Interview with Eric Enge about Infographics in an SEO Strategy


Eric Enge is the CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, a consulting company that provides a full range of Internet marketing optimization services including: strategic business planning, on page search engine optimization, link building, content optimization, conversion optimization, social media optimization, user engagement, and pay-per-click campaign development and optimization. Eric is co-author of the book The Art of SEO, a speaker at numerous search marketing events, and a contributing author to Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, and SEOmoz. I caught up with Eric to ask him his insights on where infographics fit into a search marketing strategy.

Randy Krum: Good morning Eric and thank you for taking the time to speak with me. How do you see infographics fitting into an SEO or search marketing strategy?

Eric Enge: First of all, if you just look more generally at link building, one of the key things you want to do is create compelling content that is something that would be interesting for people to link to. A lot of people actually use the term link-bait which I don't like because it sounds deceptive in orientation. Nonetheless, the point is that you have to produce high-quality content, or high-quality something in order to obtain the links.

Infographics are nice because they are very visual and they can be very compelling. So for that reason it can be a very effective tool for building links to your site. That's how I see it fitting into a broader SEO strategy.

There are a couple of key things that people need to take into account. I am going to start by referencing the last interview that I did with Matt Cutts [Matt currently heads up the Webspam team for Google. ] where Matt made the statement that he wouldn't be surprised if some time in the future they began to discount infographic links to some degree. That kind of set off a bit of a fire storm of people responding to that, commenting on that, and saying "oh my God". It really was kind of taken a little bit out of context.

Really what Matt was pointing at in my opinion is that infographic links which are resulting from an infographic that has content that is not relevant to the site is one reason why Google might discount a link. That's something that people just need to be aware of. It's really important that you make something highly relevant. You don't want to have a Tupperware site doing an infographic about used cars. Because that's just not relevant. It may be a great infographic but it's not really quality content for that site.

The other thing that you need to be concerned about in the process is can you structure the infographic in a way where the link is indeed an endorsement of your content, because at the end of the day that's what Google wants. So you don't want to produce infographics where the link is hidden or obscured in any fashion. You want it to be very visible and you want it to be something that represents a legitimate endorsement of the site. Now that can either be a link to the home page of the site or a link to a page on your site that is highly relevant to the topic of the infographic.

Randy Krum: So it sounds like Google's position on infographics is very consistent with its position on a lot of things. If your sole purpose is simply to obtain links and you are paying no attention to relevance and context and all of that then they would actually consider it to be spam.

Eric Enge: Yes, potentially. Even if they do not consider it to be spam, they may not consider the link to actually be an endorsement of your site.

Randy Krum: So they would deprecate or ignore the link.

Eric Enge: Right. That would be a better case then being considered spam where they might actually penalize you for the link. But in general, back to the original question, because infographics are such compelling visual content, and I mean the really well put together ones, of course - it can be a very effective campaign. I think it is worth talking a little bit about how you manage it. You have created this great infographic. How do you tell the world and how do you manage the campaign so that you get links.

There are basically three kinds of strategies: 

1) The first strategy is to put the infographic on your site and use whatever means that you choose to use, a lot of people use e-mail or social media, to tell the world that you have a great infographic. There are a variety of things that you can do there. You can e-mail media contacts. You can do a press release. You can post it on infographic sites, because there are these sites that are directories of infographics. Those are all useful things to do, and that can be quite effective in getting links to your site.

2) The next stage of what you can do is on the page with the infographic you can provide people with the code to take the infographic and post it on their site. So you are allowing people to republish the infographic. Of course the code that you provide, at the bottom most likely, would include some HTML code which included a link back to a highly relevant page on your site. That's an enhanced strategy for getting links from your infographic. Now you are allowing people to republish it.

3) Now there is a third way which is really good to use if you are kind of early days in your business and not that well known yet and don't have a great audience. That is that you actually publish the infographic on a more well-known media site related to your industry or marketplace. You let them publish it in advance. Your condition to their publishing it is that they link back to a page on your site where people can grab the code to publish the infographic on their sites. The nice thing about doing that is that you are leveraging the larger media site's audience to create visibility for the infographic, and people can still come to your site and grab a copy of it and republish it on their sites. That's the third strategy for pushing out the infographic that's worth considering.

How you decide between those depends on where your site is. If you have a very highly trafficked site you might not use that third strategy of a third party media site. If you don't have that much traffic and visibility than the third option might be the best way to go.

Randy Krum: Talk to me a little bit about the actual links, the attribution links that you have at the bottom of your infographic when you are allowing people to pick up the infographic and republish it. I assume there are some best practices along those lines.

Eric Enge: Yes. One I have already mentioned which is high relevance of the link is critical to the long-term value of the links that you get this way. The best target pages are either the home page of your site or to link to a highly relevant article, or page on your site, or the page where you have the infographic on your site so there is a very strong relevance match. The other thing that you need to make sure of, of course, is that the link is clean HTML text formatted link rather than something in JavaScript or something like that. Now that might make you nervous because if somebody grabs a hunk of code from your site and throw it up on their site to republish the infographic they could potentially just delete out your link, but you just have to live with that. You do want the links to be easy to for Google and Bing to parse.

