How Does Google Choose a Profile Photo? It’s the Algo Dummie!

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 9.51.45 AMThere has been some conversation and consternation (free membership required) of late when Google seemingly arbitrarily replaces a business owner selected profile photo in the main search results knowledge panel or carousel with a different photo perhaps provided by a third party. Like all things in local its not random. It’s the algo. And like all things in local, you, as the business owner, are only able to suggest but not control what is displayed.

Choice of the profile photo,  like everything Google does, is not dictated by random chance but by an algo. Their image processing algos have gotten very sophisticated and they are implemented in this situation to show the images on the front page that Google prefers and that they think provide the “best customer experience”.

We do not know much about this selection algo yet but we do know a few things about how the image is selected.

Preference appears to be given to the listing owner, Trusted Professionals, 3rd party photos in that order.

If the Listing owner has selected a photo via the setting “profile photo” in the dashboard Google will generally use that UNLESS it doesn’t like the photo for reasons defined by the logic of the algo.

One known and lightly documented “dislike” is logos. Google seems to think that logos do not offer a good user experience on their front page and frequently will choose something else if a logo is identified as the “profile photo”. You can read Jade’s comment about logos here. This predilection was confirmed in other conversations at LocalU in NY.

But anecdotal experience would indicate that the preferences of the algo goes beyond just nixing logos. For example Google seems to prefer exterior shots (this makes some sense since they are coming from a mapping background). See this search: restaurants utica ny. Perhaps exterior photos are the only ones Google can find but I have seen this in other searches as well.

My suggestion for being sure that your photos are the ones used? Provide high quality images with a range of internal AND external shots of your business.  Include both people and product shots. Pick the one you prefer (not the logo) as the profile photo and hope that Google respects your choice.

As a side note, all bets are off with the old dashboard.

Besides deep sixing logos have you seen any other signals that would provide clues to Google’s image preferences in the local search results?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
How Does Google Choose a Profile Photo? It's the Algo Dummie! by

9 thoughts on “How Does Google Choose a Profile Photo? It’s the Algo Dummie!”

  1. Love this write-up, Mike!

    I hope I was able to provide a bit of insight into the so-called “featured photo” in the Knowledge Panel in the productforum post.

    The bottom line here is EXACTLY what you said near the end – “Provide high quality images with a range of internal AND external shots of your business. Include both people and product shots. Pick the one you prefer (not the logo) as the profile photo and hope that Google respects your choice.”

  2. Ok, that’s clarifying why Google refuses to take logos on many of the listings I manage. While I don’t like it so much (would personally prefer the logo for branding purposes) I somehow understand the explanation for the preferation of exterior shots on behalf of Google.

    “This predilection was confirmed in other conversations at LocalU in NY.” Whops, seems I missed that. Well there were so many different topics and aspects discussed… ;)

    Greetings
    Nico

  3. A very helpful post Mike… how would anyone know this kind of thing?

    Google seems to think that logos do not offer a good user experience on their front page and frequently will choose something else if a logo is identified as the “profile photo”.

    I’ve always chosen the logo – I will need to make some mods for sure. Your posts and your readers/comments are sooo helpful :-)

  4. Want to share my experience yesterday – it’s either Google is getting pretty good at it or we were just lucky with this business.

    Restaurant. Claimed/verified. Google Places for Business New Dashboard. Had a weird profile photo of road/sign from freeway that someone shared. Blurry photo. No photos uploaded by business owner.

    I reported that old profile photo.
    Then (late last night) uploaded 10+ great photos of food and one graphic of their brand logo. Picked one very sharp and colorful photo with food you can’t resist as profile photo. It went live as profile photo within 24 hours (I think it was just a few hours). Just checked again in Incognito window and other browsers to make sure – new photo is there as profile photo this morning.

  5. We always try to use a logo as our profile pic. So far it’s been fine, though I noticed last week that my local ISP has a picture of a gas pedal in a rusted out Land Rover as their profile pic. No clue how that happened.

    Hardly Related: I’ve noticed, also, that searches for local venues like parks will show pictures with links to the G+ profile of the person who uploaded it. Could photos impact authorship ranking?

  6. This is a very useful article as I am sure that I’m not the only person with a preference toward logos. Unfortunately, I am still on the old dashboard and not only are “all bets off” but we generally cannot even get uploaded photos to appear on the actual listing. My question to the experts is does anyone know of anything that I could do to motivate Google to move me to the new dashboard ? Thanks

  7. @Fred
    There is nothing you can do to motivate Google to move more quickly. You can go through the manual merge process but that too is fraught with potential problems.

  8. I’ve noticed that the algo has recently decided that a popular E-book graphic should be my default image, despite setting the preferred image multiple times. I have to guess that at least some level of engagement with these resources is used to “pick” the right one in Google’s eyes, but it’s still annoying.

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