The Marketer’s Guide to Information Visualization
Have you ever looked at all of those bea-u-tiful infographics that other marketers are using and got a little envious?
“I’ve got a ton of great ideas for a cool graphic! If only I had a budget like KISSmetrics…”
Fact is, you’re probably right!
You could create something memorable if you had the right tools.
And not all of us have access to a world-class designer. Although you may not be able to duplicate something like The Art of Customer Loyalty (visually), you can definitely create your own infographics.
That’s why today, I’m going to reveal how you can get aboard the visualization marketing gravy train, where to find the best resources, and how to get graphics done without breaking the bank.
Information Visualization Marketing
Before we dig in, just why are images so dang appealing to us anyways?
Images are powerful in a place as prone to sharing as the internet, and there are a few reasons why:
- Convenience (perhaps the biggest reason of all)
- Ease of engagement
- Ease of sharing
- Crosses many language barriers
There are many more, but here’s the point I am making: images are the “snacks” of the internet.
I mean that in both the good and bad context.
That is to say, images are just about the easiest sources of “information” to digest around, just like a snack isn’t intensive to consume.
Some have criticized an image centric web as making us prone to skipping the more “gourmet” (read: longer and more articulately written) content that’s out there.
Your opinion of this shouldn’t matter though, after all, good content marketing is about giving people a combination of what they know they want and sometimes giving them what they didn’t know they needed.
A Recent Example of the Power of Images
Images can so greatly saturate the web, they can literally build a site based off of nothing but images.
A recent example of this is the site called DidYouKnowGaming.com.
This site takes video game trivia (the information) and creates small shareable images with that tidbit of trivia (the visualization).
Here’s an example:
In only a few weeks time, the site has generated over 1.5 million unique visitors.
This is largely due to the ample sharing of the site’s branded images on places like Reddit’s r/gaming.
I’m not here to tell you to abandon your written content, in fact I imagine that a site with a huge traffic source from Reddit will be quite difficult to monetize (Reddit traffic tends to suck & they typically use AdBlock), I’m just illustrating the point that images have a unique place on the web that written content just can’t fill.
Take a look at this recent Copyblogger infographic.
Yes, the nearly 70k+ pins on Pinterest is interesting, but things didn’t really get juicy until Tony Clark addressed the importance of having good results from your new traffic source, not just a jump in vanity metrics.
So, while reading this post, keep that in mind: while visualizations can be a very powerful tool for a HUGE variety of niches, you need to be measuring the impact on your bottom line, that is, more sales, more leads, and more of the right traffic to your site.
Otherwise, your just wasting your time on pretty pictures.
3 Great Types of Information Visualizations
For the scope of this post, I’m going to address the 3 most common types of visualizations used in visualization marketing.
In every instance, the focus is on being concise and using appealing visual content to catch people’s eyes (and attention).
There are a few other ways to visualize information (that I’ll briefly go over at the end of the post), but for our purposes, the 3 big types of visual content to create come in the forms of:
Below, I’ll go over each of them in detail, describe how you can create them, and even throw in some strategy.
These are the biggest undertakings in the visualization marketing sphere (again, at least for our purposes), they usually require an ample amount of data and a stellar design now that they’ve become so popular.
Infographic readers now demand a close attention to detail: the bar has been raised for infographics recently, and if yours doesn’t look good, you shouldn’t even bother.
Creating a good infographic definitely starts with you, unless you’re willing to pay top dollar for creation of one from start to finish.
If I were to assume that you’ve got a big budget for this stuff, this wouldn’t be a very interesting post, would it. 😉
So then, let’s break down creating an infographic from scratch, trying to keep our costs low along the way.
Gathering the Information/Data
If any one part of the infographic should fall on you, it’s the information collection.
I say this because you are in control of the content that your blog releases, and it’s the information that you want to stay with people long after the pretty colors of your charts fade from memory.
Luckily, you don’t need to spend 3-months analyzing the trends of 3,000 vegans in order to make an infographic about veganism.
