A Guide to Producing World-Class Infographics & Leveraging Them for Online Success

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The following is a complete guide to devising, researching, producing and promoting an infographic. I wrote a topic on this guide just over a year ago so I decided it was time to give it a bit of a refresh…

  • We’ll be talking how to acquire trusted, powerful links to drive search engine rankings.
  • Increase brand awareness and share of mind in your marketplace.
  • Attract referral traffic and encourage social sharing of your content.

It is important to remember, as with any one tactic, infographics should constitute a portion of your online marketing activities rather than being your sole activity. It is fairly commonplace to see businesses lurch from one link building tactic to the next, burning bridges and building castles of sand along the way. Over-indulgence in any one kind of link can look unnatural.

If any industry is going to sh*t the bed with a tactic, penny to a pound it’ll be SEOs.

And that’s a shame because we’re so well placed to do a stand-up job with infographics and all other forms of content yet so often our industry falls short. We can bring together the marketing department that needs guiding away from thinking a visual advertorial is a good idea, the brand team who need persuading that watermarking with logos isn’t cool and the PR team who get a killer placement and don’t think to ask for an attribution link.

As an industry we can actually create tremendously valuable, insightful and interesting content in harmony with exceeding our goals for our own sites or those of our clients.

Contents

PRODUCTION PHASE

Concept Research Design

PROMOTION PHASE

Opportunity Research Publishing Best Practices Outreach

EXTENSION PHASE

Value Maximisation Tactics

Production Phase

Concept

 


1368129758_ChoiceMike King pointed out that when it comes to content, mediocrity doesn’t scale. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of infographics. How many graphics do you reckon pass over the desks of editors at the various top-tier online publications each week? A LOT.

Infographics just don’t have the same novelty factor that they once did, they’re not a shortcut to guaranteed coverage. Avoiding mediocrity every step of the process is crucial.

This starts with a solid concept that ties back to your broader business objectives and will achieve your shorter term campaign goals.

From the outset you need to be thinking about your audience and why they’ll care and the viability from a business perspective of what you have planned.

Audience Viability

  • Why do they care?
  • Will it reach the right target audience?
  • Will it resonate with them

Business Viability

  • Does this have a market?
  • Has it already been done?
  • Can the investment be justified?
  • Does this match the tone of our brand?

You can probably come up with your own list for each but thinking in terms of creating mutually beneficial situations is a good way to go with infographics and frankly any form of content.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again because you need to be thinking about ROI. I forget who said this to me but you can’t expect the ‘Return’ without the ‘Investment’ so I’m not suggesting cutting corners but Solid Content is an investment whereas Expensive Content is just that. Throwing a boat load of money into something without putting thought into the marketability of it or whether it helps meet broader business objectives or whether the audience will respond positively to it is just plain madness.

Coming up with ideas

Ideas are all around us, you just need to keep your eyes open to them:

  • Wil Reynolds talks about “not hitting enter” and letting Google Instant to the legwork for you.
  • You or your sales team are bound to have common customer questions that could be expanded upon.
  • There are issues or events in your industry that warrant coverage.
  • Look at your product or service and think in broader terms or tangentially related areas.
  • Look out for related stories on the major news websites.
  • Buy the kinds of print magazines that your target audience read and get inspired that way.
  • Dig into my 30+ resources for generating content ideas.

Refining the concept

Once you’ve thrown around a few looser concepts you need to whittle it down and refine it to the point it is ready for research to be conducted. To do this, you will likely need to do a bit of preliminary research in order to flesh things out to decide whether it is a good area to explore.

At this point you need to think about:

  • Coverage hooks – why is it going to be timely or worthwhile (or both) for an editor to cover the infographic.
  • Markets – who are you going to take this to? What kind of audience/opportunity does that offer?
  • Design elements; colour schemes, layout etc

Even if you think your infographic is going to have widespread appeal, at this stage you really need to pin down the specific markets you will be targeting so that you can tailor every bit of work after this point to your prospective link partners and their audiences. Targeting everybody is targeting nobody.

Research

 


1368133478_college_3DWe produce infographics that involve both primary research and secondary research – I think both are just as valid and are of course suited to different situations.

In our experience, primary research can be a fantastic catalyst in securing press coverage however think carefully before going down this route because you need to ensure that your data is A) Valid and B) Accurate. If the sample size is too small or there are holes in your research then you will face a grilling from editors and journalists. Then all that work that went into presenting the data and promoting the graphic will be for nothing.

