Heatmaps to Help Your Google+ Profile Image Appear in Search Results

google+ profile imageThe 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:

google+ profile image

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+ profile image

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.

google+ profile image

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+ profile image

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:

google+ profile image

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+ profile image

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.

google+ profile image

Get Creative!

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:

google+ profile image

google+ profile image

Are there any other Google+ profile picture tricks you are aware of?

More in: 64 Comments ▼

Ann Smarty Ann Smarty is the founder of My Blog Guest, a free community of bloggers. Ann is also the Community and Brand Manager of Internet Marketing Ninjas.

64 Reactions
  1. Wow!

    That is how impressed I am by this post. I love the look where they look. I might have to change my pic just for that reason.

  2. Really interesting. The ‘look where they look’ phenomenon is one of those things you instinctively understand as a designer, but underestimate in pursuit of a more ‘pleasing’ layout.

    The impact on CRO could be significant I’m sure. Photos of people looking at Buy Now buttons might become a thing!

    • I was really impressed to have found that one as well!

      • Awesome article! Love it, love it, love it! Great examples, practical ideas, and solid sources. I’ve been thinking I wanted to get a new profile pic one of these days, but didn’t have anything inspiring me – until now. Thanks!

  3. Oh man, that’s one more thing I’ll need to test out on Google+. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Great post Ann!

    I’ve actually used this technique on clients websites but it never even crossed my mind to try it with my google + profile pic.

    Thanks for the awesome tip.

  5. Ann, This is really interesting. It turns out I take a better picture in profile (at least, that’s what the photographer told me) so now I am using a sideways facing avatar image instead of full face. But from what I just read in your article, it’s facing the wrong way!!! Maybe I can figure out how to flip it to face right instead of left.

    – Anita

  6. Hi friends
    I’m Daniel Peris, the one with the Apple logo on Google SERPs hehehe

    Thanks for the mention

    You can read my Google+ Rel author experiment here: http://www.danielperis.com/2012/logo-google-serps-rel-author/

    Hope you enjoy =)

    Best regards from Spain !!!!

  7. Thanks for this great post – I’ve now got my Google Authorship setup and have my face looking towards my content. Looking forward to seeing if this does have a positive impact on click through rates.

  8. Another great post, thanks for the inspiration. This is something I’m definitely going to test.

  9. Very insightful thanks, definitely have a few sites that we’ll test this out.

  10. Once again we see how important it is to smile.

  11. To get your photo to show up looking towards our left (at the snippet/content), that means the photo on our actual G+ profile will be looking off the page where there is no content.

    How will that impact people viewing our G+ profile?

    I guess if this achieves higher CTR to land on our money site, it may still be worth have a G+ profile photo staring off into space?

  12. This affirms that sometimes the simplest solution is the best. However I would be prudent in execution as the last thing I would want to see is an ad with people looking in all different directions…although it would be quite humorous.

  13. Hi Ann,

    I have never thought of using heatmaps to asses response to images. I would be really interested in reading the article except for us the link isn’t working. It may be that it is not Monday afternoon and my computer thinks it might like to finish for the day.

  14. Wow..such unique and awesome info you brought to light..this will help not only on search results but also on the in-page tweaking of pictures..well done!

  15. The eye activity is always caused by mirror neurons. All of us know the mirror yawn effect (when someone yawns we always do the same immediately, don’t we?) Mirror neurons ‘push’ signal to our brain in response to what we see/look at and they make us copy (with our mimic or behaviour) this what we look at.


  16. This is a very intersting articel.
    Sry my english is not so good.
    But this post is very good and it hope me.

    So thank you from Germany.

  17. Ann,

    What a simple yet so effective way of increasing CTR! Can’t believe I have only just found this blog!!


  18. Well, the whole study was interesting but I am not getting the point might be this figure change if you run another test I am 90% dam sure.

  19. And you are great at thank 😉