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The Art and Science of Great Infographics

by Kate Gamble, August 22, 2011

Perhaps it is best to start off by saying that I am no designer. However, there was a time in my life that I did have to remember the principles of design and spent days cramming them into my brain in a last attempt effort before an exam. So it is not that surprising that when I felt the need to start producing Engagement Objects for client websites, those same principles of design instantly sprang to mind.

There have been quite a few changes recently, as search engines redefine what it means to be a successful page on the Internet. Going, going, gone are the days that a few strategically placed keywords in the HTML and a directory link or two could push one to the first page for a competitive keyword. So now with the roll out of Caffeine (giving Google a much better view of the WWW) and Panda (the purge of low quality content) there have been many who try to define what it means to be "quality" in the eyes of the search giant.

We have been encouraged to go beyond PageRank and think more about metrics that actually matter, you know, apart from SEO traffic excluding branded keywords. What are the new KPIs for SEO? As Google tells us:

Click through rate

  • Think strong Meta tags with great CTA.
  • Consider Google preview and what stands out on your page from a design perspective. Because Google Preview uses JPG compression, colors such as orange and purple tend to degrade less gracefully than yellow and red counterparts.
  • Are you If so this may not be helping. Trusted brands will help with click through.

Bounce Rate

  • When someone arrives at your site what type of neighbourhood will they see? A trashed out, Meta refreshing, flashing weight-loss ad ghetto? Or Pleasantville with white picket fences, well kept front gardens, white space and clear call to action?
  • Ask yourself, "Has my site adequately answered the question from the search phrase my users came in on?"
  • TIP: Use analytics to do landing page analysis of what keywords send you traffic and check that you are dealing with those queries above the fold of your page.

Conversion Rate

  • Persuade people to do what you want them to do and make it as easy as possible for them to do it. Then tell them they have done it. It may seem simple but from our experience with monitoring click-throughs and tracking user attention for conversion rate optimisation, a big lesson is to never overestimate your users.
  • Give users a compelling enough reason why they should use your website to convert on, be this via trust signals, great content, quality images, etc.
  • Understand the different types of people, or personas, that visit your site in order to better cater to their wants and needs and improve the odds that they will convert.

Pop Quiz: Now that we know what metrics the big search boys are really tracking, what should every website be thinking about? Tip: It's in the heading of the article... (see, not overestimating you). That's right, infographics.

Infographics are going to make a pretty big difference because they help us address a number of those key points above:

  • Forget about users getting to your site and bouncing straight off again. Engaging infographics will make users stop and take a look, effectively causing them to actually notice what your site has to offer.
  • Stand out from the crowd and give someone the idea that this website is truly cared for, no generic stock photography here people!
  • Get your point across. Remember, people are far more likely to look at a picture than they are to read a block of text.
  • Show users that you care about them. By using statistics that are based on your audience you can instantly give the impression that you listen to your customers and care about their response.

Where to Source Data for Infographics

This great question is best answered with another: what do you have that no one else has access to? A few scenarios below:

A university: The competitive advantage a university has is access to young people, a group that also makes up the target market.

Use the existing students to find information regarding their daily behavior, for example:

  • Attending / not attending class and its statistical impact on marks
  • Money saved on BYO lunch versus purchasing from the canteen
  • Comparing mode of transportation to and from uni versus BMI

Survey the alumni to find out what number of ex students:

  • Made friends for life from university
  • Got the job of their dreams within two years of graduating
  • Earn above average wages

Use data that is going to help people make the decision to choose you. For example, place charts about friends and money on the new class enrollments page.

A research / information website: Particularly in the area of health and lifestyle, there is a vested self interest in humans to find out how they compare to the rest of the population.

Here are some ways to source data:

  • Use an onsite quiz so that users can anonymously provide answers to questions relating to landing page topics from within your website
  • Use an online survey panel to interview individuals that you know are regular site visitors (TIP: great for testing marketing ideas too)
  • Send an email out to your database and pose a question with a separate link for users to click on depending on their answers. For example, are you a:
    • Young mum
    • A parent in your 20s or 30s
    • A parent with kids in high school
    • A parent with adult-aged children

Your users will be able to verify if your research assumptions are correct, which means you can then go out and source additional data at further expense if needed, while being relatively certain the response is actually going to be helpful in proving your point.

TIP: Remember, sometimes it is good to try a Q&A format on a small group (e.g. the people in your office) before sending it out to your 900K database. You may not have considered all possible answers to a question, and it gives you an opportunity to identify potentially offensive content.

An e-commerce site: If your users are there to shop then it may not be appropriate to distract them with polls and quizzes. You can bet your competition is already going for user ratings and reviews (especially with the new markup language that helps push that kind of data in the SERPs), so cover your basics and then think big about:

  • Using database information such as age, sex, marital status, number of children, age of children to find out about the lifecycle of your product and represent that graphically, for example "85% of buyers of this diamond ring were single men (unlikely to be single for much longer!)"
  • What usage stickers does the product have on it (energy star ratings, wattage, etc.) that you can replicate on the landing page
  • Use prices of objects to indicate trends, such as iPhone costs over the years to offset user concerns about offloading hard cash

Feel free to request further information from users who have already made purchases on your website. For example, on your thank you page you may wish to include a text box so that customers can tell you more about what they intend to do with their purchase, or send an email post delivery (ideally one month later for your average white good) and find out what the satisfaction of the product purchase was like. Use this data to show graphically that "95% of people who purchased this microwave were very happy with it once they got it home and into operation."

Tips for Fellow Non-Design Experts When Weighing New Infographics

Composition: Before you involve your graphic designer make sure you are 100% sure on the messaging you want. You know your business and your audience better than anyone else so check what this data is actually saying and then write your copy with the user objective front of mind. Do the hard work and leave designers to do what they do best ─ make it look pretty.

Balance: Get the mix between subliminal marketing messaging versus interesting facts just right. Don't be too salesy, and keep things interesting and relevant.

Location: Where does this graphic sit? We see all too often great infographic content stuck over in an /images sub-directory. Rather, place those key pieces of content into landing pages within your important and optimised silos. Remember, these will attract links and you want that link juice funneling into the right area of your website.

Repetition: Use colours and patterns that match your packaging or existing design. These graphics should look like they were made for the website / page / product so repeat important design aspects.

Emphasis: Don't count on users analyzing graphs and taking meaning from them. Ensure you have a heading which spells it all out. Feel free to repeat that same (or similar) message in the body content of your page.

Contrast: Never underestimate the value of white space to emphasise your infographic. Bold colours that offset each other will help you get your message across more effectively.

Variety: If you don't want your website to be treated like every other site then make sure your graphics add value.

TIP: have you considered the purple cow?

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