Data is being gathered as a substantial rate, and much of it is out there for you to use if you’d like.
Jon Cooper of Point Blank SEO put together a great list of data sources in his post about visualizations for link building, which I’ve included below:
- Google Public Data
If that still seems overwhelming, remember that infographics don’t always have to be about the data.
They are of course infographics, and if you just want to create one that is based on information, you can of course do that .
Here’s an example of a “information” style infographic that I researched for Help Scout:
Pin this bad boy on Pinterest!
If your niche isn’t really suited for presenting loads of data, always keep in mind that intriguing information makes a good infographic as well.
Hiring A Designer
The classic way to get infographics done (if you can’t design, that is) is to hire a talented designer to make your information pretty.
What’s that gonna cost you?
The un-sexy answer: it depends.
Fortunately, you can greatly reduce your costs in the following ways…
- Have the entire set of information already compiled (and organized)
- Create a wireframe (an outline of the infographic) before discussing price
- Include your own images and have your design narrowed down
Let’s break these down, shall we?
First things first, if you approach a designer with little to no information, expect to pay some big money.
This should be the first thing off of your checklist, after all, it’s your content, you should be in charge of putting the data together (or organizing data that you’ve found).
With this in hand, the designer can focus on designing, and you won’t be stuck with overpriced fees that many infographic based design firms charge.
Second, you should have a very detailed wireframe put together, even if it’s assembled in some basic editing program.
This again helps to ensure that minimal time is spent on things outside of design, and gives your prospective designer a roadmap to follow when they go about “prettying” up your data.
A wireframe would include the general theme and layout of the infographic, including content & image positioning, color schemes, accompanying visual ideas, etc.
Lastly, if you do know how to create a few images in Photoshop (but not a full infographic), you can provide some assistance by doing some of the legwork yourself.
I state this last point with a lot of hesitation though: if you cannot design well, you’re better off just letting the designer do their job and not interfering.
I don’t recommend getting designers from freelance places, I prefer to message artists that I’ve found on Dribbble, because you have to be pretty good to get an account on that site.
Infographic Creation Tools
Creating an infographic can be a daunting task if your experience in design includes no more than using the paintbrush tool in Microsoft Paint.
Fortunately, creating these insanely useful images has been getting easier and easier, and there are a few tools available that can really take away a lot of the headache.
By far the best tool I’ve used is called Piktochart, nothing else even comes close.
It is the most complete offering thus far: it has a ton of themes & editing capabilities, and is even getting fresh updates as we speak.
Some other similar offerings (many of these are in beta or don’t offer as many themes) include the following:
Last but not least, if you know you’re way around Photoshop, I’d highly recommend you check out some “Infographic Elements” packages that contain the graphics for a potential inforgaphic, but have to be edited by you (in Photoshop) and put together.
Here’s a link to the infographic sets on GraphicRiver, which are by far the best.
If you have the data and a copy of Photoshop on hand, you can edit yourself a damn good looking infographic from these, otherwise, you should check out the above tools.
Shareables are bits of information (or sometimes a quote or saying) that’s given a pretty makeover to help it leave a strong impact.
Here’s a great example of a freely released shareable by Rafal Tomal:
(If you want to download the PSD to use yourself, you can find it here)
When it comes to shareables such as this, the ‘information’ can often come in the form of a quote or a single bit of insight.
This easily consumed info and pretty paint job makes them easy to share (surprise!).
But as with all images & even infographics… one of the biggest points of making them is to get people to “steal” them!
Getting folks to embed your visual content on their site (with an appropriate link back) is great for traffic and SEO, and one of the main reasons that they are used.
Even getting the image spread around in regurgitation machines like Tumblr isn’t all that bad as long as you watermark.
So, let’s get in to how you can get some of this “shareable” action for yourself.
From how I see it, there are 3 great types of content suitable for shareables.
You should of course feel free to get creative, that’s what it’s all about, but here are 3 content types to get your started:
- A single piece of information
- An outline of information
You’ve already seen two great examples of the first two.
