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Note: For those unfamiliar, this is a link building blog, so after much debate of calling this the “content marketer’s” instead of the “link builder’s” guide to visualizations, bare with me as I try to tie a lot of this into building links. Thanks, & enjoy!
Great link builders solve problems, because problems lead to links.
One of today’s, and the future’s, biggest problems for publishers is making sense of data. Humans generated more data in 2009 than in the previous 5,000 years combined (source). This problem, rather, opportunity, is a chance for link builders to fly past their competitors, because the boundaries of visualization for links are still very much so unexplored.
At the same time, link building is becoming a content marketer’s game. When asked about how they build links for their clients, the guys at BlueGlass stated that all they do now is content marketing. This is because you can’t just hand a guy like me a spreadsheet & some tools with no access to a client’s site and hope I’ll get the job done at the end of the day. You need to integrate your link building strategy with your content to have any real, long-term success.
And for a content marketer, visualizations are your best friend. Nothing is more appealing to an audience than beautifully laid out graphics that take seconds to digest. That’s why you see people like Amanda Cox, who works as a graphic designer for the New York Times doing strictly data visualizations like this & this for a living.
If you still aren’t convinced visualizations are an extremely powerful tool, then I’ll let Google do the talking.
When we hear “visualization” and “links” in the same sentence, we automatically think embeddable infographics.
But notice how I’ve been using the term “visualization” instead of “data visualization” throughout this post (for the most part). This is because data is one of 6 different types of effective visualizations that content marketers can use to wow their audiences. Here are the other 5 types of things we can visualize:
Instead of breaking down each individual one, why they’re different, and different ways to visualize each, just checkout this periodic table of visualizations (hover over each element to be amazed). Have this in your back pocket at all times.
There are many misconceptions in the link building community about visualizations that you need to hear about.
“I don’t have the expertise or time for great graphics”
This is what I first thought before I delved into this topic as deeply as I have. I always thought “big publications have time & resources for great graphics, not small business owners”, yet, that’s changing before our eyes. Today there are so many amazing, user friendly tools that make great visualizations so freaking easy to make. Don’t worry, I’ll talk about a few of them.
“Only embeds build links”
Visualizations like Budget Forecasts, Compared With Reality are not embeddable, so in terms of links, the only way it can build them is through others linking directly to this piece. Does that mean it can’t build links the way we want it to? Of course not. Just because someone can’t put it on their site doesn’t mean they won’t link to it & that it can’t be used for strategic outreach.
“Infographics have to display only data”
I hate hearing people say an infographic isn’t an infographic unless it displays data. An infographic is just a form of visualization, and going back to the periodic table, data is just one of 6 possible representations. Even Wikipedia says “infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge.”
“Infographics are becoming spam”
We forget that the lowest form of ANY link building method on the Web is spam. For example, while most directory submissions are spammy, there are still a handful that are high quality. The same goes for comment marketing vs. comment spamming.
As times goes on, yes, large amounts of infographics can be cranked out & can be spammy in nature, but this form of visualization will never go away. Sure, it might change a little bit as time goes on, but everything does.
As stated in the introduction, there is a ton of data just waiting to be visualized. There’s even a conference that meets every year showcasing the best infographics, designers, and advice on data. Even though there are 6 main types of visualizations, this is arguably the most powerful, because numbers speak louder than words.
To start, you need a piece of compelling data to visualize. Not all data is exciting or worth your time. Here are some open data locations to start with:
Luckily for us, some of the larger data hubs contain a ton of data that has never even considered to be visualized, so you’ll always have no problem finding new material (granted not all of it’s relevant or even worth visualizing).
Before you go any further, make sure you’re familiar with the Open Data Commons, a set of legal tools to protect those who provide open data.
Other ways to find data include prospecting queries in Google. Here are a few examples:
Note that in order to find a wider set of data, use your niche instead of your head terms.
You can even try plugging your keywords into Google Scholar search.
If you’re not doing data, then here are some other ideas.
Lists – Can you think of a list of items, tips, or anything else that’s about the right size for an infographic? You don’t want it to be too long or too short, so depending on what it is, you might have to add or subtract items (or choose a different list all together).
Concepts – Have a tough time describing a concept through basic text? Then a graphic might be perfect. Here’s a great example of a simple video about Ponzi Schemes described without any fancy video software, and here’s one that’s a little more advanced.
Events – Why not create a visual timeline of a series of events to help your audience better understand what happened?
Relationships – It’s sometimes tough to describe the relationships between a lot of different things. Visualization methods like venn diagrams & mind maps help solve that.
