Show your face on the web with a Gravatar


You’ve probably seen them around the web, on blogs, forums and author profiles – those little images next to people’s names. They’re called avatars, and they’re applied automatically whenever you post or comment. The good news is you don’t have set up your avatar again and again on every blog and media site you encounter, because the majority of them display the results from one place – Gravatar.

Gravatar stands for ‘Globally Recognised Avatar’, and it refers both to the individual icon itself (your Gravatar) and the site where you create one ( As with most web apps, there’s no guarantee Gravatar will be around forever, but for the moment it seems to be stable and it’s recognised as an industry standard. Which is why I think it’s worth your while setting up your Gravatar if you haven’t already.

If you’re anything like me, you put a low priority on things like filling out your profiles, uploading profile images and keeping things up to date. There just seems to be too much else to do. But once you’ve set up your Gravatar you can kind of forget about it.

If you don’t yet have a Gravatar, chances are when you comment on a blog, or in the top right hand corner of your screen when you’re editing your WordPress blog, what you see is a grey shape or something anonymous, like this:

Anonymous user gravatar

Nobody wants to be a grey, mystery man! As you post comments on blogs, and are joining in conversations on the web, you want people to remember you. Research has shown that showing your face creates greater levels of trust, more shares and more interaction. Anonymity is too often associated with having something to hide. There’s nothing for it but to get yourself a decent Gravatar and join the people with faces.

Getting a Gravatar is simple and best of all it’s free. Signup at, upload a photo – I always recommend a good, clear headshot – fill in a short profile, and really that’s it.

Most WordPress themes already come with Gravatar integrated (which means Gravatars will be displayed with your readers’ comments). But Gravatar is used on many, many sites, not just WordPress.

There are all kinds of add-on benefits to having a Gravatar, for example Hovercards – which means when you mouseover someone’s Gravatar you see their profile – it comes with blogs and can be added as a plugin to a self-hosted WordPress blog. Here’s an example of how it looks:

gravatar hovercards

You can see Gravatar in action in the foot of this post – I’ve installed a plugin called ‘Author Bio Box’ which displays your Gravatar information at the end of your blog posts. This is particularly good if you have guest bloggers or if there’s more than one of you running your blog.

You can change your Gravatar if you wish, but sometimes it takes a while to see the changes across the web. Try clearing your browser’s cache too, especially if you use Chrome, as Chrome sometimes keeps loading old versions of Gravatars even after you’ve made changes.

If you’re interested in how to build trust online there’s a ton of great stuff that’s been done in this area. Take a look at this blog post on Social Media Examiner, or read Chris Brogan’s book Trust Agents.

Where to find images that are free to use


The web is fuelled by images – just look at the popularity of sites like Pinterest and Flickr and photosharing apps like Instagram. Time and again, research shows that Facebook and Twitter updates containing photos are shared and liked more often than purely text-based updates.

But it’s not as simple as trawling Google Images for suitable pics to use. You could find yourself facing a serious fine for breaching copyright laws.

You have a number of options:

1) Use photos you’ve taken yourself
2) Commission a photographer. Do check that you’ll have ownership of (and permission to use as you wish) the resulting photos.
3) Create your own graphical images from scratch using photo-editing software
4) Contact the owner of copyrighted images you want to use, and ask permission. This may be granted for a fee, or in return for a link back and attribution.
5) Obtain images from a photo library, where you generally pay a license fee for each image you use (but sometimes it’s free).

The last option on the list is probably the easiest. Stock image libraries carry thousands of photos, are easy to search and generally charge reasonable fees. Some even have a free images section. But don’t ignore Flickr. The images you’ll find there are generally not as marketing oriented as those in commercial image libraries. Many Flickr users attach Creative Commons licences to their images, and although you need to check, quite often the terms of the licence allows the photos to be used freely (on, for example, a blog) in return for proper attribution.

There are many image libraries – here are few of the popular ones to check out – some with a free images section –

Free Range
Stock Vault

Compfight is a useful site – it’s a search engine for Flickr, enabling you to find images based on the type of license you’re after.

Google Images can still be a useful tool in the search for free-to-use photos. Try the Advanced Search option. Here’s an example: let’s say I’d like to illustrate a blog post with a photo related to the TV series ‘Downton Abbey’. Unsurprisingly, my first search on Google Images brings up thousands of results.

Image search on Google images

If I go to the cog icon top right, there’s a drop down menu – when click on Advanced Search I get a page of options. Scrolling down I come to ‘Usage Rights’. Here I select ‘Free to use or share, even commercially’.

Advanced Image Search

Then I hit ‘search’, and the results pages should contain only free-to-use photos…

Image search 3

However, there are flaws with this – images can be stripped of their license details, saved and re-uploaded, which doesn’t make them free to use even though Google Images presents them as so being. In this example, one of the Downton Abbey photos, although obviously a still shot from the show, is actually on somebody’s Flickr page. And if I enter this page’s URL into an image recognition engine such as Tin Eye it throws up 156 other pages where this photo appears. Just because a photo is being widely shared it doesn’t mean it’s free to use. Just be aware of that.