First, let me say – I’m a big fan of infographics. I plan to keep using them.
But let’s be honest, they get a bit carried away at times, and SEOs are at the inception of many of them.
What’s The Problem With This?
The problem is that infographics can create a relevancy problem for Google. I suspect they’re already causing one. Some infographics (and I’m not saying all) do borderline on spam. They’re certainly some of the most whitehat looking spam out there, but yes, they can fall into the bucket of “spam” in the eyes of search engines.
Infographics that are pure junk, cite false / misleading information, or are extremely off-topic are susceptible to getting dinged by Google. They’re allowing sites to rank, not purely on the quality or relevancy of the site’s primary function, but based off its ability to garner links via infographics.
The reason I sat down to write this post isn’t to be critical of off-topic / low quality linkbait or to discuss the ethics of how to get links. How someone gets links is up to them, their ethical position, and their particular risk tolerance. However, I think it’s worth mentioning that I think we may see a change in how Google treats these links.
We’ve seen this before. Remember that article about 13 year old who stole the credit card to buy strippers, that got Matt Cutts involved. Or the WidgetBait Gone Wild thing, where exceptionally creative widgets promoted off-topic sites and were dinged by Matt Cutts.
It’s On Their Radar
The noise surrounding infographic “junk” has been raising for a while now. I’ve seen a handful of SEOs on Twitter joke that when you see an SEO (or a whole agency of SEOs) tweet an infographic about a topic they never discuss, you can bet it’s a client.
But this last week, the issue hit Hacker News, again. Actually, the noise has been increasing there for a while. There are not many ways to get an SEO issue on Google’s radar faster than Hacker News (except maybe a NYT or WSJ article). Matt Cutts invested in Y Combinator and frequently responds to SEO issues there.
Take a look at this graph.
See that massive spike in mentions of content farms near the middle to end of 2010? Know what followed shortly after this?
The Panda update and the ability to block search results from SERPs. The block feature started as a Chrome extension, which was asked for by the Hacker News crowd, and was eventually posted by Matt Cutts. This feature eventually made it into the main search results, which helps demonstrate the strong influence the Hacker News community can have on search quality.
The number of mentions of infographics on Hacker News has now hit the level of “content farms”, but that’s mainly because infographics have increased in popularity since early 2010. The concerning part is the item that caused that last little spike.
The article directly calls out SEOs for using them. Regardless of any agreement with the author’s point of view, receiving negative press attention about an SEO tactic is never a good thing, especially if it catches the eye of Mr. Cutts. A particular SEO tactic getting under the Hacker News community’s skin could potentially lead to action taken by the search quality team.
Are Infographics a Bad Tactic?
Not at all.
I think anything that involves creating interesting, easily digestible, and sharable content is a great tactic. I don’t think anyone believes infographics are bad. It all depends on intent, degree of aggressiveness, and a degree of maliciousness in presenting false data.
However, if you’re an SEO that is propping a domain up entirely on these links, you could be setting yourself up for a high degree of risk. This has always been true though; so smart SEOs will have covered their asses by building out a diverse and defensible link profile.
Tips for Minimizing Infographic Risk
- Create a site that can boldly claim it’s one of the best in the top ten, and that taking it out of the top ten would actually reduce a searcher’s experience.
- Use a diverse set of tactics to minimize the impact of any one particular tactic being reduced in effectiveness.
- Don’t be lazy and create a piece of junk infographic. If you’re creating crap, you’re being a crap marketer.
- Avoid the temptation to use too many “off-topic” pieces of linkbait. A little creativity can go a long way in connecting your concept to your product.
- Don’t get caught publishing misleading or false information, especially if you’re a big brand.
- Be careful with that embed code. It’s already giving you two links, and the “source” link should be closer to just being your brand name over a keyword rich link. Otherwise, you risk getting called out like GoDaddy did for its badges.