Secondary research forms the majority of our research work because thankfully the internet is a wealth of easily accessible data. Conducting surveys isn’t necessarily an option so don’t feel like you are ducking out of work by opting for secondary research. You also have the opportunity to collate various reputable sources and it means you have them to reference should a link prospect question the accuracy of a fact.

Key tenets of good infographic research

  1. Up to date and verifiable facts from reputable sources
  2. Identify what makes your audience tick and aim to pull out data and content that is likely to trigger an emotion/reaction
  3. Think how the data will visualise – nobody wants a graphic that is too text heavy

Research (bonus round)

Capitalise on the promotional potential of this phase of the process by selecting sources that you can reference and then outreach to later in the process. It is also a great idea to create a headline/title swipe file and a bank of any similar or closely related graphics as you are doing your research. This will mean your designer doesn’t end up producing something that is “me too” in an ocean of sameness and that you have a killer title to replace that working one to really get your audience excited about the visual feast they are about to enjoy.

Design

 


1368153037_integrationI’m no design expert but we work with a handful of experienced and talented designers so I feel I can add some value here in terms of overseeing the design process and helping your designer to do their best work without being a complete micro-manager!

  • Give a clear, non-ambiguous brief
  • Provide a definitive deadline
  • Pass positive as well as less positive client feedback to them
  • Have a backup designer (it would be unfair to label all designers unreliable but as with any industry a percentage are, but unlike the majority of other things in this business there’s no way I’d be able to muddle my way through producing an infographic for a client!)
  • Avoid colour schemes that might remind the audience of a competitor – obvious yet often forgotten
  • Don’t leave writing copy up to the designer – I can wholly appreciate why ad agencies have a designer and a wordsmith even if the creative being produced is predominantly visual.

If you want some real insights into infographic design best practices consider this and this from Smashing Magazine.

Production quality affects outreach results

It might seem smart to push more budget in the direction of the promotion but that needs to be in proportion otherwise it’ll be like pushing sh*t uphill for the individual(s) doing the outreach. Yes, we’ve all seen crap infographics do really well and vice versa BUT do you really want to be missing out on a top-tier placement because although the editor loved the concept, some of the facts were a little off and the graphic looked like an 11 year old made it? Do you really want your brand associated with the deluge of excrement that’s being predicted?

We’re good at outreach, but we’re not miracle workers.

Promotion Phase

Now we get on to the fun part; acquiring those juicy links, driving social activity and attracting a colossal engaged audience.

Opportunity Research

 

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Think initially in terms of “prospect buckets”, for example:

  • Media
  • Industry Bloggers
  • Key influencers (unsure how to get in front of the right audience?)
  • Research sources
  • Infographic galleries – target only the higher end ones and almost always towards the end of the promotion because some big name publications want “the exclusive” not as they see it, the scraps of an infographic gallery.
  • Your rolodex + that of your team (or PR team for example)

We separate in this way because they require different approaches in order to successfully get them behind the infographic. Also it encourages thorough opportunity prospecting as you have clear types of sites to look for and which bucket to drop them into.

Tools & Resources to find link opportunities

  • Link Prospector from Citation Labs – our team never leaves home without it. So many great reports including “find content promoters” and we love the custom reports where you can add your own prospecting queries.
  • Majestic SEO / OpenSiteExplorer (or your link explorer of choice) – find similar infographics and dig through their links for opportunities
  • Followerwonk – still my firm favourite for tracking down influencers and contributors to top tier publications on Twitter.
  • Watch this video on link building remora style.
  • Journalisted – handy for tracking down UK journalist details.
  • Email guesser – very handy for getting the contact details of someone who you see featured on a large publication.

Publishing Best Practices

 


1368134489_Activate

So you’re now ready to push the big red button and set this thing to live…

Plan for this to be a massive success and ensure you have a robust setup that is ready for spikes in social traffic if not then use an image hosting service like AWS or Imgur. This will also give you a fairly clean looking link that is easy to send prospective publishers to when they are reviewing the infographic.

Some other key things to consider:

  • File naming – clean title and alt attribute
  • Embed code – use this embed code generator
  • Set the embed code to select all on click using JavaScript for minimum friction

Think carefully about the attribution link you choose to include… one should take people back to the infographic and if you wish the other can go to a page you are trying to promote. Which anchor text to use is a pretty big decision at this point because you could potentially end up with quite a few links in a short space of time and that might not be the greatest thing if all those anchors are exact match for a highly-commercial keyword term… not to mention the fact that often editors are on the lookout for fishy looking embed codes and an overly commercial link could lose you the placement.