The idea behind putting single bits of information or a quote is that there are times when concise information can leave a greater impact than long, drawn out info.
The brevity serves to improve the message in a way, the same way a poem can speak volumes or that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and the visual aspect guarantees that more people will see it.
1.) Single pieces of info
You’ve already seen examples of the single bits of info graphics in action from the DidYouKnowGaming example.
The point here is that the information needs to be interesting/unique/shocking enough that it warrants a single image.
Here’s an example of one that sucks:
😉 (I didn’t want to hurt any feelings, so I made my own purposefully sucky graphic in Microsft Paint… don’t you dare pin this on Pinterest, so help me…)
What’s wrong with this thing? Well, everything, but here’s specifically what it did poorly:
- The information is not memorable or shocking; it doesn’t surprise or reveal secrets, and it isn’t useful either.
- The graphic is poorly done, it’s legible, but that’s about the only thing it does “okay” in terms of design. It stands out, but in a bad way.
- The “quote” (lol) is sourced, but there’s no direction for where one might get more: no watermark, no original site, just a name.
So, in short, don’t do what I did up there :).
The example from Rafal Tomal (above) is an excellent showcase of a quote graphic.
This particular shareable hits a few things just right:
- The quote itself is powerful; it’s memorable, easily recited, and very motivational
- The graphic is beautifully designed, the colors are unique and blend well, and it just catches your eye (I mean, it’s Rafal, no surprise there!)
- The source (Steve Jobs) is a popular figure; while meaningful quotes carry their own popularity, people are more likely to share thoughts from people they already like or hold in high esteem, that’s why you see so many Ghandi quotes floating around
The quote doesn’t source a website, but that’s because it was released as a free download, the other Copyblogger quotes put the logo at the bottom, so you know where the graphic originated from.
Why do you think spammy sites like 9Gag & I Can Haz Cheezburger watermark all of their images?
Don’t be like them though: make it tasteful, an intelligent audience is built on having some restraint. 😉
Seriously though, always source your content, just incorporate your watermark naturally into your graphic and people will appreciate it.
3.) An outline of information
For this, we once again turn to Copyblogger, which is apparently a team of folks who know a thing or two about content marketing.
In this great example of an “outline” shareable, Brian Clark re-imagines his post on ‘Being A Better Writer’, with the ten not-so-secret steps involved in crafting better content:
These outlines should read like a bullet-point list, such as a “to-do” list for a certain topic, just as this one does.
They work well for the same reason that list-posts work well: when information is numbered, it’s easier to consume.
It also makes it more approachable.
Reading a piece called How To Be A Better Writer is intimidating to some readers, but 10 Ways To Be A Better Writer let’s you know what to expect.
I feel like slideshows are the most underrated visualization form out there, and I hope this post (and my examples) encourages bloggers to rethink just how useful this medium can be.
In fact, my main slideshow platform of choice (SlideShare) is growing at a respectable rate, and serves a very professional and business oriented audience (even more so than LinkedIn!):
Slideshows are a bit of a different breed: although they benefit from brevity, the option to have multiple slides means that they can often contain more data (or information) than an infographic and certainly more than a shareable.
They can also incorporate more powerful imagery than shareables, and are more flexible than infographics in terms of what they can show.
Check out this slideshow on 50 quotes about doing the impossible:
You’ll notice that this presentation took off and became quite popular on SlideShare (it was even shared by Michael Hyatt), and that’s because it contains the winning “two-part slideshow formula” of:
- Powerful, memorable images
- Concise, insightful information
This is a common element in many of the most popular slideshows on SlideShare; take it from a guy who’s hit the front page before.
The images in the above presentation really show what works: well designed graphics or powerful real life photos rule the day on SlideShare.
The tidbits of info keeps people reading; I think we can all agree that the #1 rule for PowerPoint presentations is to keep things interesting and to keep things moving, boredom is always a risk for this medium.
Creating Slideshows (the Easy Way)
“Argh, design problems again!”
