It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words”; that is never more true than when online. With blog and forum posts and comments, the most important picture is often your avatar – the graphical representation of you. In a forum or when you comment on a blog (both activities you should aim to do if you want to raise your online profile), your avatar image makes you stand out from the other contributors. This is especially true when those others don’t have an avatar at all.
Now that Google has decided authorship information is an important part of how it rates your content in search results, having a picture alongside your contributions is more important than ever.
Many sites allow you to add an avatar to your profile, but if you contribute to a lot of these it means uploading your avatar to each one individually. Luckily, there is a solution that allows you to maintain one avatar and have it recognised by many sites. Gravatars (short for Globally Recognised Avatars) allow you to link an avatar image to your email address, then any site that supports Gravatars can check to see if your email address has a Gravatar attached.
This means you can maintain your avatar image in a single place and whenever you provide your email address to a site, either in your profile or as part of your comment information, it can get and display your avatar alongside it.
How do I get a Gravatar?
You can link a Gravatar to your email address by going to Gravatar.com and setting up a free account. This site is run by Automattic, who created WordPress and Akismet, so if you use those you may already have an account.
You can create Gravatars for multiple email addresses within a single account. As well as letting you maintain your Gravatar, the website has tips on using Gravatars on your own site.
What sites use Gravatars?
As Gravatars come from the same company as WordPress, it should come as no surprise it uses Gravatars as standard. Given that WordPress currently runs over 50% of CMS-driven websites, that’s a lot of sites. Plugins are also available for other Content Management Systems to allow the use of Gravatars.
What should your Gravatar picture be?
The only question remaining is what your Gravatar image should be. If you’re interested in taking advantage of Google’s Authorship in their search, the avatar should be either a picture of you or a company logo. I suspect Google prefers the personal picture, but the logo (or mascot) remains a reasonable choice if you prefer not to unleash a picture of yourself on the world.
Remember that you are linking the Gravatar image to your email address, so anyone who knows that email address can see your Gravatar. If you’re not doing so already, it’s a good idea to use different email addresses for personal and work-related business.
While you may cringe at the thought of attaching your face to your email address, this increased level of openness can be seen as a necessary cost of doing business online. The message behind Google’s policy is that if you’ve got nothing to hide then you should put it all out in the open. That way, they can tell who are the legitimate commentators and which authors they don’t know enough about to trust. You could choose to think of it as another hoop you have to jump through, or you could view it as a new way to differentiate yourself from the competition. Either way, while Google reigns supreme in the search engine arena, the only wrong choice is to ignore how they choose to view you and your website.