When Should You Use An Infographic?

The infographic has been around since the dawn of man (literally – apparently cavemen made use of them) but you’d be forgiven for thinking they are a recent innovation, especially if you work in SEO. Depending on who you believe, infographics are either the ultimate search engine optimisation solution or so last year, darling.

Since Penguin (how did you guess?) hit, content marketing has become the ‘big thing’ in SEO and right at the forefront of this craze is infographics. The infographic is often presented as some kind of ‘Penguin Killer’, a relatively simple-to-produce piece of content guaranteed to go viral on social media and gain you hundreds, if not thousands, of quality backlinks.

As such, infographics are cropping up everywhere covering just about any topic and industry you could care to imagine. There’s even an Inception-esque infographic about infographics. Like any saturated market, however, the quality of these infographics vary greatly from sublime visual presentations of interesting information to data-light/poorly thought-out fluff that would barely generate 500 words of blog post, let alone an entire infographic.

Basically, all of those wonderful benefits you may have been sold about infographics only apply if, and prepare yourself for a massive revelation here, the infographic is actually good. The abuse of infographics for SEO purposes has got so bad that Google’s Head Spam Chief Matt Cutts has suggested that links from poor quality infographics may get discounted in the future.

As there are quite a few good ‘how-to’ infographic guides out there, this post is going to focus on a few considerations you should make before you decide to plough ahead with an infographic rather than telling you how to create a good infographic. It should be noted that this isn’t intended as any kind of ‘definitive guide’ and we’d love to hear your own suggestions and approaches to infographics in the comments.

Do you have enough data?

It seems quite obvious, but there are plenty of instances where it’s clear that the principle motivation of an infographic was ‘produce an infographic’ rather than to present relevant data in an interesting and engaging way.

Make sure you have enough data to make an interesting infographic. There’s no hard and fast rule on how much is enough but you’ll probably know if you’re just making an infographic for the sake of making it if you’re trying to scrape together enough fluff to fill out the graphic. If you haven’t got enough material, either present your content in a different format or wait until you have enough data to produce your graphic (although this isn’t recommended for time-dependent data).

Do you have the design skills, or know someone with the skills?

We’ve already ascertained that infographics are abundant so any graphic you produce will be competing with millions of others for attention and links, including thousands in your own industry.

This means that standing out is key and this means producing extremely high quality, well thought-out designs. This doesn’t just mean slapping pretty pictures and graphs on a page – we’re talking about making the kind of serious graphic design choices that require years of practice and study to make. Consider whether you have the resources to produce the kind of graphic that will stand out and earn links before you go ahead. If not, outsource the work or opt for a different format.

Who is the infographic for?

Contrary to popular belief, people don’t love all infographics but instead love only the ones that are relevant to their interests. Like any good piece of content, you need to consider who exactly your infographic is intended for.

You should have a pretty good idea of who your audience is, but consider whether the returns you’ll make on that audience (particularly if they’re already dedicated to your brand) will be worth the time and money it takes to produce a quality infographic. Ideally, you want your content to go viral so think about how you’d reach out to a wider audience.

One approach to take is to link your brand to a wider subject – for example, the infographics we’ve produced for Cartridge World relate ink cartridges and printing (a narrow subject) to the internet and environmental concerns. Immediately, there’s two new avenues of promotion; tech blogs for the ‘How Much Would it Cost to Print the Internet’ infographic and environmental/green blogs for the ‘Environmental Impact of Printing’ infographic. Don’t fall into the trap of producing completely irrelevant content, however – the link between topics should be natural rather than forced.

Do you have a story to tell?

A good infographic isn’t just a graphic that visualises data in an interesting manner; it also tells a story. Producing an infographic with interesting data that is brilliantly visualised is only half the battle – not piecing together that data into a coherent narrative structure is akin to shooting the best film ever and then showing scenes in a random order (although that may get you praise in some arthouse circles).

Take a look at the data you have and consider what the collective narrative will be. Try and put together a framework, a common thread that links all the data. You don’t need to rival ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ in terms of storytelling, but you do need to find a way of leading your reader through the data seamlessly and in an engaging manner. Try not to be too tenuous though!

If you have any more considerations to add to our list, we’d love to hear them. In the meantime, check out our infographics for Cartridge World; not to blow our own trumpet too much, but we think they’re a pretty good example of what a good infographic looks like!

Chris Smith
  • Written by on 1st August 2012 at 15:07
  • “Chris Smith is a copywriter and social media manager at Fluid Creativity.”
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