Infographic Guidelines

This is a continuation of my post from last week.

The Infographic Guidelines

  1. Communicate data visually.
  2. Help readers remember the information.

These are the infographic prime directives. There are a few subordinate rules for each of these directives that will help you as you develop your work.

Maximize Data

First, try to maximize your data to ink ratio (a term from Edward Tufte). This means, eliminate all elements that do not help communicate the important data. This can be as trivial as having too many lines on a bar graph, or eliminating multiple hummingbird images from an infographic about Google’s algorithm change.

The bottom line is you should remove any ink that is not helping to communicate the information.


Second, always consider the acuity of the human eye. We can detect visual variations of less than 2 mm. For this reason do not hesitate to collapse large lists of data into a visually detailed chart. This is especially true if you will be printing the information since we can discriminate printed material much more effectively than info on a computer screen.

The key is to create an easy to understand framework for the chart so that the data is not lost in an ambiguous framework.

Do Not Misrepresent

Third, avoid misrepresenting the data. For example, one of the most common techniques used to emphasize the change in a bar graph at the expense of truthful representation is to make the baseline start near the lowest number in the range. Both of the illustrations below show the same data but one visually misrepresents the information.

Screen shot 2013-11-21 at 1.32.43 AM

The image on the left shows that the ’09 revenue column is only about half of the height of the ’12 revenue column. In actuality ‘12 is only 12.5% greater. It is common that companies use these kinds of visual tricks to influence the reader.

It is just as common that the reader recognizes what is being done and then makes mental adjustments both for the graph as well as their perception of the company.

Size Has Meaning

Another common misrepresentation is to show a large circle that represents x and a smaller or same size circle that represents 3x. Not only does it misrepresent but, as stated before, it forces the viewer to make mental notes about the inaccurately represented information.

In fact, most viewers pick up on these types of errors. And then do some mental analysis to determine if the misrepresentation has a hidden, legitimate reason for being there, if it is an intentional attempt to trick the viewer, or if it is just sloppy.


Here is another example of one that did not follow the infographic guidelines. The Amazon octopus infographic does some interesting things. First, it shows the companies that Amazon acquired or invested into from 1998 through 2009. Second, it shows the bigger acquisitions with larger boxes. Third, you can see which years were busier than others by just scanning across the image.

infographic guidelines: what's the goal?


But do all the bends in the line mean anything? Also, you have to read the dollar amount associated with the purchases to get a sense of the importance of most of the purchases since they are generally represented by boxes and font sizes that are the same size.

What is the Goal

Ultimately you have to consider what you are trying to share with the viewer. The Amazon image shows that the company has made lots of purchases: so what? What is the significance?

If the creator wants to show all the companies that Amazon purchased why not just create a table. It would be much easier to scan without the eye having to figure out what the color lines mean and if there is any significance to the twists and turns.

Amazon Compared to Brick and Mortar?

One option would be to show Amazon’s growth compared to large brick and mortar companies. The logos of Amazon’s acquisitions could still be shown along the revenue line for Amazon or beneath the chart. The chart below starts where the Amazoctopus infographic ends so is not an apples to apples. I grabbed recent revenue data which was more readily available.

However, it shows how Amazon has grown over the last several years and is currently making more annual revenue than Target (note that Amazon’s 2013 final quarter is an estimate). The same information could have been gathered for the years 1998 to 2009 to show how Amazon grew from nothing to move past JC Penney.

infographic guidelines: what's the point?


This graph by itself is much more interesting since it gives a point of reference: we all know JC Penney and Target. Those retail chains are a couple of the biggest in the US. But Amazon has surpassed them both in about 15 years.

The chart that shows all of Amazon’s acquisitions is interesting if you have some understanding of each of the acquired companies. In the aggregate, however, they are not so meaningful. Showing this growth in relationship with more tangible competitors is significant.

A Fine Example

The following map of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia is a fine example of a chart that has followed the infographic guidelines. The reddish colored line moves from left to right and shows the invasion as it moves into Russia. The width of the line represents the total number of men in Napoleon’s army. He starts with 422,000. By the time he reaches Moscow (at the far right) his army is reduced to 100,000 men.

