08 May What Makes a Great Infographic?
If you spend much time on the web, you’re probably familiar with infographics – those big, long images that creatively represent quantities of data in a visual format. Infographics have become popular because they are easy to share – Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter are riddled with them – and because they break complex ideas down into easily digestible bites. As a result, people want to know how to use infographics for web marketing.
What makes an effective infographic?
Why do some infographics take off, while others die a quiet, lonely death on their owners’ blogs? We have a few theories. Great infographics tend to have the following:
A compelling story
What’s the point?
I’m not being facetious. There should actually be a point to your infographic – a story you’re trying to tell, a message you’re bringing to life.
Treat it like a school paper – start with a thesis. Gather information and build an argument that supports your thesis. With the right data (see next point) and a good story, you’ve got a shot at a decent infographic.
In a business setting, this story should tie into your broader marketing message. Are you educating clients on the need for your product or service? Demonstrating your expertise and deep industry knowledge? Just be careful not to make it too salesy – nobody likes to share advertisements.
The best infographic takes otherwise complex data (spreadsheets, for instance) and simplifies it, allowing for faster comprehension by the target audience. This works especially well for data with elements of time (line graphs and timelines), location (maps), and scale (bar charts and visual comparisons).
If you want people to share something, it better look great. People will form an opinion about the quality of the infographic, the information it represents, and the company behind it, in seconds.
The style should support the story, while appealing to the target market. If you’re trying to scare people, use shades of red and menacing imagery. One of the most successful infographics I’ve ever seen did this beautifully:
At the very least, it’s important that the visual style add to, rather than distract from, the message you’re trying to convey. Amy Balliett said it best in her fantastic SmashingMagazine article about infographic design: “If infographics were as simple as laying out a bunch of standard charts and graphs on a page, then clients would not need to search out great designers.” She speaks from experience:
Daniel Dannenberg, infographic designer, says “Bottom line: choose the right designer. Find an infographic designer that has experience, possesses sharp design skills, handles data accurately and shows variety and growth through their work.” Case in point, here’s a recent infographic Daniel created:
Shareworthy, and easy to share
Generally, people only go to the effort of creating an infographic because they want it to reach the widest audience possible.
What makes an infographic shareworthy?
- It’s timely, or in the news. Take a look at your news feed around the next holiday – you’ll probably see a bunch of holiday-related links being shared. Likewise, if a major event is in the news, and you can create the most authoritative infographic on the subject, you’ve got something worth sharing. Why does this work? You don’t have to convince people the topic is worth discussing – you’re simply adding value to a conversation that’s already taking place.
- It has a catchy title. Who are we kidding? We’re a superficial society. We judge a book by its cover, and we judge a post by its title. If you want widespread sharing on Twitter, your title better stand out. In the last 10 minutes, there have been 31 new tweets in my Twitter feed. 25 of them contained links. How do you stand out? With an awesome title.
- It has broad appeal. Let’s use the above example, “Sitting Down is Killing You.” 99% of people who saw that infographic were likely sitting when they came across it. It’s instantly relevant to the masses (Some good old-fashioned fear mongering helps, too…).
What makes an infographic easy to share?
- Easy social sharing. Rule #1 of getting anyone to do anything: make it as easy as possible. Sharing the post should require about as much work as closing the page – the option you’re competing against. Make those social sharing buttons super accessible!
- Easy to find in search. You can’t share it if you don’t know it exists. Make sure you optimize your blog post for keywords relevant to the infographic so that people find you when doing a Google search. Because of the Facebook infographic mentioned above, we’ve got top rankings for terms like “Facebook usage stats.” It demonstrates our expertise in an area that’s important to our business.
What makes a bad infographic?
Alright, we’ve covered the critical parts of a good infographic, but it’s equally important to see bad examples to learn what not to do. Here are a few things that’ll ruin an infographic…
The wrong format
Ask yourself – “Is an infographic the best storytelling device for this content?” Sometimes, marketers try to force content into the form of an infographic. After all, infographics are cool! Everyone loves them. Clients ask for them, account managers promise them, and suddenly you’re turning what should be a blog post into a lengthy infographic:
Not only is this not really an infographic, search engines are not able to read any of the text contained within the image. You’ve abused the concept of the infographic, while robbing the page of the possible SEO value of that text!
An infographic should reduce confusion by elegantly boiling a concept down to its simplest form. At their worst, infographics can actually make concepts seem far more confusing or complicated than they need to be. Timelines typically start in the bottom left corner and go up, right? They thought so:
Even if you’re trying to present something far more complex, if you can’t come up with an elegant way to present it, you might as well skip the infographic altogether:
The mass of tangled, overlapping lines is virtually impossible to follow. I don’t know what they were trying to accomplish, but now I have a headache and an irrational fear of healthcare.
No reason to exist
Remember the elements of a good infographic? A compelling story, good data, and a solid design? If you try to come up with an infographic purely to drive shares and traffic, you will eventually find yourself in this category. If you find yourself in a conversation like the following, you’re on dangerous ground:
1: Easter’s coming up. We should create an infographic about it.
2: What should it be about?
1: Dunno. Let’s just find a bunch of facts and throw them together. People will share it because it’s Easter.
The end result: “10 Things You Need to Know About Easter,” an infographic which is devoid of anything you actually need to know about easter (see #4 above).
Don’t waste your time creating something so meaningless. Don’t waste your audience’s time by sharing it. Just don’t.
An infographic case study
We recently launched an infographic for a media buying agency about the history of advertising.
Story - We wanted to create an authoritative visual history of advertising and the various modes of mass communication. It was also intended to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. We realize wall paintings were not intended to be billboards, nor were smoke signals really “over-the-air” ads, but they were milestones in communication.
Judging by the feedback we received, the research paid off. We got some great comments, including this one: “As someone with an advertising degree, this infographic is awesome! It’s amazing to see how long it’s been around and how far technology has come. It will be interesting to see where it is in 50+ years.”
Catchy title – A Brief History of Advertising. Simple. Short. Clear. In retrospect, we might have gotten more action from a title such as “Advertising: A 4,000 Year History” or “Advertising: Not Quite the World’s Oldest Profession,” but we opted to keep it simple.
Visual Style – How do you visually represent 4,000 years of history? We chose to go with a long, winding timeline with silhouette representations of important milestones.
As for the artistic direction, we decided to mimic the Mad Men color scheme and typography. Mad Men was getting a lot of attention in ad circles, and since that’s the audience we were trying to reach, it seemed appropriate.
Shareworthy - We timed the release of this infographic with the season premier of Mad Men, and structured our outreach accordingly. We also put a whole lot of work into the research, compiling one of the more comprehensive timelines of advertising you’ll find anywhere on the web. If we had phoned it in with shallow content and minimal creativity, it wouldn’t have been particularly shareworthy.
The infographic was picked up by a few authoritative sites. From there, social sharing really took off:
Since then, it has been spread to to many, many more sites. Most of them link back to our client, which has generated a steady stream of referral traffic from relevant sites.
Better yet, because of the links from major websites, search engines will view Ocean Media as a more authoritative source. This will lead to improved search rankings for terms related to advertising and media buying, and more traffic for many months.
It’s still early to quantify the value of this infographic, and I can’t share specific metrics, but referral traffic is up significantly over the last three months.
What are some of the best and worst infographics you’ve seen? Any killer tips we’ve left out?