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What is a Gravatar and why do I need one?

What are Gravatars and why do I need one?

Have you ever visited a blog, and wondered why some of the contributors have a photo or other image next to their name, while others (including perhaps yourself) miss out – despite there being no obvious way to add one? The answer is most cases surprisingly simple, and is available via a clever service called Gravatar, from the company Automattic, who also make WordPress and a bunch of other good software.

Short for “Globally Recongnised Avatar”, a Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site and will appear next to your name when you publish content or comments on many thousands (perhaps millions) of blogs, forums and other websites all over the Internet. While most commonly used on WordPress blogs, plugins and code exist to integrate the Gravatar system with almost any website, including integrations with PHP, Python, Ruby, ASP.net, Silverlight and many more. So developers can interface with the Gravatar system on almost any site, to improve the experience of their users.

How to get a Gravatar

Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site, appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums. So why not any site?Getting a Gravatar is simple, and equally importantly, free. Simply visit http://en.gravatar.com/ and click the “Get your Gravatar today” link, and follow the prompts including uploading your photo and confirming your email address.  Simple as that.

How the Gravatar system works

Gravatars are linked to your email address, so it’s important to add any additional email addresses you use for blog commenting and the like to your profile. There is no need to create more than one profile though – multiple addresses can be linked to one Gravatar account. If you choose to operate under a bit of a “split personality” system online or have other reasons for ensuring everything isn’t linked, you can even upload different images and link them to different email addresses within a single Gravatar profile, if you want different images and different email addresses for say business and social uses. While there is nothing stopping you signing up for separate Gravatar accounts for each, the power and simplicity of the Gravatar system should solve the requirements of most. Gravatars can even be rated G, PG, R or X, and sites will either show or not show your Gravatar depending on your self rating.

Does the Gravatar appear on every site that uses avatars?

Important to note is that getting a Gravatar doesn’t guarantee your image will appear on every WordPress blog or forum that has avatars (avatars being the little photo or image next to your name), as not all avatars are linked into the Gravatar system. However with so many sites and blogs supporting it, it’s well worth signing up for.

Why should I have a Gravatar?

Quite simply, having an avatar next to your posts and comments is a big part of personal branding and brand building. In this Web2.0 world of social media, interactivitiy and online networking, it’s important for people to know who you are and following this what you stand for – your brand values so to speak. And besides, people respond better to faces than to faceless people. It’s the same concept as any internet dating site, where profiles with photos get a lot more response than the faceless masses.

SEO Benefits of Gravatars

Seach Engine Optimisation - SEOIt may initially seem that Gravatars are a purely visual thing and that SEO / online marketing benefits would be limited to encouraging people to click through to your website should they find you attractive, interesting or intelligent looking for example. However there is another important benefit, do to with one of the “social engineering” aspects of SEO.

Most people will know that one of the many ways of increasing inbound links to their site is through blog commenting. As part of a diversified link building strategy this is a great technique, although it’s of course important to keep it classy, and avoid looking like you went to the same SEO school as the spammers advertising certain “pills”! Given most blogs are moderated, it’s important to ensure your comments are of high quality and are relevant contributions to the discussion in order for them to be approved. And while the quality of your comments is most important, all ways that help build credibility with the moderator can help.

As well as appearing next to your post, Gravatars also appear in the admin control panel of WordPress where the moderator looks when approving comments. So if you have a genuine looking photo of yourself there most people are much more likely to approve the post than one without a Gravatar – simply because most spammers don’t bother, and it’s basically another way to make yourself stand out as a genuine commenter it what can become a sea of spam.

Conclusion

Just get one. Now. What are you waiting for? Visit Gravatar.com

Disclaimer: I’m unfortunately not paid anything at all by Automattic for posting this glowing review of the Gravatar system. But I wouldn’t say no if they did offer!

About the author

Matthew has written 10 articles for Brand Police

Matthew Cummins is the owner of Marketing Web, a marketing, website design and SEO consultancy business. Matthew has degrees in both IT and Management/ Marketing as well as practical experience in B2B and B2C sales, marketing and marketing management, SEO and website development. Matt built his first website in 1995, and has been passionate about the web ever since.

5 Responses to "What is a Gravatar and why do I need one?"

  • Anna Peterson 01:54 AM 30/9/2010

    Who knew! It’s astounding just how far these things have progressed in the last 5 year – the mind boggles thinking about what may be yet to come.

    Great post!

  • David Leonard 11:09 AM 31/3/2011

    Thanks for this. Since I’ve always been wary of splashing photos of myself all over the internet, my gravatar features a logo of my initials (hopefully displayed with this comment). I’d be interested to hear any views about whether a gravatar of a logo is as effective as one of a photo, or whether it may vary in different circumstances. Any thoughts?

  • John 08:01 AM 13/4/2013

    Thanks for the article.
    In response to David (albeit 2 years late but still valid), I believe graphic Gravatars are ok for corporations but have a negative effect on personal blogs. Then again some have horrid gravatars and would be better off with a blank square.

    Cheers, John.

    • John 08:03 AM 13/4/2013

      There you go, I have a gravatar (for 4 years) and this blog did not pick it up!

      • Matthew 09:28 AM 13/4/2013

        Hi John, Thanks for the comments, much appreciated. Not sure why it hasn’t picked yours up in this case – as you can see it has worked fine for others making comments.

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