Preliminary Infographic Research: Killing Three Birds with One Stone

Hi all, I’m Liam Fisher. I’ve been an SEO executive at SEOgadget for about seven months, and so now I’m making my debut on the Gadget blog with this little piece about making the most of your preliminary infographic research.

Recently we were in talks with one of our clients in the cosmetics space about producing an infographic for them. So, before we could even think about starting work on the infographic itself, we had to do some research. Primarily our question had to be ‘what does and doesn’t work in this niche?’

Of course, there’s nothing new about doing a bit of background research before starting a project like this. What I think is interesting about this process, though, is that it’s very easy to achieve three goals at once in a way that can put a real dent in your workload further down the line:

Getting Started

So where do you start? The first task is to get a sense of what’s already been done in your niche, so you might think heading over to specialist infographic sites like would be a good place to begin. I prefer to avoid those sites to begin with, because I’m looking to see which infographics have propagated naturally across the web and have earned quality, editorial links. Since infographic sites typically work on a submission basis (with some of those submissions being paid for, depending on the site) an infographic’s presence on them doesn’t vouch for its quality or the extent to which users are inclined to share and republish it.

(Later on, when you are looking to trawl the infographic sites, check out Paddy Moogan’s infographic search engine.)

So, to find infographics “in the wild”, so to speak, the obvious method is just playing around with some advanced search operators in Google. “[keywords] intitle:infographic”, “[keywords] inurl:infographic”, and so on.

Now you’re equipped with a couple of pages of search results linking to a variety of relevant infographics that are perfect fodder for some deeper snooping.

Assessing Success

Now, how do you assess the success of these infographics? Again, these techniques should be fairly obvious. Reverse Google image search is your first port of call. Just drop the URL of the infographic in there and see where it’s turned up.

As with all SERPs, be wary of Google’s habit of wildly misestimating the number of results for the query. Skip to the last page to see how many there really are, and also keep an eye out for multiple results from the same site. You’ll also come across some very low value sites, so use the MozBar’s SERP overlay to get a sense of a site’s value without having to click through every link. This is where you can start making life easier for yourself later on. Bank any good sites you come across, since you know that they publish infographics on your topic, and get in touch about your own infographic.

If you want to check how much attention a particular placement garnered, Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO are the places to go, though the delay between index updates means that they’re not great for appraising more recent placements. Once more, make a note of any good sites linking to the infographic and contact them.

Topsy is a great tool for seeing how much social attention an infographic had. Yet again, make a note of anyone notable who shared a particular piece: they may be happy to share yours.

Bad Infographics are Your Friends

Now that you’ve got some idea about what’s already had some success (all while banking some valuable resources), it’s time to start looking for inspiration for your project.

Bad infographics can be a useful source of inspiration. Why’s that? Well, for one they’ll alert you to pitfalls to avoid. There’s also the option of doing a better job than the original. Though the idea will likely make some people uneasy, there’s no reason why you can’t take concepts and ideas from a poorly executed infographic. If the producers of the original failed to capitalise on their solid ideas by botching the execution, that’s just too bad for them and the door is open for someone else to realise the project’s potential.

Bearing in mind the poor infographics you’ve seen, look at some better ones and keep an eye out for what sets them apart. These points will be familiar to anyone who’s done much infographic work, but I think there are some key things to remember that’ll help produce a quality infographic.

It’s too easy to collect your research and hand it over to a designer for them to interpret. Consider the visual style or theme you want from the beginning.

A collection of data can be interesting, but looking for interesting correlations between very different data can give an infographic real kick.

Both of the above points are nicely illustrated by this “Women at the Oscars” infographic. The art style is clean and elegant, in keeping with the subject matter, and it offers an interesting twist on two different sets of data.

You’ll encounter clients who want the infographic branded. By and large, I don’t think that’s a great idea, since you risk putting off protective webmasters. Avoid promoting a product or service. Here’s an infographic that reads like it’s selling cosmetic surgery. Nobody linked to it.

If there’s a debate going on in your niche, get involved. The people who agree with you will use your infographic to support their arguments. The people who don’t will want to tell everyone what rubbish it is. “Fatal Attraction: Cosmetics & Chemicals” is a good example. It got Tweeted 118 times and shared on Facebook 234, despite being of questionable factual accuracy.

