Optimising Avatars and Logotypes for Search & Social

Posted on 20. Jan, 2012 by in Digital Marketing

Google and Facebook are the most visited websites in the world, according to Alexa [1]. They both present the opportunity to brand your digital operation with avatars in Google Search, Plus Your World and Facebook’s Wall, but are you optimising your avatar to its best ability, and how do logotypes influence the process?

Owned media is the foundation of digital success. Within owned media, in particularly social properties, there is the opportunity to apply branding – whether it be via rich media assets you share and upload or the layout – branding exists, and is hugely important.

YouTube and recently Twitter, enable what I class as “branded take-overs”. Stolen from Display lingo, a branded take-over is when you almost completely customise the experience – minus core functionality. History Channel, Coca-Cola and Peroni are three YouTube take-over examples, all too different extents. Twitter’s blog has 21 examples for your reference too.

Branded take-over experiences are great, but they can cost a pretty penny.

Introducing Avatars

Introducing avatars, the two-dimensional, 80×80 pixel, graphical representation of a user or brand. The avatar is what I would deem as the poor-mans branded takeover, but now arguably going to be seen by more users than your YouTube or Twitter branded channel thanks to Google Search, Plus Your World and social networking sites like Facebook.

Where Avatars Are Seen

If signed-up to Google+, Search, Plus Your World (SPYW) – Google’s latest social search efforts – it will transform your ‘normal’ search results to show annotations in the form of avatars from the brands you follow, your friends, and in some cases friends-of-friends.

Andrew Girdwood's Avatar in Google Search

Andrew Girdwood, Media Innovations Director, avatar in Google Search, Plus Your World results.

Beyond search 43% of brands are investing more than average (PDF) in social media marketing, meaning users must be hearing and seeing a lot more of brands in their Facebook and Twitter streams. With user bases combined into the billions, it’s easy to imagine how much exposure your avatar and brand will achieve being seen within social networks.

The Numbers

Hopefully you understand the principle of where avatars will be seen, but by how many eyeballs? Well, if you’ve got 1,000,000 Fans in Facebook and you post one status update, depending on your EdgeRank with each user, around 80,000 impressions (8% of Fans) (Citation Needed). For Google, its slightly different.

Optimising Your Avatar

Knowing how much avatars can contribute to your digital branding, what are the best steps to optimising your avatar?


First you need to establish what logotype you have. The three main types are:

  • Symbolic – icons and symbols of images that convey a company.
  • Wordmark – uniquely styled font of company name.
  • Combination Marks – images and fonts combined.

Helping you to consumeeach type, in Google+ Starbucks use a symbolic logotype as the avatar, FedEx a wordmark and Dell combination marks.

Three Logotypes

Comparing brands with presence across Google+, Facebook and Twitter, we can see if they differentiate branding per platform:

Brand Google+ Facebook Twitter
Hugo Boss

Starbucks and FedEx both have unified avatar branding across the big three. Dell, Burberry and Hugo Boss share the same avatar per two platforms, while McDonald’s and Pepsi have a unique avatar per social network. Also, note the different logotypes; I think Hugo Boss don’t optimsie their avatar well – the brand name is hard to establish. Burberry’s Facebook avatar doesn’t use as iconic branding, Hugo Boss’ avatar in Twitter looks like a couple of your friends and Pepsi use various logotypes. It’s clear to me that Starbucks are the winners here.

Size Matters

With different platforms come different sizes. It’s important to consider the resolution of the avatar per platform, and how your avatars branding will look once transformed to say, 24×24 pixels.

To help you out, here is a list of the common sizes per platform:

Sizes Google+ Facebook Twitter
16×16 Tick Tick
24×24 Tick Tick
28×28 Tick
32×32 Tick Tick Tick
40×40 Tick
46×46 Tick
48×48 Tick Tick
48×48 Tick
72×72 Tick

The Good, Bag & Ugly

Interestingly, not all logotypes transform as well as others in Search, Plus your World. For example, if we look at some as they would appear in Google’s search results, symbolic logotypes are more recognisable – Starbucks are testiment to that.

Starbucks vs Hugo Boss Avatar Comparison

Comparison of Starbucks vs. Hugo Boss avatar per size

Wordmark and combination marks, particularly with a lot of copy, are not easy to make out – the Hugo Boss brand is a mere red smudge. That’s likely to influence branding and how likely users are likely to associate a brand with a search result, for example.

More Avatar Considerations

Beyond the logotype and size, what other factors should you consider?

  • Colour – how the platforms colours contrast with your logo.
  • Style – customise your style to suit a certain audience e.g. youth, mum, etc.
  • Attitude – your attitude towards the user base e.g. friendly, funny, etc.

Branding is a grown-up decision, so be cautious about change. You don’t necessarily need to change your font or colour to suit others, but some brands have that flexibility built-in to their branding usage. Have any more considerations? Let me know and I’ll happily add them in.

People Branding

It’s not only companies who need to consider avatars; people are arguably brands too. Search, Plus Your world puts great emphasis on authors. With that in mind, it’s probably best not to have an avatar of you blind-drunk while out with your friends or a criminal headshot – ask Lindsay Lohan about that.

Use a headshot, preferably with good lighting so it stands out. With only 24×24 pixels to play with in Google’s search results, you’re going to have to stand out to attract clicks. Don’t be too picky though; banning photographs from just one side of your face is a little too far.

What About Favicons and Homes Screen Icons?

That’s right there are more than just avatars to think about:

  • Favicon – is a 16×16 graphic appearing in the users browser bar. Can be seen in Google’s and historically Yahoo!’s search results.
  • Home Screen – Apple and Andriod users will know home screen icons well. One can customise the home screen icon of a mobile application or website.

Im sure there are more, so contributions welcome.

If you’re in the business of digital branding or follow the subject, how are you planning on tackling branding in the form of avatars? Is optimisng avatars a new concept for brands? How do social media marketers select avatars? Hopefully we’ve stimulated some thought, so please share and help showcase the bigmouth avatar across the web.

[1] Alexa Top 500 Global Sites

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  • http://twitter.com/rosstav Ross Tavendale

    Hi Mike,

    Very interesting post. I think a classic example of a personal avatar that is widely used and recognised in the social space would be that of Pete Cashmore from Mashable: a very close up picture that scales well at all sizes. People already talk to Logos on twitter so I can definately see the match up with the SERPs in the coming months as G+ gets more and more prevelant.