Gravatar – What It Is, How to Use It & Why

Last Updated: March 30, 2023

If you’re new to WordPress, you might have noticed a little grey icon that shows up next to your name. Well, this icon is the little “mystery man” gravatar. Perhaps you’ve wondered what it is. Essentially it is the default image for your WordPress site. Most importantly, when you add your own gravatar image you’re actually adding some branding to your comments section. Which is pretty important, because branding matters. That’s why today we’re going to discuss what a gravatar is, how to use it and why. In addition, we’ll even show you how to change the default gravatar image and replace it with your own custom one.

gravatar what how why

HISTORY Of Gravatar

Before I even start explaining what a Gravatar is, I figured that I should explain what an avatar is. An avatar is nothing more than a graphic representation of a user. It can be the person’s picture, a logo or even a random icon they want to associate themselves with. One of the coolest parts about discussion boards and forums is that overtime you can recognize active users based on their avatar. We all know it can be somewhat tricky when it comes to remembering names, but a specific image is really easy to identify. If you were part of a variety of discussion boards, you’d start to recognize the same group of people.

As the web evolved and blogging started to become more mainstream, it was getting a little harder to have an identity as a commenter. With forums and other services, users were required to register. Each user had their own profile and avatar. However, blog commenting doesn’t require registration in most cases. So, how exactly do we identify users? This is when Gravatar came onto the scene.


What is a Gravatar?

Alright, now to get a little technical for all you fellow geeks out there. Gravatar actually stands for “Globally Recognized Avatar”. It’s globally recognized  in the sense that millions of people and websites use them. Especially popular applications like WordPress, which has built-in support for Gravatar. Whenever a comment is left by a user on a site that supports Gravatar, it pulls the image from Gravatar’s servers. As a result, the picture then shows up next to the comment. This allows each commenter to have their identity throughout the world wide web.

Why you should add Gravatar?

The main reason to use Gravatar is so others can identify you on the web. If you are a blogger, non-profit, small business, or anyone else who is building a brand, then you need to start using gravatar. Because chances are that you both read and comment on blogs. At first you gravatar might not get that much attention. But if the same person sees your comment across different sites, they will most likely end up visiting your site. For the most part, Gravatar makes your comments stand out.

How to get a Gravatar?

Getting a Gravatar is simple and free. All you need to do is go to the Gravatar website. Then sign up with the email you use most often to comment with and add an avatar of yourself. This could be a picture of yourself, your company’s logo or whatever else your heart desires. Chances are you won’t be changing your avatar too often.

Most WordPress themes already come with gravatar integration with their comments. So, if your theme doesn’t you should seriously consider adding it. For further branding purposes, you can also change the default mystery man gravatar on your site and put something else in its place.

However, like most things in life there are both advantages and disadvantages. And Gravatar is no exception. So, let’s take a further look into what the benefits and disadvantages are.


PRO: Gravatars aren’t just pretty or interesting pictures next to comments. They can provide a lot of benefits for WordPress website owners. A custom avatar gives a heightened and improved user experience for your WordPress site. It also does the following:

  • Enables the differentiation between users in your community
  • Encourages engagement by prompting readers to leave comments and participate

The engagement has a trickle down effect to. More engagement means more comments, more social shares and more traffic. Which consequently means more conversions, sales, sign-ups, etc. Gravatars take that advantage and extend it to your users. It also makes it easier for them to track their activity across all the sites that they visit on a regular basis.

CON: Lack of speed. Sometimes Gravatars can seriously increase the time it takes your WordPress website’s pages to fully load in your user’s’ browser windows. Here’s why… If you write a blog post that gets a good amount of traffic, you can expect a few more comments than normal. More traffic = more comments = going viral. Which is awesome, but there is a downside:

  • The more comments you have, the slower the page will load and since each comment has to be loaded the more time it takes for the whole page to fully load

And when you’ve enabled Gravatars, there’s an additional factor to consider. Each of those comments carries an image, each of which must be rendered and loaded. So every time your WordPress website is loaded, it creates a call to the Gravatar servers. The servers check their databases for the commenter’s email address and return the appropriate Gravatar image to your server.

However, don’t fret. If you’re really concerned about site speed’s head over to Google’s PageSpeed Insights to see how your site bodes. Honestly though, these cons will hardly come into play. Especially if your comments section isn’t always loaded with comments. So, yes, it’s still a GOOD IDEA  to change the Gravatar image. Here’s how…


Alright, so aside from all the Pros and Cons, you still want to change the default Gravatar on your WordPress site? Awesome! We’re going to show you how to change that mystery man image and replace it with your custom gravatar image. Let’s take a look at how exactly to change the gravatar…

First, head to the Settings » Discussion page and scroll down to Avatars section. This is where you can alter and change gravatar settings on your WordPress site.

gravatar settings

You’ll notice that there are a few choices available under the default avatar option. Essentially, these avatars are used when a user doesn’t have a gravatar associated with their email address.

As default, WordPress uses the “Mystery Person” icon as the gravatar. However, you can change that to either a blank or gravatar logo. Although there are other options available in terms of icons. These are automatically generated images in different designs. These images use the comment author’s name or email address to mathematically generate a unique gravatar image.

Whatever you end up choosing, don’t forget to click on the save changes button.

Using a custom Gravatar image in WordPress

Thankfully WordPress lets you use your own default gravatar images. Here’s how you can easily add your own custom gravatar image in WordPress. First, you need to create an image that is square with the dimensions of 250×250 pixels. You can use your computer’s built in photo editing program to do this. Or you can head PicMonkey, which offers basic image editing services for free. Then you’ll upload thi image to your WordPress site. Head over to Media » Add New to upload your new gravatar image.

Once the image is uploaded, click on the “Edit” link next to the image. WordPress will now open your image for editing. Just copy the URL of the image file and paste it in plain text editor, such as Notepad.

copy file url

Now you’ll need to add some code to your WordPress site and add the following code to your theme’s functions.php file or a site-specific plugin.

1 add_filter( 'avatar_defaults', 'wpb_new_gravatar' );
2 function wpb_new_gravatar ($avatar_defaults) {
3 $myavatar = '';
4 $avatar_defaults[$myavatar] = "Default Gravatar";
5 return $avatar_defaults;
6 }

This is super important… Don’t forget to replace $myavatar value with the URL of the custom image you uploaded earlier.

You can now visit Settings » Discussion page and you’ll notice your custom default avatar now shows as one of the default avatar choices. To use it, just select the custom image and click on the “Save Changes” button. WordPress will now use your image for users who don’t have their gravatar associated with their email addresses. Which is pretty awesome if you look at it as of it were free advertising.

Gravatar also allows you the chance to create a bio. That way when someone clicks on your image, they’ll see some info about you. The Gravatar widget for WordPress lets gives you a bio in your blog or website’s sidebar that pulls in your avatar. So, if you’re using Gravatar for WordPress you might want to consider putting something in the bio section. Think of it as adding a little something extra.

As you can tell there are a lot of things to consider when diving into the world of Gravatar. We hope that you’ve taken time to decide whether or not you can benefit from it. Have you heard of Gravatar prior to this post? Have you changed your image? Or have you decided not to? Be sure to let us know in the comments below so we can discuss!
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