every week, and break down how those worked. Creator Hooks Pro is a swipe file of all 600 or 700 titles and thumbnails. So, it's really to save you time. But you can also just get a lot of the benefits from the newsletter. It's not trying to really exactly dive in, like, I'm going to steal this idea for my channel from my niche. It's more about understanding the principles of psychology and what gets people to click. A lot of people will say, "Oh, can you please include more titles for their random niche?" That's not really what this is about. If you do that, you're always going to be a step behind your competitors. Because you're following what they're doing or what they're saying. There's definitely a time and place for that. But if you want to bring new ideas to your audience, just thinking a little outside of the box and saying, "All right. This title works for this niche. How can I use it for mine?"

Back to that fishing example. Maybe it's like in finance, '10 best stocks to buy in April of 2023.' Well, maybe okay. So, this is a list. They're talking about what's happening right now, talking about benefit. For a fishing channel, you might say '10 best lures for trout fishing or for spring trout fishing.' It's using the same principles, but it's applying those principles to your niche. People are the same. There's click triggers or what's grabbing people's attention and making them click. They're pretty much the same for all industries. You use them a little bit differently depending on your channel. But it's really just like the psychology of getting people to click. If you can understand that, then you can have pretty much infinite ideas for your channel.

Bryan: Yeah, I should say that I joined your newsletter Creator Hooks, and then I subscribed to Creator Hooks Pro. Now I use it when I'm researching or planning videos. You mentioned about the psychology of people clicking. That probably brings me to the click triggers, which I use quite a lot. Could you explain what the click triggers are?

Jake: Yeah, so, click triggers are just like triggers that make people click. Pretty obvious. There's like 32, 33. The main ones, they all pretty much fall under the three click-worthy emotions of fear, curiosity and desire. Most click triggers fall under those three. Curiosity is the most powerful one. There are a couple of different ways to build curiosity. It's so powerful because it's like a mosquito bite. You don't feel like, "Oh, I want to scratch this mosquito bite." You have to scratch a mosquito bite, right? So, you feel compelled to it. It's a need. To give your audience's brain a little mosquito bite, they have to know what happened in your video. It really goes for all content. Same with email subject lines. If you can build curiosity on your email subject line, people have to — they have to open it. They have to know what's going on. Same thing with blog post headlines, tweets. The first part of a Twitter thread is the most important. Just a couple of different ways you can build curiosity. You can open a loop. Some people will say this is a curiosity gap, where there's a gap between what you know and what you want to know. So, you need to fill that gap. It's also like a cliffhanger. Those are a couple of different ways of thinking about opening a loop. You can also reveal a secret. You can ask a question. You can be counterintuitive, challenging your audience's assumptions. So, that's a couple different ways to build curiosity.

Fear, it works really well. I mean, obviously, you see that on the news. If next time you're at the grocery store, if you look at all the magazines, there's a ton of fear — the headlines on newspapers and the news. People love fear. It gets people to click because it stresses us out. When we're stressed, we want to take action. The easiest action to take is to just read or click, click on your YouTube video or open up this magazine and buy it and read it. You can talk about drama. You can warn your audience. You can talk about their pain points. A lot of people, we want to talk about benefits. But when we're on YouTube, when we're trying to interrupt someone just mindlessly scrolling through YouTube, we can talk about their benefits, which often do well. But we can also talk about their fears and their pain points, and the things that they don't want to happen. That's a great way to stop people in their tracks, grab their attention, and get them to watch your video.

Then desire is pretty straight up. It's just talking about hopes, dreams, benefits, just what your audience wants to achieve. If you can use their desires in a very specific way that they will talk about them, that's the best way to get them to click. So, instead of 'how to make money online,' you might say 'how to make $10,000 a month online,' or 'how to make $10,000 a month on your YouTube channel.' There's an underlying prerequisite to write good titles, and that's knowing your audience. You need to know what their dreams are. You need to know what their hopes and their fears are. If you know them well, then you can use words that connect with them on an emotional level and that will stop them in their tracks, stop them from scrolling. As far as building curiosity, knowing what their assumptions are, what their preconceived notions are, and then challenging those. So, that's a big ramble on — it's mostly about fear, curiosity and desire. We can talk about some of the other click triggers if you want. But if you can master those three, you'll be pretty good.