There is one remaining element to talk about with formatting the link and that is the anchor text of the link. Clearly that has to be highly relevant too. If it is linking to your home page than the name of your site or the URL of your site, of if your site is hopefully very closely themed to the content the infographic talked about than you can use anchor text which is descriptive of the main theme of your site. Just keep it very, very relevant as I have said many times.

If you are linking to a page other than the home page than once again you can use the name of your business, or site, or the URL of the page you're are linking to, and/or whatever that page is about.

Randy Krum: The title of the page.

Eric Enge: Yes, the title or something very closely related to that. So those are the options that I see for the anchor text for the links.

Randy Krum: So what I am hearing here is avoid the temptation to try to manipulate link anchor text or get cute with your link anchor text and things like that. Keep it simple and focused and keep it on what the target page is about.

Eric Enge: That is correct.

Randy Krum: Talk to me a little bit about where photo sharing sites, something like Pinterest, fit into your infographic strategy.

Eric Enge: Yes. That is an excellent question. So it is very similar to how I described choosing where to publish the infographic. It's very difficult to open a Pinterest account today that has no audience and throw up an infographic and expect it to explode. You have to have some access to the audience. You really want to think a bit about that and try to get some people who have a good audience or a good following on Pinterest to participate in sharing your infographic. If you have a very small following on Pinterest certainly put it up on your own Pinterest page but reach out to other people in your industry who have very strong followings and make them aware of the infographic and then hopefully they will repin it or pin it and get you a much higher level of visibility and activity than you might be able to get on your own. That is a very interesting way to help push it.

I should note in particular a couple of things that seem to work well on Pinterest. One is how-to type content keeping in mind that Pinterest audience skews a bit to the female side and also skews to people wanting to see things that they want to buy or help them make buying decisions. That might suggest something about what kinds of infographics might do particularly well on Pinterest.

A really good, informative infographic, might do just fine even if it does not fit one of those scenarios.

Randy Krum: It sounds like a lot of what you said about Pinterest would also extend out to social media channels in general. Try to ride the coat tails of people who have a broader reach than you may have yourself.

Eric Enge: Yes. I mean obviously there is plenty and ample reason to go and build your own strong social media audiences. So if you have that you should leverage that. If you do not have that just yet than a really good infographic can help build your social media presence. If an influential person pins, or shares, or tweets your infographic and mentions your social profile on the same platform than you will grow your following or friend base. That's a good thing which puts you in a better position to play a bigger role in the promotion of the next infographic you do.

Randy Krum: To wrap up, let's talk a little bit about if there are things you should avoid doing. If there are just things that are absolute no-nos when you are creating an infographic and putting together your campaign.

Eric Enge: One big thing that I would like to emphasize is accuracy. A lot of people throw together infographics and they are more concerned about having a visual thing that they can get links to and they don't put in the work to do a good job. And that's really sad. Talk about something that Google wants to come down on - the accuracy thing is definitely one of them. Just don't do it.

The other thing you should do is if you have imperfect data, but you still think that the infographic is relevant and interesting and you are not losing the theme and the point of the infographic, than cite the source and acknowledge that it is an estimate. I'll give you an example: On the Stone Temple site we have an infographic on Why is Search So Complex. At the time we did it, the best source we could come with for how many URLs were in the wild was data from Majestic SEO. We assessed from them that there were 3.7 trillion URLs that we knew about. We learned later that Google is aware of more like 100 trillion URLs. So that is actually a 30 to 1 variance - pretty significant. But the reality is that the point that the infographic was making was not impacted by our using the lower number.

We were conservative and obviously we did not exaggerate. We pointed to the source and it was fine when you do it that way. One thing that I probably ought to do now that I have a better number is get the infographic updated. But the theme and the accuracy of what we were trying to get across which is why search is so complex was not impacted by that particular issue. That's how you deal with things where you are doing estimates of numbers and you do not have the greatest possible sources.

Obviously the other thing is that you have to have a creative spark. We haven't talked about this at all in our discussion. If you create an infographic you want to create something that people respond. Visual is good, accurate is good, but at the end of the day it really has to be something that somebody cares about. You really need to put some thought into that part of it.

I am a fan of concept testing. So you don't just go into a conference room and spend 15 minutes and say "that's a great infographic idea" go make it. I really think it's worth taking a little bit of time and stepping back and maybe polling some people that you know to get their reaction to it. Just doing a little bit of extra work to make sure that you are doing something that people might respond to. I really think that is worth doing.

You can do other things to. You can see what other infographics have succeeded in your market space. If you know a bit about your audience, for example if your audience is 18 to 24 year-old males than you can see what other kinds of things they have responded to in other market spaces. It's really good stuff to help you to improve your chances of having a really good idea.

Randy Krum: So simply being pretty isn't enough. You need to have something that is interesting, something that resonates with an audience, something that is compelling. Just being a good looking thing that conveys information can fall flat.

Eric Enge: That's right. At the end of the day, someone needs to care.

Randy Krum: Great. Very informative and very helpful. Thank you so much for your time Eric.

Eric Enge: Thank you for having me. It was in interesting conversation.