Not so, these are easier to create than you might expect!
Again, we’re heading over to GraphicRiver, which is one of my secret weapons for running websites and being Photoshop inept at the same time.
So, you’re looking at around $10-15 for a complete set of slides, but you can get a lot out of each purchase.
Re-using slide sets is definitely a possibility because they typically offer around 20 slide types, and you won’t need to use each one in a single presentation (in fact, it would be quite challenging to).
Once you have a presentation style picked out, it’s time to pick a topic and do this the right way.
Treat your slideshow like you would an individual blog post.
That means that the title slide needs to be eye-catching and really encourage people to click (just like a post headline).
It also means the presentation should cover ONE topic and have a good flow.
If you are going to incorporate “real” photos, I highly recommend you check out Compfight, which is a Flickr search tool that let’s you browse for Creative Commons images.
Remember to cater to a particular audience, just like any good blog post would: try to be specific and create content that arouses emotions and gets people fired up to share and discuss.
Also remember to end with a strong call to action.
Don’t be afraid to tell people to check out your site for more, or even pitch a free opt-in download at the end of your slides.
Visual Marketing Promotion
If you are going to incorporate visuals into your blogging and content marketing effots in the future (which I hope you will!), I’ve got a few tips for you to promote them effectively.
1.) Make Visuals Easily Accessible from Blog Content
If you start creating visuals regularly, it would probably serve you well to have a separate section for them on your blog, a “resource page” for graphics, if you will.
KISSmetrics does this quite well with their infographics:
Some easy way to access them is always good, in case that is what people are looking for.
2.) Submit Your Infographic to Places That Accept Them
Infographics are especially useful since their popularity has spawned multiple places that now focus on nothing but new infographics.
You can start by submitting your latest creations to the following sites:
Shareables and slideshows don’t typically have anything similar, but there are more ways to get them out there…
3.) Guest Posting
Ah yes, the ever-dwindling (but still effective) tactic of guest blogging, this time, with pretty visuals!
I’ve noted in this post that multimedia content avoids the “duplicate content” penalty and is meant to be shared… that also means it’s meant to be shared by you as well.
If you guest post and some image or graphic that you’ve created works well for the post, utilize it, if you’re getting onto a big blog with this content, you can really help it’s chances of spreading.
I’ve done this multiple times with no complaints with my SlideShare presentations, and I’ve even been able to hit the front page of SlideShare like I did with the presentation below:
Fact of the matter is, media content is re-usable, and not in a spammy sense, but rather it was created to be embedded and included in other posts, unlike written content.
4.) Always Watermark
Seems simple enough, so just remember to do it!
Don’t make the watermark so large or obtrusive that it kills enjoyment of the image, just make sure that it is subtly included so people know where to go if they want more.
Again, KISSmetrics serves as a good example, look at how they end their infographics with a simple logo:
As I mentioned above, always apply this simple call to action to slideshows as well: it’s your content, source it proudly!
5.) Source or Include a Bigger Name
This is the same tactic I use in my actual guest posts, but it also works quite well for creating visual content.
If you are going to create a graphic of some kind (let’s say a quote ‘shareable’), it can often be smart to include someone that is likely to share it, and that already has an established audience.
If you were to create a quotable graphic in the fitness niche, maybe you could include an athlete with a substantial following, and then reach out and notify the right people (via email) about the graphic.
If it’s good enough, trust me, you’ll see it shared on places like the athlete’s Facebook page or other places where they’ve built a following online.
Simply put: include a big player in your niche, make sure it’s a quality image, and you will likely see them share it as a thanks for including them.
6.) Reach Out!
The most underrated tactic of all time.
Personal emails go a long way in an era that favors impersonal tweets.
If you’ve created some great visual content, reach out to people who you think might really enjoy it.
Target people will actually get utility out of what you’ve created, don’t just “spray and pray” a ton of inboxes.
Don’t know where to begin?