Share via your own social channels + launch with some paid social seeding

We have seen excellent results with StumbleUpon Paid Discovery, Outbrain content distribution and Facebook Advertising (promoting a post) as a means of launching content. Each of these provide arguably cheap and socially active eyeballs that are going to set this snowball in motion.

Outreach

 


1368156570_invitationUndoubtedly this is going to be the most challenging element (and rewarding) of the campaign. It’s not easy to get noticed when you’re up in someone’s inbox, particularly if that someone is pretty darn popular.

Best practices for writing outreach emails

  • Find the person’s name
  • Get a professional email address
  • Make sure it is the right person
  • Be meticulous in your proofreading
  • Be personal
  • Respect their time and be concise
  • Think carefully about certain words that might flag spam filters

Structuring your email

Writing good outreach emails is NOT an easy thing to teach. A lot comes down to practice, experimenting a little and aligning your other efforts to hit that sweet spot where outreach is practically friction-less because you’ve understood the audience at the research stage and you’re pitching the right people. Then your campaign will feel a lot less like drudgery and more like a link building machine.

What about phone outreach?

We do some phone outreach but honestly we’ve had limited success – certainly from a cold outreach perspective. In most cases, it has been effective only as a means of follow-up/clarification i.e. if an editor wanted to discuss the piece, had a question etc. We find email to be fast, efficient and effective for both parties… the busy individual can deal with your attempt to connect on their time and on their terms (perhaps whilst waiting for a flight/train etc) rather than you barging in on their work-day with a phone call.

Use social media as a primer

Particularly with high-value prospects you may well need to invest the time in developing the beginnings of a relationship. There are no golden rules as much as we hear processes that read; do this, wait 3 weeks, write a blog comment, send email… these people are intelligent humans and will see straight through your machine like approach.

The best advice I can give is to be genuinely helpful to someone, I’m not suggesting you offer to pop round and mow their lawn but make their life easier with your expertise and skills. Suggesting software that solves their problem, helping spread the word about something they are working on, introducing them to a source for a story they are working on. Then let the theory of reciprocation play out.

There are bonus points on the table here for credibly pitching your infographic as the helpful solution to that individual’s current situation; you might need a bit of luck and some incredible timing to make that happen though.

Extension Phase

Value Maximisation Tactics

 


1368159306_Profit_3D
Squeezing extra mileage out of stuff is something of a hobby of mine and here are just some of the ways you can dramatically extend the life of your infographic. Whilst some of these tactics require a small amount of extra budget, the beauty is that you are reusing design assets.

1) Be sure to collect the links owed to you

Look for instances where your infographic has been used but no attribution link has been included.

This is something that can be done on an ongoing basis if the infographic has certain evergreen properties because people will continue to use your image potentially without giving you proper credit for it.

In the early stages of the campaign you can often find some really juicy link opportunities by finding the sites that have covered the piece but not attributed correctly. There are a couple of ways to find the infographics without attribution:

  • Reverse image search using Google Images or Tineye.
  • Google Alerts using a part of the title
  • Monitoring brand name mentions and manually reviewing these to see if any are infographics with a citation but no link.

None of these are 100% effective method, but when used in conjunction with eachother they will ensure you can salvage the majority of what would otherwise be wasted link equity.

2) Extend the life with an additional paid social campaign

As discussed above, StumbleUpon Paid Discovery, Outbrain and Facebook Advertising are all strong ways to gain additional exposure for your infographic . In our experience, looking at reasons to gain coverage at a later stage is the way to go with this for example taking your evergreen piece on a particular industry issue and hooking it into an industry event say an awareness week for example. Social audiences will be more receptive to your content when they already have a heightened sense of awareness for some of the issues that your piece covers.

3) Guest blogging

Infographic campaigns can be extended (and extra links garnered) by embedding the graphic and providing a write-up offering value and insight to a new audience. This will enable you to acquire additional links, without a great deal of extra resource.