The return march adds new information: the line graph that is beneath the main map. It shows the temperature during the march in degrees Reaumur. (Reaumur = .8 Celsius) Notice how as the army retreats from right to left the temperature drops dramatically.

infographic guidelines: retreat from Moscow

By the time Napoleon’s army escaped Russia there were only 10,000 men remaining. Though this graph is a bit dry it does communicate a great deal of data. The width of the line indicates the size of the army; red indicates invasion into Russia and black shows the retreat; rivers and town names have been added to show you where the army was located; the table below the main map shows the temperature during the retreat.

In Edward Tufte‘s Words

When describing the representation of visual data, Tufte says,

“The instruments are those of writing and typography, of managing large data sets and statistical analysis, of line and layout and color. And the standards of quality are those derived from visual principles that tell us how to put the right mark in the right place.”

What You Need

The infographic developer must have a strong understanding of the data that needs to be communicated and how it should be communicated. The developer must also have a strong understanding of how to use graphic design tools to effectively build the infographic.

Though this does not need to be a single person it is important that the team work together to create something that is true to the data, tells an interesting story, and helps the viewer remember the data.

Be Vigilant

Look at examples in the future and ask if they have followed these infographic guidelines. If not, perhaps there is an opportunity for you to take the same data and create an infographic that is much more interesting and useful.

Infographic Design – How to Make them Better

Infographic design is a wonderful concept and I absolutely love it when they are done well. Unfortunately, I rarely see one that captures the potential of telling the story through visuals. In this post we’ll talk about the good, the bad and the lessons we can learn about creating a good, data-rich, visual display.

What are the birds saying?

We will discuss the infographic that includes the birds shown below in more detail later. But first, I wanted to get you to think about what these birds communicate to you Continue reading

Is Google’s Hummingbird Important?

In late September Google made a significant change to their search algorithm. In fact, they completely changed the algorithm for the first time in several years but it appears that searchers did not even notice. As an online marketer should you notice?

Hummingbird Impact

Google Hummingbird logoThe answer to that question is “probably not” as long as you are adhering to Google’s prime directive: “concentrate on delivering the best possible experience for your user by creating content that other sites will link to naturally—just because it’s great.” In other words, good content is always the ultimate goal.

Hummingbird Better Handles Longer Search Phrases

Google changed their algorithm to Hummingbird because they noticed that search stings were becoming longer and more complicated. Instead of searching on a single word or phrase people were “talking” to the search box using natural speech. In fact, many people are really talking to their devices rather than typing. Google determined based on the results that they were providing that there were many listings shown to the searchers that did not apply to their complicated search.

Good News for Good Writers

Because of this Google developed Hummingbird to not only provide more relevant results now but to make it better going forward. As a content creator this is good news IF you write good content. For sites that rely on old, SEO tricks like keyword stuffing the news is not good. Those sites will continue to drop in rank as a result of Hummingbird.

In some ways, Hummingbird is like the BCS college football ranking system. The BCS depends on the rankings of other ranking services to help determine the final ranks for their poll. Hummingbird includes “over 200 ingredients” that go into the final recipe. This includes PageRank which is one of the earliest elements used by Google to rank website content.

Google will Never Stop

And if you take nothing else away from this post remember that Google never stops. They are always looking at ways to improve their search algorithm. They do this to make their searchers happy. Therefore, if your content = happy readers then your content = happy Google.


Zen of Social Media Marketing

Shama Kabani - Author of Zen of Social Media MarketingThe thing I like most about Shama Kabani, and there is a lot to like, is that she lives in Dallas (or at least in the neighborhood). She has written a great book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing, founded a very successful company, received lots of awards, and on and on but the thing that stands out to me is she is still living in Dallas which is where I live and my home town. To some this may be a trivial or even puzzling thing but to me it is quite amazing. So often, as soon as someone living in Dallas gets a level of success and fame they pack up and move to LA, or NY, or Austin. I am very happy that she has stayed. And to a point I will make later – it validates me!

Zen of Social Media Marketing – Buy It

Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Kabani

Do yourself a favor and buy her book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing. Though you may know most or all of it the book is a nice compendium of the state of social media and how to use it to your advantage. She provides some great insight and compiles a very nice list of tools to consider in each section. Plus she uses lines like, “your website is a window into your company’s soul.” Isn’t that true. Your site is like looking into someone’s eyes. This is a very good thing to remember when you build your website: is your site nice enough that someone will want to stare at it longingly?