Bryan: One thing I noticed when I was using Creator Hooks Pro is a lot of different channel owners take radically different approaches to the thumbnails. When I was starting out, I would just put the headline in the thumbnail, which I later found out was a mistake. Some of the best thumbnails don't even have text in them, whereas some other thumbnails might have a word or two of text. Then other thumbnails might have a different type of headline to complement the actual headline for the video. Are there any particular trends that you've noticed?

Jake: I will say that I'm mostly focused on titles, not thumbnails as much. We're just talking about psychology. So, it's the same for titles, same for thumbnails, same for blog posts, email, subject lines and everything. But with the title and thumbnail, how they work together, it's a missed opportunity or a wasted opportunity when you just repeat your title in the thumbnail. I'll often like to — maybe if I'm using desire and curiosity in the title, maybe I'll use negativity or curiosity in the thumbnail. So, thinking about it as like a one-two punch, how do they work together, how do they complement each other, instead of copying each other with a title in the thumbnail.

It really depends on your niche. A lot of them have text. A lot of thumbnails have text. A lot of niches, they do best with thumbnails with no text. So, it's not that really — it depends. I mean, my favorite thing to do is just find a couple of channels. Creator Hooks does this for you. But I'm a big fan of finding a couple of channels that are a couple of steps ahead of you. They could be in your niche. They can be in adjacent niches. They can be totally different niches, but maybe you like their style and try to model them. I'm pretty graphically challenged or visually challenged. And so, when I first started really trying to do better at thumbnails, there's like three or four channels that I really liked how they do their thumbnails. This was for the fishing company. I would think, all right, how would I make this thumbnail in their style? Eventually, I found my own style. But it took me a while because I'm not naturally gifted at that. So, I'm a big fan of modeling. Even someone's like — the spacing, the lighting. Is it a complicated thumbnail? Is it a simple thumbnail? Modeling is just like the shortcut to success on YouTube.

Bryan: Yeah, that makes sense. That's something that I've done as well looking at channels in adjacent niches. Have you ever considered looking at the frequency that some channels post videos, or perhaps the length of the videos that they post?

Jake: Yes, I have. I have thoughts about that. I don't know if these are totally backed up. But a trend that I've been noticing recently. So, with Creator Hooks, I'm going through channels. I'm just looking for outliers. If they average 10,000 views a video, I'm looking for that 100,000 view video. I'll go through maybe 1 or 200 channels a week looking for these outliers. One thing I've been noticing recently is that some of the longer videos are performing well. Maybe if the channel, their videos are 10 to 15 minutes long, a 30- or 40- minute video might be an outlier. I look at the title and the thumbnail. It's like, alright, these are on par with everything else. The biggest difference here is that the video is three or four times longer than the other videos on that channel. So, that's been an interesting trend. I don't have a concrete data behind that, but just something to notice. The videos that I've seen do well are not compilation videos where people are just putting 10 or 5 of their videos together and uploading them as one. One was like '50 tips for home crafts.' Each tip was two minutes long, so it was an hour and a half long video. It was interesting. I couldn't believe it has 900,000 views. This channel averages like 100,000. A little bit on length.

I typically have a dog channel. My videos are about 10 minutes long, which is pretty on par with the dog niche. I'm trying to go a little longer just because I'm wondering. This is just like my theory that maybe YouTube is looking for a little bit longer videos. But as far as length goes, I think it really — the most important part of this is to just make a good video. Don't stuff it with fluff. People are going to click off as soon as you say, "What's up, guys? Welcome to my channel." Then you start, "Make sure to like and subscribe." If you do all that stuff before you even get into the actual meat of the video, then people are going to click off pretty soon. You're not going to get all the benefits of people staying and watching, and YouTube pushing that.

