Don’t get me wrong: Infographics done right are GREAT.
People love to look at them, read them, and share them.
I’m one of those people.
Lately though, I’m seeing more and more infographics that are so dense, so complex, that they frustrate rather than help readers. (Well, this reader, at least.) This trend mirrors a quote by Jay Baer, the Convince and Convert and Youtility guy.
We all know that what Jay says about swimming in data is true. It’s also true about content in general: Although we’re drowning in content, we still scurry about, here and there, searching for the magic pill—the one piece of content that will answer all questions and solve all sales and marketing problems. Either that, or we're scurrying about, here and there, trying to CREATE that one piece of content that will cause customers to flock to our websites.
We can apply the “swimming in it” metaphor to infographics as well: We’re swimming in infographics, but drowning for a lack of practical, how-to advice.
Case in point: An overwhelming (but beautiful) infographic
I recently ran across an infographic that drove this point home, and made me realize that the Internet needs a cautionary tale on infographics. The infographic in question drew me in with an engaging design and appealing heading, but then left me frustrated and sorely wanting, wondering how in the world I’d ever be able, how I’d ever make time, to fill the gaps the infographic left behind.
Before I begin, let me say loudly and clearly that this post is not meant to be a knock on the infographic’s creators: Canva and Razor Social. I follow both firms on social, and have learned a lot from the content they produce.
Instead, I mean it as a lesson in choosing the right format for information you want to communicate. I mean it to help marketers and content communicators realize that some content is better shared by pieces other than infographics.
Now let’s take a high-level look at the infographic in question, entitled “How to get your blog post shared 1000 times.” You don't need to click into it, or to be able to read it at this point. I just want you to take it all in at a glance.
At a glance, the infographic looks gorgeous: I want to design infographics like that, and you probably do, too. (By the way, we can—thanks to a nifty tool called Canva, which I'll talk more about soon.)
The title is also compelling: How to get your blog post shared 1000 times.
If you’re writing blog posts, you want people to share them. And since many people are on the blogging bandwagon today, this infographic title likely pulled—and is pulling—in lots of traffic, likes, and shares.
The trouble starts when readers dive in to actually read and learn from the piece.
Consuming the infographic: Is it really helpful to your readers?
Take, for instance, the image below, which presents one small segment of the infographic. Not including the final author segment at the end, I count 14 horizontal rows in all, each supposedly useful, which means that the screenshot that follows represents one of 14 rows. Also note that this “row” contains two separate chunks of information:
- How to optimize your blog post on social media for maximum engagement
- How to optimize your blog post for Google to drive organic traffic
Let’s look consider each chunk of information separately. I don't know about you, but that's how I consume infographics: I READ and try to learn from them so I can improve in the subject matter at hand.
First: How to optimize your blog post on social media to maximize engagement. Now, maybe I’m one of the last guys on the block to know these things, but the terms “Twitter cards” and “Opengraph data” are new to me, which means that if I want to optimize social media to maximize engagement, as promised in the chunk's title, I have to head out on two different streams of research. By myself. From scratch.
Mentally, I'm thinking:
“I don’t have time for that now. Let’s move on; see what else you can learn here.”
Moving on to the next tip: Optimize for Google. Hmm. Although new to social, I’m not new to search. I know what organic traffic is, and I happen to know that how you write your title, description, heading, content, and page name contributes to driving that traffic. But does everyone else know that? Maybe. Maybe not.
Since I, personally, know how to optimize my individual blog pages in this way, I can move on.
“Batting one in two!”
I feel somewhat relieved knowing that I'm doing at least one thing right.
The curse of too-little information
Then I hit the next row, and another two chunks of information, this time related to Pinterest. Now I'm not into Pinterest myself, but let's look at what this chunk wants to tell us about how to make our images Pinterest-friendly:
- Create images using Canva
- Pin it button ("Use" the pin-it button, I suppose)
First, I know of Canva; it’s the tool the authors used to create this very infographic, the one that spurred me to write this piece. But why should I create social media images using Canva? What if I didn’t already know that Canva was a super-easy tool for creating social graphics, free for most purposes? Are there other tools out there I could use? Is Canva the only option?
And what if I hadn’t just last week learned from a podcast that Pinterest favors long, narrow images (such as the long, narrow infographic I'm critiquing now), and that Canva has a setting for creating such images?
More missing information.
Second, since I don't use Pinterest for business purposes, I have to ask: What is the “pin it button”?
No time to look that up right now, either.
Since I don't know what the "pin it button" is, I'm feeling just a little bit stupider than before.
HINT: It's not a good thing if your infographic leaves readers feeling stupid, with more questions than ah-ha’s or answers.
By this point, only about 1/3 of my way through the post (visually speaking), I’m feeling a little frustrated.
Little do I know that there’s much more frustration to come.
On to the next chunk, which proposes to tell me how to share my content.
And again, still more frustration.
Believe it or not, the infographic had even more frustration in store for me. I won’t share it with you here, because I’m sure you get the point: Infographics should exist to serve readers, not just to win pats on the back, +1s, likes, tweets, and shares.
And, by the way, the blog pages carrying this infographic received many of those accolades, which means that both Razor Social and Canva succeeded in creating a post that garnered at least 1,000 shares. Here are the tallies as of this writing.
Razor Social blog post containing the infographic
Canva blog post containing the infographic
Flares (whatever they are)
So it seems that Canva and Razor Social know what they’re talking about. They’ve (supposedly) taught us how to get a blog post shared 1,000 times, on blog posts that were each shared more than 1,000 times. Impressive proof!
Shares and likes do not equal usability
But I wonder: How many of those likes and shares were based only on the infographic’s title and appearance? How many readers felt, as I did, disappointed by the by the lack of utility after diving in to try to learn from the post?
HINT: If readers of your infographic wind up frustrated, you lose.
HINT: If readers of your infographic wind up frustrated AFTER first sharing and liking it, you lose twice, possibly more.
How NOT to frustrate your readers
Avoid this problem by asking yourself a series of questions before designing an infographic:
- Is an infographic really the best way to communicate this information?
- Will the infographic help readers?
- Will it frustrate readers by leaving them with too many questions and too few answers?
- Instead of serving the information in a single, large chunk, should we instead break it into smaller chunks, providing greater detail about each?
- To help readers consume and use this information, should we use another format entirely, such as a series of blog posts or an ebook?
In this reader’s opinion, the information presented in the infographic we're talking about here is more suited for publication and sharing in either an ebook, a series of blog posts, or a series of less-dense, more-detailed infographics, perhaps one for each tool.
In the interest of full disclosure, I also want to point out that both the RazorSocial and Canva blog post pages on which the infographic appears do manage to give readers at least some guidance about the various tools and information chunks, but that guidance is too little, too late, presented after the infographic – after the frustration.
And even when the reader makes it to the end of the infographic to discover answers to some of the questions she’s been wondering about all along, it’s still too difficult an experience to match the text for each information chunk to its accompanying chunk in the infographic, which is, at this point, so far away.
It would be like me telling you, right now, "It would have been nice had either Razor Social or Canva thought to include more details about the various email providers right in the infographic." You'd be like, "Huh? I know I read something about email providers here but, what, exactly, is she talking about? I better scroll up...." Forcing readers to scroll up and down to match text to a graphic is not good.
HINT: Keep text explaining graphical elements as close as possible to the graphical elements themselves. Annotate and mark up your graphics so that readers get the whole story in one place, without having to move forward and backward, up and down.
Even worse, the text following the infographic on both blog posts introduces yet MORE tools not covered in the infographic! For instance, in the texts, the authors drop the names of:
- JQuery Print for Images
Is your brain fried yet?
Photo source: Kim Garst
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