Comparisons – Show the similarities & differences between two things with a snazzy graphic.
Processes – Flow charts & other similar visualization methods are a great way to describe certain processes to noobies.
Have any more non-data ideas? Let me know in the comments below (seriously, I want to expand this list as much as possible).
Hopefully by now you’ve got something that you want to visualize. Next, you’ll have to figure out exactly how you want to visualize it. Is it going to be an infographic? A video? An interactive graphic? An image that serves a smaller purpose? Or something else?
Here are a few successful ones to help you get a good idea.
Video – This one’s a video about vampire energy, an odd phenomenon best told with some eye opening numbers.
Interactive Graphic – Here we have a data driven document about how Facebook compares to past IPOs. Click here to see it (can’t embed). Shockingly, Amanda Cox was also a part of this beauty.
Infographics – Finally, instead of taking up a ton of space in this post by embedding a few infographics, check out this impressive list.
Before you go any further, make sure you memorize these tips.
Tell a story – Don’t just throw out a bunch of data points.
Keep it relatively simple – On average, you’ve got 4-5 seconds to make your audience understand what’s going on.
Hide unnecessary information – As well as being simple, make sure it’s clear. Information that doesn’t add to the main point of the story takes away from its effectiveness to communicate.
Draw a conclusion – What point are you trying to make? If you want someone to share or link to it, then you have to make sure they leave your content with a sense of closure.
Time to draw up the specs. Try to answer these questions:
When planning, don’t be afraid to use a pencil & paper, because if you can’t figure out how to create your thoughts quickly with the tools I run through below, you’ll lose sight of what you had in mind. Having a sketch & then going from there is the best plan of action.
Now it’s time for the fun part. If you’ve got a design team, then great, you can hand it over to them & tell them how you want it done. If you’re like the majority of us that don’t, then let me walk you through some tools that’ll help.
Note: Sorry, but I can’t help you much with video. In my opinion it’s super effective and because the barrier of entry to creating a video is higher than a graphic, the rewards are greater. I did do some research & found there is virtually no content on this topic, so my guess is there aren’t any DIY tools for this other than basic video animation & editing ones.
Before I get into the tools, understand that professionals use Adobe Illustrator to create their infographics. If you’re interested, here are a couple tutorials on it (first) (second), and a fun little video on the flow process of a designer making one.
If you’re going to create an infographic yourself, and if you’re not a designer, then lets break down some tools that get the job done.
Meet my new favorite non-link building link building tool. Piktochart is a full on infographic creation tool that lets you choose from 49 existing templates (that number is growing). After that, it’s up to you to make it your own with its drag & drop features. It’s $15/month, so it’s not free, but since the cost of a decent infographic is usually 4 figures, it’s something worth looking into.
Remember, it’s still got a lot of room to grow. They’re constantly adding new features & enhancements, so stay tuned as it becomes even better.
I grouped these together because they’re all limited & in beta right now. They all look like they’ll kick ass once they’re built out, but none of them have much customization for you to take advantage of; as of now, they all have 6 or less templates to choose from.
Google Fusion Tables – I wish I could tell you I had the time to experiment with this one, but I can’t. I’ve only seen some of the astonishing visualizations that have come out of it. Here’s a helpful tutorial to get you started.
Hohli – This is an ultra simple tool for creating all types of charts.
Diagram.ly – A free, easy to use object editing tool.
Tableau – A more advanced data visualization tool that works on your desktop.
Stat Silk – Create interactive graphs, maps, and charts with this toolset.
Analytics Visualization – Connect your Google Analytics to visualize your site’s traffic.
LinkedIn InMaps – Visualize your LinkedIn connections.
Creately – Create a wide variety of online diagrams, easily (paid; plans start at $5/mo.).
GunnMap – Quickly visualize data on a world map.
World Mapper – Territories are re-sized on each map according to data.
RSS Voyage – Create a timeline of your RSS feeds.
If your visualization is a story in itself and not just a short piece that adds to your blog post, then you need a proper promotion strategy. A great visualization takes a lot of time, so don’t squander the opportunity by not properly promoting it.
Have an email list, following on Twitter, or a fan base on Facebook? Don’t be afraid to get the word out. This should be a given, but if your graphic is great, then don’t be afraid to use every existing channel you’ve built up in the past.
Remember how we always tell you to build relationships? Well here’s a tangible example of how you actually get links from them. Whether you’re DMing, emailing, or PMing someone you already know in your industry, make sure they know about your graphic. Once they know about it, they’ll do the rest.