Then as far as frequency goes, I'm a big fan of quality over quantity, so I would prefer — a quote that I've heard a lot from several different people is, it's easier to get a million views on one video than it is on 10 videos. I've seen that as, about a year ago, I tried to scale up my channel and produce more videos. But each of those videos were getting like 5, 10,000 views. Then I stepped back. I need to do a good job here. Because I was trying to publish once or twice a week. I took two or three weeks to made a good video. I put a lot of effort into the thumbnail. I put a lot of effort into the script and just trying to make sure it was a good video. That one got 90,000 views in the next two weeks.

Bryan: Wow.

Jake: I am a big fan of quality over quantity.

Bryan: That's an impressive difference between the videos. Also, when it comes to shorts, I guess people aren't clicking. They're just swiping. So, do the headlines still matter?

Jake: I don't know that much about shorts. The headlines and the titles, they're important. But it's also the topic of the idea or the main idea of the video. So, if it's a good idea, people are going to click the title. They're going to click on that video if they're long form. If it's a good idea, when you open up your short with like, "Hey, this is my idea. This is what this video is about." If it's a good idea, people are more likely to stick. So, yeah, I think it does matter just because it's a good idea. I think that's the most important thing.

Bryan: That makes sense. Have you noticed anything specific to niches that works quite well that maybe doesn't work as well in other niches?

Jake: I'll go a little bit broad here. With entertainment channels, using constraints work well and timeframe. It might be like, I survived in the desert with no water or something, or with only one water bottle. Adding a constraint, making that story a little more interesting, talking about fear. Fear works with everything. Constraints, negativity, timeframes, talking about doing something every day or 24 hours, and then also to just writing trends, what's happening now. Again, that works. That works well for pretty much every channel.

Then if you're trying to rank in search, if SEO is your big strategy, there's a couple different things that seem to often work well. But the main idea is knowing who your audience is, why they're searching for what they're searching, and what's the big benefit. Let's say, you're searching how to get a six-pack. Most people want six-packs fast. That seems to be the most popular thing, so including a timeframe. So, like How To Get A Six-Pack in Six Weeks or 10-Minute Workout for Six-Pack Abs. Then same thing with baking — not just baking, like cooking. It seems like people often want to cook fast, right? The reason they're searching is because — or the main big benefit is they want it fast. So, 15-minute meals, how to meal prep for the week in under an hour, taking note of what types of videos are ranking well.

If you're looking up how to start something, calling out beginners will work well. Obviously, if you're looking up how to start a YouTube channel, you're probably a beginner. If you started several YouTube channels in the past, you're probably not going to look that up. So, in the title, if you say 'how to start a YouTube channel for beginners,' people are going to feel like, "Hey, this video was made for me. I am a beginner." Also timeliness, that's usually dropping the current year in there. Again, how to start a YouTube channel. YouTube is changing all the time. So, "How to start a YouTube channel for beginners in 2023" is probably going to rank even better because that tells the audience hey, this is working right now.

Same thing with products, especially digital products, you might be looking up best laptops. Well, laptops are changing every year. So, what probably going to rank is "Five Best Laptops in 2023." Because that lets the audience know that those are working right now. There are a few different click triggers. They seem to identify who the audience is like if they're a beginner, or why, what the big benefit is, like timeframe. Just searching what you're trying to rank for, and then noticing what is already ranking and then see how you can incorporate that as well into your video.

Bryan: You touched on an interesting point about SEO. I actually looked and came across the thumbnail before this video. The headline is 'Seven SEO predictions for 2023.' I'm wondering if that particular person go after the keyword 'SEO predictions', or perhaps do they just have a video they wanted to record about SEO, and then find the keyword afterwards.

