The year of 2012 saw a great move of Google: Giving more visibility to content authors by showing their photos in search results.
The content should be claimed by the author in order for this to work.
The photo is being grabbed from the author’s Google Plus profile, which brings us to a good question: How huge is an impact that your photo makes when the user is browsing Google search results and chooses which result to click?
They say, the impact is huge. In this case study, Cyrus was able to achieve a 30% higher click-through and he didn’t even try that much. There are plenty of variables (the main one being the topic) but it doesn’t mean we can’t invent interesting theories.
My own theory is based on heatmap case studies. A heatmap is an aggregate graphic showing overall eye activity on an image (red-orange areas indicate the most eye activity).
1. “You Look Where They Look”
There’s an absolutely hilarious article by James Breeze on how the direction of people’s eyes in the photo influences where we look. We all know that photos of babies make us stop and look. But did you know that if a baby looks at text (instead of straight in the camera), the photo will also make us “read.”
Here’s a combined heat map of 106 people looking at two pages: One with the baby looking into the camera and one with the baby looking at the heading of the page. Notice how much more exposure the heading and text gets when a baby is looking at it:
The important thing to remember here is that faces in the photos work great to “cuing” us to look at the key components of the page. More evidence:
Google Plus avatar implementation: Based on the study above, it may be a smart idea to slightly turn your head to the left in your photo – to the search results. This way, searchers will not only stare back at you, but will actually notice your article (instead of being distracted, they will be directed) and might feel more willing to click your search result.
2. Closeups Are Better
The bigger the face, the better. Poynter often stresses high visibility of faces, but the following two screenshots caught my attention.
People lose attention if the face is not easy to see. Look at these screenshots containing photographs of people (both photos have headline type placed on top of them). However, in the first screenshot, people would not even look at the headline, while in the second one, the headline gets much more attention and the less clear photo is mostly ignored:
Google Plus avatar implementation: Make sure your avatar is a big, clear headshot of you. It’s better if it’s just a face, which is easy to “scan.” This way, it has a good chance to be the first to draw an eye – and thus your search listing will better stand out.
Mind that in-search pictures are tiny. It’s not easy to make a clear close-up, but it’s worth the effort:
3. A Smile Draws Closer Attention
The heatmap below clearly suggests that a smiling person is more thoroughly examined. That may mean you will be better remembered from social media networks to search results.
Google Plus avatar implementation: Don’t underestimate the power of “being remembered.” Most search results are personalized nowadays, which means people that have you in their Google+ circles will most likely recognize your search result because they already know you. (Here’s a case study featuring me). A smile plays a big role in that because it helps your headshot to be remembered.
Of course, no need to overdo: You don’t want to distract attention. Instead you want to draw and direct it. Thus a subtle, natural smile is best.
Yes, we can read studies and draw necessary conclusions but it doesn’t mean we can’t get creative. Per my experience, a photo inside search results takes as little as one day to update (after you update your Google+ profile picture). So you have huge room for testing. Just keep experimenting, as Daniel Peris did:
Are there any other Google+ profile picture tricks you are aware of?