There probably isn't an image of your business that gets seen more by potential customers and searchers than your Google My Business profile image. There isn't a single image that has more impact on searcher's behaviors. And there isn't an image in the online world that is harder to "get right."
The profile image is something that Google shows virtually everywhere, from the Local Pack results to the much, much less visible profile circle on your Plus page. Along the way, it is seen at
- the highly visible branded Knowledge Panel for your business
- competitor's "People also search for" area
- the old and new Google Maps
- Google Now
- various apps and mobile browsers on both Android & iPhone
- who knows where else
The profile image is the image that creates the critical first impression that a searcher has about your business. There is data from Google that indicates that having photos on your listing increases direction requests by 42% and clicks to your website by 35%. I am sure that your profile image plays a huge role in those numbers. According to Google's research, listing photos are second only to reviews in increasing the performance of your Google+ listing.
Google My Business recently rolled out a feature to actually allow you to pro-actively select your profile photo, which is a dramatic improvement over the previous crapshoot. But there are still issues and problems that need to be dealt with. Just because you identified an image as your preferred choice doesn't mean that the Google algo will show that image. It will give the image you chose preference ... BUT ... if it is a logo or a head shot and they have an image that would improve a users Map experience (like an exterior view) they will substitute that image for the one that you chose.
Even if Google uses the image that you indicated, there is another problem: Google insists on using the very same image, but cropping it arbitrarily to different aspect ratios in different display contexts.
There is no perfect solution to creating the perfect photo, but there are some guidelines that will insure that yours performs better rather than worse.
Firstly, use a profile photo that Google is likely to accept. Those seem to be either interior shots, exterior shots or product shots. Not logos or head shots.
Secondly, pick an image that performs well in both a landscape layout and a square layout.
Thirdly, pick an image that is upper-half balanced. That is, the core of the image is not on the bottom of the image but up towards the middle.
Fourthly, pick an image that resolves well at very small display and pixel sizes. This image will be used in a range of sizes and it should look good whether viewed on a very small display or a large one. To achieve that, the image should be a close up and not have a lot of background detail.
Fifth, make sure that the other images you upload all work reasonably well. You never know when the Google machine will get a bug up its behind and will pick one of them, instead.
Finally, test, test and retest in the most important environments. You won't be able to find an image that works perfectly every place that Google shows it. For my money, I would focus first on how the image looks in the Local Pack, the Knowledge Panel and the "People also search for" area. Then I would move on to Google Maps on the desktop and Safari, Chrome and Google Maps in the mobile environment. I would worry less about how the image looks on your Google+ Page in its various presentations. Thank goodness the carousel has mostly disappeared.
Here are screen shots of two examples of getting profile images to work (or not) in the context of Google's somewhat arbitrary decisions as to what to show and how to show the profile photo.
Note that in the case of Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry, Google only started showing the photo of her showroom in the past week or so on mobile while still showing her preferred profile image on the desktop results. Prior to that, Google kindly was showing her chosen photo, the ring. Why? Who knows.
Fiddling with the images sometimes gets Google to change their minds and obviously I have fiddling to do. I uploaded new images to Barbara's Google My Business and, over the past few days, Google chose one of those instead of my chosen image. Again for mobile only. It points out why every photo needs to be of a reasonable quality but I still have work to do. And it points out why Google is extremely hard to work with for most businesses.
Google provides no guidance nor testing of which images work best, but with some trial and error and attention to detail, it is possible to have a positive impact on what is arguably your business's most important single image.
Click to view larger: