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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

What Makes for a Good Author Photo in the Local Results? (Part 1)

What makes for a good Author photo in the Local results?

Author photos are increasingly showing in Google’s local search results. Since first appearing in local results in February of this year, author photos have slowly and steadily increased in frequency. In most markets you may only see one author photo in the local results but in some markets a preponderance of results display them. This blended result from a legal search in the Orlando market, with its variety of images, put the question front and center as to what makes for a good avatar in local results.

The interesting variety in the array of photos in this particular search result – some old, some young, no women, bordered, without borders, bright colors, muted colors, looking left, looking right – immediately elevated for me the idea that click through rates AND conversions would in all likelihood be influenced by differences in these photos. In looking at the results perviously, I had encouraged my client, Moses and Rooth Attorneys at Law, to use an open, friendly close up photograph. But after showing these results to several people I realized it likely that there was more to avatar photo preferences than met the eye. And that the role of an author photo in local might be different than in general search results.

I wanted to better understand the issues with these photos so I embarked on an effort to learn how other experts might address the situation and how consumers might evaluate these photos. I invited Cyrus Shepard, who has done thorough testing of his own author photo, AJ Kohn who has written extensively about authorship and Matt McGee, an editor at MarketingLand that has written broadly about social (and who has the best avatar of all time), to give their opinions as to which of these photos were most effective and why.

The second prong of my effort to understand how these images might influence results was to create a consumer survey using the Google survey tool to ask 1500 adult internet users the question: If you were selecting a lawyer based on these images, which would you select? The results of the survey with comments from Cyrus, AJ and Matt will be published in the very near future.

My goal in doing this exercise was not to profile the ideal avatar photo but to start a conversation to get myself and others thinking about what questions we should ask when creating these photos, how might the role of avatar photos for local differ than that of regular author photos and how to get started advising a client as to the direction they should take. In other words, what is a good starting point for your local author image.

I gave Cyrus, Matt and AJ the following charge:

1) Which avatars in the above search result do you prefer and why?

2) What makes for a good avatar. Are there design principles or other general guidance to use when creating one?

3) I am going to do a Google survey and see what consumers say about this specific group of photos

4) And then show you the results of the consumer survey so you can comment and add additional insights

Before I share the initial, pre survey impressions of Cyrus, AJ and Matt with you, take a moment to examine the avatars yourself and decide which ones you like best, which ones you think would perform best in the real world and why…..

Cyrus Shepard

1. At first glance, my eye is attracted to the 2nd photo (B-Umansky) most likely because of the bit of color with the high-contrast red tie, which is coincidentally one of the two colors that presidential candidates always wear.

2. Some guidelines I suggest for a good avatar:

  • Use of color. A splash of something bright helps draw the eye in otherwise monotonous SERPs – just like our eyes are trained to see the yellow/gold of review stars. My own photo performed best with a red or yellow/orange background.
  • Right-facing (eyeline towards the search results) is better than left-facing, which tends to draw the users eye away from the page. Straight into the camera is another good choice.
  • Attractiveness can’t be denied. I have a suspicion that attractive women photos do very well with certain demographics. See Felicia Day below.
  • For some reason I prefer real backgrounds instead of a studio look. By placing the 2nd lawyer above in a real setting, he projects an air of authority that isn’t staged.

These are by no means definitive or scientific. A good photo is going to depend on the target audience and hard to measure factors such as trustworthiness (especially for lawyers 🙂 interest, empathy, attractiveness, etc.

Hope this helps! Below is my opinion on a popular Google avatar, and my take on what she could have done better.

AJ Kohn

1) Here’s my feedback on the avatars.

A: My least favorite. Darker colored background and a shifty looking photo. I think it’s the side view with the eyes looking back that makes it that way. It doesn’t convey trust.

B: Toss up for favorite. I hate the black border and usually like a closer shot of the face but it looks (from a far) like he’s in a court room which, oddly, instills trust.

D: This might convey authority to some but it’s super stodgy and I can’t really see his face.

E: Toss up for favorite. I like the lighter background, though I might go with a color instead, and the tighter shot on the face. But he looks a bit … goofy.

2) For my money a good avatar usually means a tighter head shot with the person looking directly into the camera on a background that delivers contrast and potentially color. In short, you want to see the person easily and clearly at a glance. Some of these principles might change on the vertical. So the ‘in the courtroom’ photo might be interesting. But I’d go with the former as the control and the latter as the challenger.

In your Google Survey is there any way to rotate the order of the photos? I wonder if the order of the photos might change the perception. Maybe that’s another test in and of itself? Either way, I think this sounds like interesting research and look forward to the results!

Matt McGee

1) I think your client’s (Moses & Rooth) avatar is the best because it’s zoomed in the most to show the person. And he looks happy, which is a draw to me, without looking silly or unprofessional. That said, I’d prefer to see some more contrast in coloring because it starts to blend in a bit on the white background of the page.

The first avatar is too monotone for my tastes, and the gentleman looks nervous about being photographed.

I really dislike the black frame on the second avatar because it seems like a waste of valuable pixels to me — it’s way too thick. But, last week at SMX Social Media, one of the speakers was saying that Facebook ads with a thin red border around the image had a higher CTR than ads without the red border on the image. That makes me wonder if there’d be similar results in the local example we’re looking at. I can see how a thin red border might draw the searcher’s eyes more than the border-free images.

The third avatar (result “D”) has the same problems as the first two — too far away to see the person, too monotone.

2) As far as what makes for a good avatar, I imagine it depends to some degree on your target audience. My gut opinion is that vivid colors and/or contrasting colors are best, because it helps the image stand out. And, as I said above, I like the avatar to be zoomed in far enough that I can see the details of the person’s face.

I guess the thing I like the most is when avatars are unique. Everyone seems to have a portrait-style photo that just gets shrunk down to mini-size in Google’s search results and they all look the same. I’d really prefer to see something creative that — in the case of attorneys like we’re reviewing here — still conveys trust, authority and professionalism.


Tomorrow (or soon there after ) we will be doing a follow up post detailing the results of large scale consumer survey with their answers (and comments by Cyrus, Matt and & AJ) to the question: If you were selecting a lawyer based on these images, which would you select?

So what do you think? Which avatar is better and why?