Facebook is a Mirror on ME!

My favorite take away from the books is how Facebook in particular and other social media sites are really about me. (Or about you…you know, “all about me” no matter who you are.) If you remember that then it makes it easier to think about what and how you share on Facebook.

TOMS – Like

People want to share things that will make them look good. The want to support a charity that is doing good work that they believe in. For example, I love TOMS shoes. I liked them on Facebook; I follow them on LinkedIn; I love the story. I will tell everyone how much I love the shoes. But I will NEVER buy a pair. Or, I should say, I have yet to see a TOMS design that I would wear. But that does not deter me from promoting the company because they are doing something that I believe in and I want to glow in their reflected light.

Coke – No Like

On the other hand, I drink a Diet Coke at least once per week but I will never like or follow Coke unless they bribed me to do so. This is the state of social media: I connect with things that will make MY friends like me MORE. Or at least things that will educate me on things I need to know. (And I want to impress my friends with what I am learning. :-))

Local Directories will Improve Your SEO

Don’t Ignore These Ancient Tomes

Local directories are almost worthless except Google likes them.Don’t yellow page directories seem like they were in the era of the stage coach? They seem so antiquated that it is hard to believe that at the end of last century they dominated local search: If you needed to know where to find a local business most people grabbed the yellow pages.


One Important User

Almost no one uses the printed books any more and few people use the online equivalent except when they come up as a result in a general search. Even so by adding your listing to the major directories you can really help your business with local SEO. “How’s that possible?”, you ask with an incredulous shadow across your face. Because Google uses local directories to help supplement and verify listings of businesses in a geographic area.

Even though people are using directories less and less Google and other search engines still use them to verify information about local businesses. By adding your basic information to the primary directories you improve your SEO. And, most importantly, you only have to do it once! Or at least just once until you move your business to a new address.

Directory Admin is a service that facilitates updating your business listings on local directories. sample page.

“But I don’t want to have to find all those directories and add my info or confirm that the information is correct.”, cry out the masses of online business owners. Thanks to, you don’t have to. GetListed lets you search for your local business by name and zip code and shows you the info for your business for each of the major directories. It is like having a directory administrative assistant.

Local Directories

GetListed includes:, Best of the Web, eLocal, Factual, FourSquare, Yelp, Google+, Localeze, Yellow Pages, City Search, HotFrog, Nokia, Infogroup, Bing, Acxiom, and Yahoo. GetListed shows you which of the services have listings and which ones are “unclaimed”. You can click from GetListed to the listing on the other sites so you can edit/claim your business.

So go to, type in your company name and zip code and see where you need to add your listing.

Content Marketing – What, Why, and How

Content marketing is the best way to promote a business. Let’s spend a few minutes to understand what it is, why it is important, and provide some simple guidelines on how every business owner can effectively create a content marketing strategy.

What is Content Marketing

If you do a search on the phrase content marketing then you will find many definitions of the term. Most I don’t like because they seem to want to overly complicate what it is. Though the following definition may not be perfect or exact it does capture the essence of what it is: content marketing is telling stories about your business. Continue reading

Use Bloggers to Distribute your Content

Ryan Holiday‘s book, Trust Me – I’m Lying, is a great primer on how easy it is to use bloggers to distribute your content. But also includes significant warnings on how this tactic can be manipulated. The following passage is typical of the kinds of gems you will find in the book.

use bloggers to distribute your contentWhen you are promoting a post about something that has potential to become viral but is not important enough for the major media outlets to care about then “post in a lower traffic tier with the understanding that content filters up as well as down. The smaller sites, with their ability to dig deeper into the internet, act as farm teams for the larger blogs and news media.”

Continue reading

Making a Video

Each month I search for how-to articles on things that I think would be of interest to my clients. Even though I just wrote a post on making a video a couple of weeks ago I found a few good articles on how to make a video that I wanted to share.

Making a Video with PowerPoint

One article suggested something that I had never thought of before: use a PowerPoint presentation as the visual part of a video. Several years ago MicroSoft built into the PPT software the ability to save a presentation as a movie. If you are good at creating visually interesting PowerPoints you can now convert them to a video and post to YouTube. I love when I find ways to easily repurpose work! Continue reading