After your existing connections, head to places like AllTop to find other bloggers in your niche, it’s often a great place to start that can lead you “down the rabbit hole” in finding other sites.
Remember: personal emails, and don’t spam the same people over and over!
Here’s another great way to find people…
(Again, courtesy of Jon Cooper, he’s pretty smart ;))
If you’ve ever utilized the tool Topsy, you already know how useful it is for research & promotion.
Essentially what it does is it sorts content by how many times it was shared on Twitter (thus revealing the content’s general popularity).
If you click on All Time after searching a related term (let’s say you just wrote an article on “productivity”), you can see the listed shares.
If you click on “xxx more“, you can see the full list of people who shared the piece.
Here’s the thing…
You know that these people already like similar content, so they are much more likely to share similar content if you reach out to them.
Again, don’t annoy and spam, but find some contact info and let them know about your new piece.
How to Incorporate Pinterest
Pinterest is the most hyped hype of all things hype… seriously though, the entire internet has been raving about Pinterest, but it’s only really important for some niches (and in some instances).
For information visualization, it can give a big boost of traffic if you incorporate it correctly (this is obviously only applied to single images and not slideshows).
The most basic advice I can give is to promote the Pinterest button if you usually don’t include it.
I don’t recommend having the Pinterest button included in your “regular” sharing buttons unless you are running a very visual blog because people start to become blind to it quickly
However, if you mostly produce written content, boldly placing a Pinterest button in content can really encourage people to share your new image.
There are two useful tools that I’d also like to discuss:
The point of both of these plugins is to draw eyeballs to sharing on Pinterest.
The first one adds a small floating Pinterest icon on the left or right side of the screen, reminding users of the existance of Pinterest if you’re showcasing a bunch of cool photos.
The second one is really interesting, in my opinion.
What it allows you to do is to add a “hover” option to your images that shows a clickable Pinterest button.
This is interesting because people have been known to hover over images when reading content on-screen, it just naturally draws their eyes.
Putting a hover effect over images is therefore one of the best ways to remind people about sharing to Pinterest, and it can have a big effect if your blog is very visually focused, such as Freshome (a site featured on our successful blogs list).
The Great Beyond
I mentioned that there were methods of information visualization outside the scope of this post, and I’d like to briefly touch on a pair of them here, in case you do have the talent or budget to get them done.
Great video presentations are tough, and they’re usually huge projects unless you’re already quite skilled in making them (which is why they were left out).
They can, however, be extremely useful to promote a new release or even just your business offering.
As a quick example, here’s how the author of the ‘Information Diet’ used video to visualize some info to promote the corresponding book:
It’s cool, it’s informative, it’s entertaining, but it’s TOUGH to make one of these.
2.) Interactive Charts (non-embeddable)
Many folks have this misconception that images are only useful if they can be embedded (looking as you SEO guys & gals).
We’ve shown that the ample sharing of images can literally build an audience in a few short weeks (DidYouKnowGaming?), but there are also great examples of charts & visual data that you cannot share that still bring in a huge audience.
These forms of data typically cannot be embedded because they are interactive and built on site.
The New York Times’ Amanda Cox is usually involved in some amazing examples.
You can’t share it on other sites via embedding, yet it was insanely popular, and the interactive nature of the chart was really cool.
If you can pull something like this off, you are sure to attract attention.
It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this:
- Chart Porn
- Cool Infographics
- GOOD Magazine Infographics
- Data Journalism Awards
- State of the Internet
- Intacto’s 10 Years of History
- Future of Car Sharing
- Dangers of Fracking
- How many slaves work for you?
- You vs. John Paulson
- The Print Effect
- Pedestrian Crashes in Novosibirsk
Thanks again to Jon Cooper’s great post for the sources.
Over To You
Nice… you made it all the way to the bottom!
Here’s what’s next:
- Let me know in the comments what you think your first graphic endeavor will be, of if you’ve already made a couple of visuals, let me know how well they worked!
- What’s your favorite type of visual content?
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!
Photo by Matt Lehman