by Karl Montevirgen, special to The Content Wrangler

If you’ve spent time reading content online, you may have noticed that most posts are accompanied by a photo of — or icons representing — the author. Those images are known by many as gravatars: a portmanteau of “globally recognized avatars.” Gravatars are used by both people and businesses to represent their online identity consistently across multiple web properties.

Gravatar.com is an online service originally dreamed up by software developer and inventor, Tom Preston-Werner. Acquired by Automattic (the makers of WordPress), Gravatar is a free service for those interested in establishing — and efficiently managing — their online presence. It is easy to set up and use. And, it’s supported by many websites, online magazines, new sites, social networks, and blogs.

Create It Once, Use It Often — Automatically

Gravatar allows you to single-source your image and your online profile. Using Gravatar you can create and upload an image, short biography, and contact information once and automatically reuse it across all the sites to which you contribute content. Your Gravatar image will automatically follow you around the web appearing beside your name when you do things like comment on a blog post or write a restaurant review. It’s practical content reuse. Something you can do today to save time and ensure brand consistency. And, when you need to change your image (or your profile or contact information), you change it in one place and it automatically changes wherever it is reused.

Image: Gravatar of Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler
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Although not all websites support Gravatar (Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin do not, at least not yet), there are millions of sites that do. GitHub, StackOverflow, Disqus, WordPress, HoodlineHootSuite, American Idol all support gravatars. According to Automattic, gravatar images are served up 8.6 billion times per day on websites around the globe.

Image: Example of profile content repurposed on Hoodline.com
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On websites that support Gravatar — like TheContentWrangler — your image will be automatically uploaded for any post or comment you publish. A link to your biography and contact information usually comes along for the ride, eliminating the need to manually upload your image and profile every time you publish something.

Image: Home page of Gravatar.com
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Creating Your Gravatar Identity

Setting up a Gravatar is simple and easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Visit Gravatar.com
  2. Click Create Your Own Gravatar
  3. Enter the email address you want to use, accept the suggested username (or create your own), and create a password. If you have a WordPress account already, click .
  4. Look for the confirmation email in your inbox, confirm and login to Gravatar. You should receive an email in your inbox that looks like this.
    Image: Gravatar email confirmation
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  5. Click “Activate Account” to access the login page.
  6. Once you’re logged in, you will notice a message stating that you do not have any uploaded images. Click on the link “Add one by clicking here!” and follow the on-screen instructions.
  7. Upload and crop your image. Then rate it (just like the movies) — G, PG, R, or X.
  8. Congratulations, you are done!

Practical Advice

Use a photo that best supports your branding objectives. Whatever first impression you would like to convey to your readers, be sure that every aspect of your photo reflects your intentions. There’s some science behind the best practices. If you want to dive deeper, you can ask real people to evaluate your profile photo choice. PhotoFeeler.com allows you to upload a photo, declare its purpose (business, social, or online dating) and ask the crowd for their honest opinion. If you want to take a stab at it without asking the crowd for help, take a peek at these tips and tricks.

Make sure to complete your profile. Gravatar allows you to add contact information, a short biography, and links to your website, blog, and social media accounts, making it easy for folks who want to follow your online presence to do so easily.