You must have noticed already: if you run a Google search (especially if that’s an informational query), you’ll see a few results with author photos next to the search snippet (read more about the anatomy of search snippets here). That is how Google boosts author brand in search: people want to see the people behind the content. It has become a powerful competitive advantage… wouldn’t you rather click a link that provides a photo of the author?
In the past, getting that edge was all about achieving the highest ranking. While top five Google results are still getting more attention (provided there are no paid results dominating the above-the-fold real estate of search results), ranking #1 is both no longer possible (for most competitive phrases) and no longer crucial: Author-empowered listings receive impressive click-through even if they are down the SERPs.
Today we live in the era when we are almost forced to market our faces. Given the author picture is your huge advantage, how smart and creative are you with it?
1. Be a Zombie Hunter… Go For The *Recognizable* Headshot!
That picture of two kittens watching a sunset is sure adorable but unless you are actually made up physically of a cat’s behind sitting on your shoulders, it is not a recognizable photo. You need a headshot, otherwise the photo won’t even show up in results. If Google doesn’t detect a face, they will ask you if you’re sure you want to use the image. If you say yes, they will remove your authorship from results.
2. You Aren’t a Secret Agent
You may be tempted to remain a little anonymous to protect your privacy. Google doesn’t gel with that kind of thing, and they never have (one of the first red flags was when they started banning anonymous posting through Google+ and YouTube by insisting on the use of real names).
If you have a cartoon image, or even wear dark sunglasses in the image, the authorship photo will be removed from your results.
Case study: Tom Elliott used to have lots of success with his cartoon face, until recently when it started disappearing from search:
If you are trying to brand yourself and your work, the worst thing you can do is to be anonymous anyway. Being real is the most efficient online marketing tactic.
3. Timing Is Everything
It takes up to three whole weeks for Authorship markup to begin showing up in SERPS (it might be faster or slower for different people — “three weeks” is the educated average). But it only takes a couple of seconds for a new profile photo to show up in SERPS when you change it in Google Plus. It also takes anywhere from 8 to 48 hours for a non-human or faceless profile pic to be removed from SERPS. This gives you some background for experimenting…
4. Don’t Be Where’s Waldo
You have to stand out from a crowd of other people who are going to be marketing their photos, and probably pretty good ones. That isn’t an easy task specially given the lack of clear guidelines from Google…
Case study: Deniel Peris‘s very creatively formed photo started having trouble with search, so he had to change it:
[Why did it start disappearing from search? Are there any guidelines as to how you can form your photo for it to start having issues? No...]
There are a few indicators of what is working so far. For example, including a brand color or logo with your face in an image is a quick identifier that gets past Google’s no-headshot policy without sacrificing the visual branding itself.
It may be worth experimenting with photos that “look” in the direction of the link to attract people to it (based on some heatmap research, it may help with click-through!).
5. Consistency: Shape Shifting Is For Transformers
Consistency is key, because that image is going to come to represent you in the long term. People will want to immediately recognize your photo as they skim, and the best results will come from that eventuality. Resist the urge to constantly change up your photo. That is what Facebook is for, not your professional Google Plus account.
While experimenting is essential for achieving best results, your ultimate goal should be to finally stop and focus on the best-performing headshot (and then do your homework expanding it to all your professional accounts, Gravatar, etc).
You can see the full presentation here:
Have a tip for author photos in Google results? Let us know in the comments!