Widening the Scope

So far, all I’ve used are some basic Google searches. That’s great for an overview of what’s been done, but it keeps your scope narrow since you’re staying focused on a couple of keywords. Remember, your goal isn’t to produce an infographic on a specific topic; it’s to have it published on a particular kind of website. For that reason, it makes sense to develop the infographic with sites rather than niches in mind.

How do you do that then? The simplest way is to first pick an infographic in your chosen niche that you like or that has been successful. Here I’m going to use this “Women at the Oscars” infographic. Grab the image URL and do a reverse image search to get a list of sites that have published it (again, bank these for outreach at a later date). Check the list for any nice looking sites. Here I’ve found 5,715 linking domains and definitely the sort of site from which my client would like a link.

Now the question is: “What sort of material do they cover?” To answer this I like to draw up a list of keywords taken from the site’s content, aiming for as diverse a list as possible. Once you’ve got that list, you can start trying to draw associations between them, experimenting with different combinations to see if you can’t inspire yourself with a few ideas.

First I look at the site’s content categories. I’ll break them down into the most basic themes and make a note. So I end up with things like “celebrity”, “fashion”, “design”, “shows”, “beauty”, “trends”, etc. You might also want to check what tags some of the posts have been given. Any that grab your attention, write them down.

Then I want to start looking a bit deeper, so I’ll do a site search for the term “infographic”. Now I have a list of infographics the webmaster deemed worth publishing/linking to which should offer real insight into what will get their attention.

Now I’ll do the same thing as I did with the content categories. Check out each infographic and reduce it to a few basic keywords that summarise the theme. So now I can add to my list keywords like “films”, “beards”, “geek”, “politics”, “star trek” etc.

This site also has a prominently featured community section, which is a good place to scour for inspiration.

Sort the forum topics by number of views and you’ve got an instant at-a-glance look at topics that users have engaged with. Once more, pull out some keywords. From this I can add to my list “race”, “art”, “photoshop”, “human rights” etc.

Having done this, I can repeat the process again and again on as many sites as I can find.

Another really easy way to build on that list is using the ‘approximate (~)’ and ‘related:’ Google search operators. It’s pretty obvious but I always forget about these ones. Straight away you’ve got a list of results with terms related to yours. Repeat the process on those new terms and you can keep widening the scope as much as you want. Also use these operators on any good sites you find for yet more outreach opportunities.

It can also be interesting to search around for data on studies on related to your topic. Try searching for combinations of your keywords plus operators like and plus terms like ‘study’ or ‘data’ (searching for specific file types like .pdf might help, too).

Since these searches will primarily turn out academic studies, they’re likely to have a strong focus on data and will not only be ideal fodder for inspiring more ideas, but they’ll also provide you with some viable data for when it comes to the deeper research stages.

In the same vein, look on JSTOR, the online journal repository. JSTOR is a subscription service, and you won’t be able to actually read any of the papers without access to an account, but you can still carry out searches and read abstracts, and just looking at the article titles should give you some really original ideas. If you find an article that sounds particularly useful, you can usually buy it on a one-off basis.

The Last Part is Down to You!

So, by now, you should be left with a healthy list of keywords that elegantly summarises a site’s scope of content. What do you do with that list? Well that’s down to the creative part of your brain. What works for me is trying different combinations to see if anything triggers a spark of inspiration. So, using my list, I might combine “celebrity”, “beard” and “trends” to conceive of an infographic charting which celebrities have driven changing facial hair trends. The great thing is that however you combine those keywords, the result is going to cover topics you know that site is interested in.

If you want to take the list a step further, you could try searching for combinations of the words and seeing what sort of articles you find. It might put you on the trail of other related terms, topics and sites. In this case, it’s also a good idea to remember that word ordering matters in your queries, so experiment with varying syntax.

At any rate, by the end of this process, you should have a great set of raw materials to a) understand the content your target sites are interested in b) start coming up with your own ideas and c) begin conducting initial outreach.

Image credit: mclcbooks

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2 thoughts on “Preliminary Infographic Research: Killing Three Birds with One Stone

  1. Jamie says:

    Hey Liam,

    Great article, thanks!

  2. Joe says:

    Wow, this is amazing. Thanks so much for breaking down the process into actionable steps, better than most guides I’ve seen. I like the idea of learning from bad infographics just as much as from the good ones!

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