Search engine optimization professionals don't usually recommend creating more images, but infographics can have a real benefit to SEO. Typically, images are used in place of textual content to convey the same message visually. Consequently, images tend to be viewed as detrimental to SEO efforts. Infographics, however, are in a class by themselves because they can quickly convert to links and shares that benefit SEO.
USA Today's print newspaper popularized infographics in America years ago with its bite-sized front-page informational images. The same concept applies to the Internet, where visitors expect to receive information and entertainment instantly. The instant digestibility and visual appeal of infographics lure visitors to learn more.
Creating Successful Infographics
Underneath the shiny surface, however, an infographic really needs to have some substance to engage visitors. The first step is a compelling data set. An infographic needs to have something interesting and unique to report. Every business in every industry generates mountains of data, much of which is confidential. Some of that data is at a high enough level that it can be turned into a generic infographic.
Consider holiday sales trends. The major analysts and research houses like Forrester, comScore, Nielsen, and Pew Internet will generate mountains of reports on holiday trends. Keep an eye on your favorites for trends that are related to your business, and create your own report that compares your data to the national trends.
If you sell mobile phones, for instance, one of the analysts may report that cell phone sales increased by 20 percent in the U.S. over the holiday period. That is interesting. But your business data could give you a different perspective on that trend. Did your sales increase more than 20 percent? Which phones were the top sellers? Which platforms? Maybe you have an industry leader — or aspiring leader — in-house who predicted the trend and could be quoted as well in the infographic.
Piggybacking on other research is not the only way to source an infographic, though. Your business also does market research and customer surveys. PriceGrabber took its Black Friday customer survey data and created a visual-heavy and information-light infographic with plenty of eye candy. Even something as dry as life insurance could create an interesting infographic around the top motivations for purchasing life insurance based on a customer survey.
Which brings us to the second critical factor: design. A boring infographic will get you nowhere fast, whether it's the data behind the infographic or its visual design that lacks luster. Likewise, infographics that are overly complex, crowded, or just plain confusing will also likely have little success. In other words, don't whip up a pie chart in Excel and try to pass it off as an exciting infographic. If you don't have the design talent in-house to conceive of and create compelling infographics, look to your creative agency or an agency that specializes in infographics or design.
Keep in mind that infographics don't have to be static images. Some of the most engaging infographics are actually interactive pieces created in Flash or HTML5. For example, The New York Times featured an amazing interactive piece on the national elections last month. Clicking any state revealed more detailed information, as well as the ability to drill down to individual counties. The well-designed interactivity of the feature coupled with the immediacy and interest that the topic generated combined to create a very successful piece of link bait. All through election night this feature ranked consistently in the top spots in Google, and was shared and linked to in Tweets, Facebook shares, and blog posts.
Video offers another engaging format for infographics. Imaging multiple panes of static or lightly animated infographics strung together with a voice over to tell a more involved story. For example, this infographic entitled "The Crisis of Credit" was created by a graduate student as part of his thesis work. Note how the animation flow makes a rather dry topic more engaging and trustworthy.
Hosting and Promoting Infographics
The most natural place to post an infographic is a blog or content section on the same domain as your ecommerce site. That way, when people link to and share the infographic page, the link authority and shares benefit the whole domain and strengthen the ecommerce sections as well as the infographic content itself. Avoid creating a microsite for your infographics or other blog content, because the link authority will puddle up at that domain without flowing strongly to your ecommerce site. But if getting eyeballs on your infographic is more profitable than getting searchers to your ecommerce site, then a microsite will be just fine.
In addition to the infographic itself, the page it's hosted on should have some descriptive textual content. Avoid optimizing the infographic page for the same keywords you're trying to target with your ecommerce site, because you don't want to push your product and category pages farther down in the rankings. Instead target another relevant phrase. Go ahead and link to one or two relevant products or categories as well in the descriptive text, but keep the focus on the infographic to avoid souring the audience with too many overtly commercial links. If the infographic is specifically related to a category of products or a single product, it should also be featured on those related pages to drive relevant traffic between the product and infographic content.
When the infographic is live, it needs to be promoted. Naturally you'll have been working with the other marketing channels throughout the process to make sure that the finished product meets all marketing needs. Consider working with press relations, email marketing, social media marketing, blogger outreach, and other channels rather than considering infographics a purely SEO-oriented project. Promotion of the infographic is where the combined strength of your marketing channels comes in to play.
Too many infographics fail because they haven't been promoted. Reach out to topically related bloggers and media outlets (large and small) to offer your infographic. For those you haven't worked with before, it can be the start of a new relationship that benefits you both. Consider offering an initial exclusive to your most influential publisher if they need enticement, and wait a week or so to offer it to others publish it on your own site.
Infographics Gone Wrong
Infographics have been the darling of the SEO industry for a while now, so they are starting to be abused by those whose goal is manipulating search results. Tactics to avoid include bait-and-switch links, embedded links, and embed code that contains heavily optimized anchor text.
For example, spammers will use the natural impulse to click on an image to link visitors to a site that's unrelated to the topic, a tactic known as bait-and-switch. Others will embed different links throughout the infographic. While not necessarily a negative tactic in and of itself, again the destination the embedded link takes visitors to may not be what they expected. Embed code, offering a snippet of code that's easy to paste into your blog, likewise isn't necessarily nefarious. But when the embed code contains a static HTML link with heavily optimized anchor text to an unrelated site, that's another signal for spammy activity.
Google in particular has indicated that it's actively working to detect these spammy practices algorithmically. That said, there's nothing inherently evil about infographics. When created for user benefit as well as marketing value and promoted effectively to topically relevant media and blogs, infographics are as legitimate and worthy a method of spreading marketing messages and improving SEO as any other content marketing method.