Gravatar: The Cure for the Little Gray WordPress Avatar

by | Jan 20, 2014

I remember when I first started blogging, full of enthusiasm but missing a few of the important details. Maybe I had no email list signup (big mistake there) and no idea what the mysterious “trackback” was, but I could punch out copy.

One of the pieces of information I was missing was why, whenever I posted a comment, there was a little box with a gray silhouette of a head there. You know what it looks like, right?

Every once in a while someone else would leave a comment, and they often had a lovely photo that would appear in that box. Being a clueless newbie, I just added it to my “figure this out some day” list and kept plowing on.

Discovering the Gravatar

One day a kindly visitor told me how to get rid of the “anonymous” avatar (the graphical representation of the user or the user’s alter ego or character—Wikipedia), and boy was I happy I found that out.

It turns out that Automattic, the company responsible for WordPress has provided an easy way to control your avatar across all the tens of millions of WordPress installations online.

They set up a special site: There you can upload a photo or other graphic to stand in for you instead of the clueless little gray man. It’s free, easy, and simple to do.

You can even trick out your profile and use it as a landing page for people to find out more about your or links to your other resources:

Gravatar profile

I was reminded of this because in January I like to “freshen up” my social media profiles by putting up a new profile photo, and you can see my brand new shot above.

The Importance of Avatars

I think Guy Kawasaki has written about the importance of the impression we make in social media about as well as anyone. In APE, he says:

“Social media is closer to HotOrNot than eHarmony because people make snap judgments. Your profile is important because you have a few seconds to convince people that you’re worth paying attention to and therefore worth circling, liking, or following… Your profile photo is a window into your soul. It is usually the first thing people see about you, and they will make an instant judgment about your likeability and trustworthiness.”—Guy Kawasaki, APE

I’ve really taken this advice to heart, and look at what other social media figures do with their avatars, too. I admire the ones where people seem inviting, open, welcoming, and helpful, so I’ve tried to do the same.

You might have a far different persona you want to advance, whether it’s part of your author brand or perhaps for a pen name you’re using.

Here are some of the guidelines I use myself when confronting new people and their social media likenesses:

  1. Real photo—I vastly prefer photos to drawings or cartoons of the person. Don’t you want to know who you’re talking to?
  2. Tight crop—Let’s face it, these photos are often so small (about 75 pixels square on Twitter, for instance) that if you try to show the lovely bookcase behind you, some gorgeous trees, or just about anything else, it becomes a complicated mess. Frame your face tightly for best results.
  3. Express yourself—Smile if that’s your message, or pick something. Looking like you just woke up or got caught trying to remember your address won’t help. A scowl might work wonders for some critical writers, just express something.
  4. Go pro—If you just can’t get something that makes you happy, trade with someone with photo skills and a decent camera to do your shot. That’s how I got my last two profile photos, from my son who’s an excellent photographer.

Without your avatar, we just wonder, don’t we? Here’s a snippet from a recent discussion here on the blog (nothing against Marie, who hasn’t discovered yet):


Don’t let yourself become the little gray man: go do it, you’ll be happy you did.

And About that Little Gray Man

If it’s just the little gray silhouette that’s bothering you, WordPress allows you to change the “anonymous” avatar, too.

In your WordPress Dashboard, just select Settings/Discussion and scroll down to find the other choices provided by the software to represent those without a account:

WordPress Avatars

To get started, pick a great photo and head to

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. rx farmacia cialis

    Incinta rx farmacia italia alla consegna rimane cialis quanto prima fertilita erettile disfunzione non si e levitra

  2. marco

    Gravatar is really easy to easy, even more than disqus!

  3. Julie Musil

    I had no idea we could do this! Thanks so much for the great tips. (Anne R. Allen linked to this post. I’m so glad she did.)