Jake: I would assume 'SEO predictions' doesn't have lots of search volume. One way to build curiosity is to talk about the future, because the future is obviously unknown, and we want to know about the future. I think that video is published either the beginning of 2023 or the end of 2022. Talking about predictions, he's talking about the future. It was really timely because the year is changing. So, using the current year or the future year when the years change. Talking about 2023, starting in November or December 2022. Then early in 2023, when it's still on everybody's mind is a great way to grab people's attention. One, because it's on everybody's mind. Two, it's got a number so it stands out a little bit. It works a little bit less effectively towards the end of the year. All right. If it's July or August 2023, it's like, alright, 2023 is kind of old news now. I don't really care. But as towards the end of the year and the beginning of the year, the New Year is a hot topic. But no, I think that worked because it was timeliness, and also because it's talking about the future there.

Bryan: That makes sense. Should I try and find a keyword at some point for the headline, or it doesn't matter?

Jake: That's a really good question. I think it depends on a lot of things. In this case, SEO predictions, I would assume that there's not that much search volume. In that case, you wouldn't really want to make a video unless you were pretty confident, oh, this is like a really cool topic. Predictions for the future is a cool topic. If there is search volume and if you can monetize that well, then yes, you would want to be trying to rank in search. If you're a real estate agent, it doesn't matter if you have 100 views on that video. If one of those people buy a house from you, that's a couple $1,000 in that case. Or if you're a lawyer or a doctor or something, 100 views can be worth a lot of money. But if you are an entertainment channel or just creating interesting content that doesn't have a great way to monetize, then search might not be your best strategy.

Just in general, writing titles for humans and knowing who they are and why they're watching that video is a great strategy. When we're talking about SEO, sometimes you want to include the keyword but not always. It's not always for the algorithm. You want to include it for the audience, right? If I'm searching how to start a YouTube channel, then that keyword or that phrase, 'how to start a YouTube channel' better be in the title because that is what I want to know. As a user of YouTube, that's why I'm here. Just knowing that I'm writing titles for humans, and that will help you grow your channel and write better titles.

Bryan: You mentioned about growing a channel. A few minutes ago, you also mentioned that you spend hours each week going through other channels looking for viral videos. So, is YouTube getting more competitive? Is it more difficult these days for somebody to launch a channel, or is it still a cool opportunity?

Jake: I started my first dog channel in 2019. I thought for sure I had missed the boat. I was like, man, it's way too competitive now. I guess it is more competitive. But the thing with YouTube is that your voice and your face — not always your face but definitely your voice and the way that you say things. People are going to connect with you in a different way than a drive log trying to rank on search. One of my favorite quotes is, "There's plenty of room at the top." So, if you can create good content and people resonate with your voice, your mission, your journey, then I think you don't really have to worry about competition.

Bryan: You said something interesting about blogging. I would say some of the creativity of blogging has been kind of removed because of the Google search algorithm. An article has to cover certain points and has to have specific headings and subheadings. If you don't follow that format, Google says you'll still rank, but you won't.

Jake: I have a dog blog and a dog YouTube channel. I am just not that excited about the blog anymore because of exactly what you said. Google prefers a neutral voice. Apparently, you can't use that many. They're kind of taking all the creative out of it and making it more dry and more just straight informational. In that case, yeah, it's going to be hard to stand out because it seems like they just want the most biggest blogs with the biggest authority. Yeah, it's been hard. I'm not as big of a fan of Google SEO than I am trying to grow YouTube channels.

Bryan: So, Jake, where can people go if they want to start their YouTube channel and get some advice for headlines and thumbnails and so on?

Jake: Yeah, is the best way. The newsletter, it's free. I send it out once a week. Then also, if you're on Twitter, @jthomas__ or you can just search Jake Thomas, and you'll see a guy with a beard and a dog. That is me.

Bryan: I'll put the links in the show notes. Thanks for your time, Jake.

Jake: Yeah, thanks, Bryan.


Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books, discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.