How to Optimize Your Profile Picture [Personal Branding]

Mona LisaYou never get a second chance to make a first impression, the saying goes. In our increasingly digital, socially networked world, your avatar or profile picture is frequently your first impression. How important is it? What if we told you that optimizing your profile picture could increase the number of visits to your online resume by 35 percent?

That’s how much search engine optimization expert Cyrus Shepard figures his new profile picture contributed to click-throughs for his blog posts. Even if you haven’t made any of the common profile picture mistakes, Cyrus’s experiment gives us some interesting data to think about.

The Google Author Experiment

You probably noticed the little faces that began showing up in Google’s search results a while back. These are author profile photos that help promote personal branding and help us recognize content from recognizable people.

If you have a blog and/or personal website and want to learn how to get these pictures to appear and/or test them out, read our how-to article Online Personal Branding With Google Authorship.

Once Cyrus finally figured out how to get his working, he was disappointed that it didn’t result in any increased traffic to his blog. However, being a search engine optimizer, he likes to experiment and measure. And so he decided to so some testing (you can read his entire guest post on the SEOMoz blog).

He created a whole bunch of different versions of his profile pictures and updated them on Google+ over a period of months. Then he monitored Google Analytics to see how much (if any) his click-through rates changed:

The final number settled down around a 35% increase in click-through rate. That’s 35% more traffic from Google than what I received before, and it was all free. Imagine how long it would take to gain the same momentum through manual link building.

Another side effect: my engagement metrics improved. Bounce rate dropped while time-on-site and page views increased. It’s as if having an authoritative photo in the search results raised users’ trust in my site and expectations of authority.

Profile Pictures and Your Personal Brand

You may not be a search engine optimization expert who needs to drive tons of traffic to their blog, but there is still a lesson to be learned in this experiment. After all, we know that being attractive helps get you hired. So it stands to reason that putting your best avatar forward will also increase the chances that someone would look at your LinkedIn profile, retweet you or click on your online resume link.

Shepard posited:

Is there a magic formula for author profiles? No. You might be tempted to think that changing your background to yellow or red might be the answer, but the right photo depends much more on your audience and content. An author photo for content aimed at a 13-year-old Justin Bieber fan is not the same photo that will perform well with content aimed at retirees searching for tax advice.

But if your current profile picture is a dark, fuzzy shot of you at a bark yard barbecue maybe it’s time to spend a few bucks on a professional photo. Leave us a comment so we can see  your mug shot and share your profile picture stories!

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