  4. David Rory O'Neill

    Hi Joel. I got on to Gravatar early and am glad I did. I also got a pro to shoot my mug shot. I’m lucky my daughter is pro-photographer. My trademark black hat actully got me few important contacts and a few sales when some one posted a comment saying: “they like the arty boldness and anyone who can pull off that hat must be interesting.”
    I don’t know about that but it’s helped me establish my brand. Sometimes we forget that what seem obvious is not always so to others. Your post is a nice jolt to remind us that not everyone can find there way to these things and a few direction signs (signposts) are very welcome.

  5. Greg Strandberg

    It took me awhile to figure out Gravatars.

    I went up to a local photographer in town here and got some good head shots for $50.

    I use those for eBooks and all online stuff. I told him I’d probably come up next spring after I shaved.

  6. Diane Tibert

    This is a great post for someone just starting out, and it reminded me to update the information that accompanies the avatar. I’m a photographer, but as you’ve probably guessed, it’s difficult to take pictures of yourself; not impossible but a lot of walking would be involved to reset the timer and make sure the focus is correct.

    So when I need a new image, I snatch my youngest child and put him on shutter release. I set up everything, and he happily snaps away.

    I wrote a blog post about this (this is where my current avatar came from). You can read it here:

  7. R.J. from Book Marketing Tools

    Michael: You just have to make sure you have the rights to use the images from those locations. Some of them do not allow you to use the photos in that way.

    A quick message to friends on Facebook will often yield someone trying to build their portfolio who will do it for cheap and give you the rights.

  8. Anne R. Allen

    Such great advice! I found out about Gravatar early on and it’s made it so much easier to comment on all manner of blogs.

    And I so much agree about the real face vs. cartoon, puppy or 4th grade school photo. Be real and friendly. Anything else looks unprofessional

  9. Jason Matthews

    It’s surprising how often people use pets or icons like their book covers. I understand the concept but think it’s wise to simply put your best face forward as an author, especially at places like Gravatar that are linked to so many other venues.

  10. Judy

    Thank you, Joel. I am just setting up a new WordPress blog/website for my recently published book, and this is a great help.

    • Santiago

      If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite epnhaores, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.

  11. Michael N. Marcus

    Every author needs a portrait, not just for gravatars, but for the backs of books, websites, blogs, press kits, posters, etc.

    Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos shot by friends or relatives, with bad lighting, bad focus, distracting backgrounds and other sins.

    The price of a portrait shot in a professional photographer’s studio can easily be in the $300-$1,000 range, too steep for many writers who don’t have a publisher to pick up the check.

    Fortunately, there is a good low-cost alternatives that few authors think of — the photo studios inside retail stores such as Penney, Target and Walmart. (Sears recently closed its studios.)

    While most of their business involves babies and family Christmas cards, they will take pictures of solitary adults, often at ridiculously low prices.

    Walmart’s “PictureMe” studios are now offering a 40-print special for just $12.99. You can scan a paper print yourself or pay a few buck for an emailed digital photo.

    They’ll likely lose money if you spend just $12.99 so they hope to sell you lots of high-profit add-ons, but you probably won’t need them.

    The photographer will probably be thrilled to have a subject who does not vomit on her, or require funny faces to elicit a smile.

    One tip: although you can choose from many backgrounds, at least one should be plain white — the most versatile for web use. Also: don’t pay extra to get both color and black-and-white version of the same photo. Anyone with graphics software can convert color to B&W in seconds for free.

    Michael N. Marcus



  1. Are You Ignoring This Simple Platform-Building Tool? How to Comment on a Blog - Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris - […] Here’s more advice on how to sign up for Gravatar from Joel Friedman. […]
  2. #5: Accrescere la readership con interviste e guest post - […] Ricorda di renderti sempre riconoscibile e unisci al commento la tua firma e il link al tuo blog o…
  3. #5: Interviste e guest post dello scrittore - […] Ricorda di renderti sempre riconoscibile e unisci al commento la tua firma e il link al tuo blog o…
  4. Die Woche im Rückblick 17.01. bis 23.01.2014 | sevblog - Self-Publishing und Schreiben - […] Joel Friedlander: The Cure for the Little Gray Word Press Avatar […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *