The Best Google Profile Pictures for Authors

If you’re here, then you know about or are researching the new authorship initiative that Google has now embraced. If you need to learn how to use this new and very powerful feature on Google, then here is my tutorial for WordPress users (Challengers): Easy SEO – Authorship

However, one of the key points in doing all of this is to get your picture displayed in search results which means, quite obviously, that you need a picture in your profile.

Here’s what Google says about your profile picture:

Your profile picture must be a photograph of yourself and of high quality in order to be eligible for be shown as a thumbnail in search results.

So right away we can dispense with cartoons, icons, and any other sort of non-real-person type images. Don’t even bother. They may seem cute on Facebook, but they aren’t going to get respect from Google, so forget them.

That having been said, your Google profile picture doesn’t necessarily have to be a photograph, per se, as long as it pretty much looks like a photograph.

For example, when I do a search for “best profile pictures” I see an article authored by Matt Silverman and I get his Google profile picture next to it.


As you can see, Matt’s picture isn’t really a photograph but it is sufficiently like a photograph to qualify for Google.

Now comes the question of whether or not this has to be your photograph and this is actually an area of some controversy. Women, especially, have raised privacy concerns about the  requirement to distribute personal pictures and it is obvious that many people (such as authors) use pen names for professional reasons and many do, in fact, use “pen pictures.”

In my thinking, this is related to what Google says about you profile name:  Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.

In other words, they want your “real” name to go with your “real” photograph.

That’s what Google wants, but what I want isn’t always the same thing but you will have to decide for yourself what name to use and what picture to use.

But let’s assume you’re going to use a picture of yourself or at least a picture of a person which is a picture that you can legally use (no copyright problems). So the question becomes what sort of picture is best?

Short answer: use a head shot.

The main thing to remember is that when your picture is shown in the SERPs, it is in a small format (50 x 50) so it needs to be able to “read” well when small. This is why a conventional head shot works best. Human brains are hard wired to recognize faces so a profile picture that is “all face” is the best.

Let me show you what I mean. Here is an example of a very nice Facebook profile picture that I found here: The Best Facebook Profile Pictures.

Facebook Profile Picture

The good things about this picture is that it is high contrast and she’s looking right into the camera. But when you shrink it down to a 50 x 50 thumbnail, this is what you get:

Facebook Profile Picture

As you can see, much of the impact is lost. For a Google profile picture, a much better choice would be to concentrate on the face like this:

Google Face

Which makes a much more effective 50 x 50 presentation:

Google Face

Here’s another example from the same article that demonstrates another concept that you can use to your advantage.

Facebook Profile Picture

By zooming in on the face and painting out the hand, I was able to make this picture which shrinks down to a much better thumbnail.

Facebook Profile Picture-a

Facebook Profile Picture-a

What I like about this picture is the unusual angle. This catches your eye and makes you want to see more.

Summing it all up is easy!

1) Use a head shot

2) Make it simple yet interesting

Please let your friends (and me) know if you found this article helpful!

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