One of the most under utilized promotional tactics for infographics is translating them! Go check out your site’s referral data in Google Analytics & find the countries that are visiting your site most. Find the top 2 or 3 that speak different languages then go through your infographic & translate the words with a tool like Google Translate.
You can thank me later for this one
Time for my under utilized best friend: Topsy. It sorts existing content by how popular it was on Twitter, and it gives you a list of everyone who shared that content (and it even sorts them by influence).
For example, lets say I just created a great new piece of content on link building (in this case, a graphic). Here’s what I’d do:
If your content is good enough, they’ll be more than happy to tweet & promote it. It’s not an immediate return on links, but it helps get your content in front of potential linkers.
Pro tip: Before you even create the content with this promotion strategy in mind, find the influencers you’ll be reaching out to before hand & stalk the shit out of them.
Do the same for past linkers. Find similar content that got links & reach out to those who linked to it. If you have a subscription to Ontolo, here’s how to do it:
Going back to the previous pro tip a few paragraphs up, do this ahead of time & connect with those webmasters & bloggers before you create and promote the content.
Social for Links
If you created an embeddable infographic, then you want to find people who shared it so you can reach out to them to embed it.
Use Topsy to find everyone who tweeted it by going to Topsy.com/yourdomain.com/piece-of-content.
Next, you’re going to want to get all of the URLs of these Twitter accounts into Excel. I still haven’t found an efficient way to scrape the Twitter handles & their URLs, so if you know a way, let me know.
In the mean time, here’s a way that takes 10-15 minutes depending on how many shared it:
I suck at this part, so I usually end up doing most of this manually as described in steps 1-2 above & only get the most influential into Excel. Sure I might miss a few gems, but it would take too much time for a non-techy like me to get every last one (again, if you know a more efficient way, email me so I can update this!).
Next, use the SEOmoz API to get backlink data on all of their URLs. Sort by authority then go through the list & reach out to them on Twitter. If they’ve already shared it, then they’re much more willing to embed it.
Data Journalism at Stanford – This is what inspired this post. This is an hour long series on journalism in the age of data. It’s a couple years old, but it’s still very relevant.
Visualizing.org – A community of data visualizers that also includes data sets & other designer’s work.
And finally these blogs:
We’ve talked about utilizing data, but what about creating it? Many of the data hubs I listed allow user submissions of data, and on your data set’s information page, you can get a link back as the source. So create the data you need, visualize it, and let others do the same in exchange for a few links!
If you will be creating data, don’t just submit them to the sites that allow links back as the source. Get your data out everywhere. When people use your data, they’ll cite you as the source. There’s nothing more scalable than people building links for you.
Oh, and by the way – if you’ve got data on an internet statistic, go get a link from Google themselves on this page by scrolling down and hitting “submit your own stat”. From the look of the source code it might not get counted, but you’ll get traffic & future citations from it.
If you’re looking for inspiration & have a few minutes to let your jaw drop, here are some good examples.
Chart Porn – Data visualization inspiration, every day (best blog name award?).
Cool Infographics – A blog full of more awesome infographics.
Data Journalism Awards – The best of the best when it comes to data journalism. It only updates yearly, but this is the world cup for data junkies.
State of the Internet – Cool stats about the internet.
Intacto’s 10 Years of History – Get ready to be blown away.
Future of Car Sharing – Horizontal parallax scrolling at its best.
Dangers of Fracking – Vertical parallax scrolling, also at its best.
How many slaves work for you? – The content is powerful beyond its design, making it even more effective.
You vs. John Paulson – Think you can’t build great links in a spammy niche like Forex? Think again.
The Print Effect – See how much paper & ink it would take to print your Twitter timeline. The little amount of data needed to make a really cool, niche focused project like this is just smart.
Pedestrian Crashes in Novosibirsk – Although in Russian & you’ll have to translate it, this is a map showing all of the pedestrian injuries in this city.
I couldn’t create a post on great visualizations without doing at least a small one of my own…
The reason I created it was because I know a lot of us think “efficiency, efficiency, efficiency”, and when we hear about things that can’t be scaled we angrily shout obscene words or simply move on. Please, don’t. I just gave you 10+ hours of research into a field of content that’s thriving so you wouldn’t have to.
Because great visualizations take time & effort, it comes down to you. It comes down to how much you’re willing to put in, how creative you push yourself to be, and how much you want it. Great content marketing is visualizing wifi strength, seeing the history of our world in 100 seconds, understanding human emotion, or declaring address is approximate.
Put as much time into your content as you do other parts of your link building process. You won’t see results tomorrow, but over time, you’ll be surprised how much it pays off.