The graphic on the left shows one of the most basic of all data visualization tools — the area graph. And even if you didn't know what an area graph was, simply looking at a picture of one clears up the mystery. Therein lies the beauty of infographics. Using visuals, infographics can communicate abstract concepts with a clarity and impact that far surpasses what text alone can convey.
What does this mean for you? Business websites and freelance blogs alike can benefit from the appeal of infographics. Not only do they provide new layers of communication value for your audience, they also have significant SEO value.
The Marketing Picture
The marketing value of infographics comes from the graphic element, not the text. Unfortunately, search engines don’t index accordingly — they only index text as text. Instead, an infographic's SEO value lies in its ability to generate backlinks for your site, and thus improve your page ranking. Infographics also allow you to build connections with other bloggers, companies and organizations, as they can become almost as viral as dancing kittens on YouTube.
But don't run off and start throwing together clip art and numbers in a Photoshop file quite yet. First, take some time to plan all elements of the infographic. The planning stage is essential, because a successful infographic must have the following three key ingredients:
1. Compelling Information
Technically, an infographic can be created about any subject under the sun. Realistically, it shouldn’t be. The power of an infographic is its ability to help us quickly comprehend multiple statistics and complex facts with its visual layout. That depth and focus of subject matter is what often differentiates a so-so piece from a wildly popular one. “What Does it Take to Get a Job at Google?” shows how a piece can give you lots of information in one sitting while still being quite interesting. In a great post on effective infographics, Justin Briggs at SEOmoz outlines the following characteristics of compelling infographics:
- Find information that can be organized.
- Find information that can be visually represented.
- Data does better than just information.
- Focus on verifiable statistics I can cite.
- Focus on chunkable, tweetable statements.
- Focus on content that triggers an emotional response.
2. Great layout that sends the readers on a visual journey
The graphic has to look good, otherwise it won’t earn more than a few seconds of the reader’s time. After all, infographics are primarily about the visuals, right? Make sure you choose your fonts for readability as well as style, and that the graphics flow logically from the subject matter. Also, as much as you can, follow the filmmaker’s mantra of “show, don’t tell. “Happy Birthday, Twitter” is a good example of an infographic that pulls you in and effectively uses graphics to illustrate the data. For more on good design, take some time to read Smashing Magazine’s article on “The Do’s and Dont’s of Infographic Design.”
3. Aggressive and strategic outreach in order to gain backlinks
The most creative, beautiful and interesting infographic is no good if it just sits on your website, lonely and neglected. In order to gain SEO value, you’ve got to promote that baby.
- Allow people to embed it in their sites with a link back to yours. Include buttons for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Post it on Flickr and use a Creative Commons license requiring a link back to you.
- Include your company name on the infographic itself, so the infographic is always building your brand.
- Promote it yourself on every avenue available, including Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit and similar sites.
- Search out some influential bloggers who would find it interesting, and send it their way.
- Partner with others to create the infographic so you can promote it together. Let the data sources you used know about it as well so they can promote it.
Data Visualization Tools
Now that you know "how" and "why," the next question to answer is “with what?” There are multiple tools available to help you design infographics, but unless you have a designer’s eye, don’t try this alone. Check out some of the graphic artists on oDesk for help (and read this past oDesk blog post on how to hire a good designer).
Now to the tools:
- Many Eyes - a free tool from the IBM Research group.
- Google Public Data - allows you to create data visualization charts that are automatically updated when the corresponding public data is updated.
- Wordle - not exactly a data visualization tool, but it does create some pretty nifty word clouds based on the data you input.
- Stat Planet - create interactive data charts based on geographic information and country statistics.
- Creately - a collaborative diagramming app, useful for simple infographics.
- Visual.ly - still in private beta, but early demos make Visual.ly look like an exciting option for making infographics that are a bit more artsy than the other tools listed here.
So what are some of your favorite infographics? One of mine is “Caffeine and Calories,” probably because I’m on a diet and am a caffeine junkie! Share yours in the comments section below.