4) Repurpose content

  • Translate into other languages – English language markets are inundated with infographics, international markets less so.
  • Turn into other formats such as video for wider distribution

Reflection & Reporting

1368159367_Reward_3DWe work with a diverse range of clients so reporting for us looks different almost every time. We try to be flexible because some want to know a certain type of metric and others want a whole different kind of metric to be quantified.

We are moving more and more towards not only quantifying the number of links secured, social activity around the content and the metrics of those links from an SEO perspective but also considering things like potential audience so as to give a clearer idea for those clients looking to really understand how we are helping to raise brand awareness.

Ultimately, it comes down to the client to determine what “success” looks like but relating to campaign objectives, overall business goals and specifically what outcome has been achieved for the investment.

Skyrocket SEO can help grow your business with infographics. Get in touch

 

8 Comments

  1. avatar
    Anthony Pensabene May 10, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    hey, James, great article!!! :p

    can you extrapolate further upon the part about wisely choosing anchor text (minding could be shared in a short amount of time). maybe frame it with an example vertical, or mention some strategies you’ve applied/observed to make things appear ‘natural.’ perhaps you can (cough) make a video about it.

    • avatar
      James Agate May 16, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

      It is really difficult to offer a set “perfect” anchor text distribution but as you know we shoot for what feels natural in the sense that if we are going for a link to the homepage we’ll probably go branded for an infographic promotion just so that we don’t end up overcooking a keyword link should the uptake on the graphic (in terms of embeds) be really high…

      In a lot of cases if you are linking to a sub-page on a site because it is more relevant to the graphic for example then it often makes more sense to go for a descriptive anchor text link rather than branded to give users a clearer idea of what they are going to be landing on.

      James

  2. avatar
    chris May 10, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Excellently done James!

    In addition to Anthony’s question. do you ever recommend anchor text rotating or changing as the infographics gets older?

    • avatar
      James Agate May 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

      You can do if you wish but what we’ve found anyway is that the links worth having and worth caring about are published by actual people who often tweak the anchor text within the embed code to what they see as fitting so you often get a natural rotation in there anyway…

      Thanks for your comment Chris.

  3. avatar
    Simo Ahava May 10, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    Hi James,

    Thank you for this wonderful read! I was especially impressed with how you’ve managed to encapsulate everything I feel about content strategy so eloquently :)

    Good content is always geared towards eliciting an emotional response from visitors. You want to impress, stand out, be recognized, get positive evaluation, and gain a new friend. Too much SEO work is focused on run-of-the-mill tactics when the work should be focused on reaching the right audience with the right content introduced with the right means.

    Infographics are a prime example of tuning content for appropriate audiences partly because they are tools which, when successful, generate the kind of buzz that only quality content can, and partly because they are so labor-intensive that it would be an incredible business fail to NOT make all precautions necessary to ensure its success.

  4. avatar
    Forrest Schwartz May 11, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    James this is fantastic, just what I was looking for! The remora and outreach tactics are especially useful. Everyone talks about trying to “start a relationship” with these people through commenting and tweeting, but being genuinely helpful cuts through the awkward see-through tactics. Thank you for breaking it all down into actionable steps.

    If I could offer one suggestion, would you be able to hand this over to your designers and have them turn it into something pretty like one of the Quicksprout or SEOmoz’s guides? Your content is just as good as any of theirs, I think sprucing it up would go a long way in getting this shared.

    Just a thought, thanks again!

    • avatar
      James Agate May 16, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

      Thanks Forrest, that’s a very good idea and something that I did kind of have planned eventually. Anthony and I have been discussing turning quite a few bits of content on the site into visual guides and accompanying videos but thanks for the nudge :-)

      I appreciate your comment, thanks for reading.

      James

  5. avatar
    Danny Ashton May 28, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Hi James, thanks for putting this piece together, I wish more of the SEO community go into social in depth as to how infographics are produced. I really agree with kind of taking the time at the idea stage to put something really useful and spend lots of time to understand the audience. I think one of the things we’ve seen with working on the 200+ infographics we have, is that even if you forget the emotional triggers or some of the more quirky ideas, if you can build something that’s actually useful to an audience then you can pretty much guarantee that some people are gonna find that interesting and the outreach is gonna be a lot easier for that. And there’s one point I kind of wanted to talk to you a little bit about and that was the use of Outbrain as an outreach tool. As an agency we tested it out for months and didn’t find many good results from it but would be great to hear even maybe through a blog post or feel free to contact me about how you kind of got on with Outbrain and it’s something we’d be interested in trying in the future.