• Infographics & their huge Google spam footprint

    by  • April 23, 2012 • Google • 18 Comments

    I cringe every time I see someone spamming some new infographic on Twitter or Google+.  While some of them are clever and amusing, particularly in the beginning, some of them are clearly a stretch with shoddy graphic design and lack of any worthy (or accurate) content.   Not only that, so many of them lately have nothing to do with the  site in question and are simply created for link value, because obviously that infographic on Angry Birds addiction really fits into the content theme of a low fat recipes site.

    While infographics got their start on news sites, even well before the internet was around (remember back in the pre-internet days when they used to pop up occasionally in newspapers), infographics really took off this past year as a great way to get a significant amount of traffic, and of course, links.  But as all SEOs know, any worthy “lots of links fast” strategy tends to be used and abused.  And wow, they are definitely getting abused.

    But for all those SEOs out there pumping out infographics at an alarming rate for all their own – and their client’s – websites, you can bet many of them haven’t stopped to think about the long term consequences, only the short term link gain.  Short term is traffic (yea!) but long term could end up being a bit more sketchy.

    True, many SEOs argue that links via infographics are quality links.  And while some of those links might be quality, just as many of not more are pretty poor quality.  It would take nothing for Google to flip a switch and discount a majority of those links obtained via infographics.

    How Google can spot the infographic footprint
    Images are already indexed in Google in the image search – along with the image size – so it wouldn’t be a stretch for Google to add some sort of penalty (or not so much penalty, but maybe a signal to discount links) for landing pages where an image length is longer than 1500 and wider than say 500 or 800 pixels, because that is an image size not used often for anything but infographics.  While not all infographics are the long and skinny, a fair amount of them are.  And I am willing to bet when you oh-so-conveniently included the copy and paste code for your infographic that you failed to include a no-follow tag (of the dozen or so I checked, none included the no-follow attribute in the code, which Google would argue that all webmasters should do when they are unsure of the quality, or legitimacy, of an incoming link.

    They could also go further with the larger landscape infographics, using OCR technology (which we know they have the ability to use on images) to be able to differentiate between photos and infographics.

    It could also potentially be used as a signal for the dreaded over-optimization penalty.  And in that scheme of things, one or two infographics could be kosher, while a site rocking 30+ (and yes, there are definitely sites with that many and more) infographics could be a little more suspect, especially if those infographics aren’t linked to from the main site.  A fair number of infographics sit on orphan pages that link to other pages on the site, yet no main pages on the site link to the one with the infographic one – particularly the types that are spamming Angry Birds infographics on a recipes site.

    Spying on the infographics your fellow SEOs & competitors are sharing
    And does the evil side of you want to know how many SEOs are using and abusing infographics, aside from the ones you notice spamming them on Twitter?  Simply add one of the many “SEO expert” circles into Google+, make sure you are logged into your Google account, and then do an image search for infographic.  At the top of the page will be all those spammy infographics than SEOs have shared, showing through the wonder that is Search Plus Your World.  And yes, the spam team can easily add those same SEOs into their circles and see this too, if they wanted.

    Likewise, hit up Pinterest, add a bunch of SEOs to your friends, and see what infographics they have pinned.  And this also works well for checking what infographics competitive websites are pushing, especially when they are doing the Angry Birds on a recipe site type infographics that you might not otherwise notice.

    Should you bandwagon?
    If you haven’t jumped on the infographic bandwagon yet and are tempted to, weigh the pros and cons of tossing a no-follow on the copy and paste link code you provide.  And yes, infographics can send a ton of traffic just from the sharing, especially the creative and well done ones, aside from the benefits of the links.  Some will argue that a Google penalty would be a stretch, it isn’t too farfetched that Google can simply tweak their algo to discount those infographic links anyway.

    Going the way of the dodo bird?
    Are infographics for links a dying art?  I am sure we will all be annoyed by them for years to come, the same way link bait persists.  And yes, they will clearly be effective for getting the initial traffic from people sharing them… and rediscovering and resharing them again later.  But don’t count on those links you gain benefitting your site from an SEO perspective (aside from the straight clickthrough traffic), especially because we know that Google is leaning towards discounting the benefits of all kinds of links when it comes to their algorythm…. can you say hello social?  You need to think ahead whatever the next big link gain thing is…. Or is it already here and you don’t know it yet ;)

    About

    Jennifer Slegg is a longtime member of the SEO community and is an expert on social media, content marketing, Google AdSense and search engines.

    18 Responses to Infographics & their huge Google spam footprint

    1. April 23, 2012 at 4:48 am

      That’s a lot of text, Jennifer, couldn’t you have presented this as an embeddable graphic? ;)

      Nice analysis!

    2. Jenstar
      April 23, 2012 at 4:49 am

      I was very tempted to make a tongue in cheek infographic to go along with it :D

    3. Pingback: Marketing Day: April 23, 2012

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    5. April 23, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      I agree that there are a ton of crappy infographics out there (just like when everyone figured out that “top 10″ style articles we most successful), but from what it seems like you’re saying is that all sites that include an infographic (good or bad), they should receive a penalty, which I wouldn’t agree with.

      Now, if you were to say that a site that consistently posted infographics that received little-to-no social promotion (due to lack of interest of whatever reason), I can see that throwing up some red flags. I think we’re at the point where infographics are more mainstream, which means that in order for a good graphic to stand out (just like any other article), it has to be unique, interesting and have some sort of storyline and/or hook. No longer are “evolution of…” or “history of…” type graphics going to cut it anymore.

    6. Jenstar
      April 23, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      The problem is Google’s algo couldn’t really determine what infographic is crappy and what ones are pretty stellar. It would have to go based on number of shares, but we all know spammers have about a zillion accounts they can share stuff amongst, so crappy ones could easily beat out some really great infographics simply because of spam shares.

      No, I don’t think infographics deserve a penalty per say, but if I was Google, I would look into discounting the impact those links gained from infographics have on the algo.

    7. April 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      I think the infographics have really just about hit their saturation point. Something new/fresh will be right around the corner to take their place though.

      Here’s an idea I think will be coming soon:

      – HTML5 interactive graphics & data (or some other interactive application)

      Face it… We’re all rabbits chasing the carrot ($).

    8. April 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

      @Cory Howell – there have already been a load of great (and not so great) interactive infographics. A successful one last year showed how long it took the investor John Paulson to earn your annual salary. There are a few more here: http://www.queness.com/post/10465/7-amazing-interactive-infographics-created-with-html-css-and-javascript

      I can’t remember what my favourite one was, and it isn’t on that list…

    9. April 24, 2012 at 1:38 am

      Nice post Jennifer. I recently queried the value of non-brand related infographics in a recent post. I think that infographics are getting a bad name, but if done well they can have help convey brand messaging and have positive search and social benefits.

      I think the real key is creativity and research. Not enough people find an interesting niche and then represent the info in an original way. Alex is right – I’d love to see more infographics that were interactive and made use of video and audio. Hopefully we will, and people will start to reconsider the infographic as having value in itself as content, rather than just as a linkbait tool

    10. Jenstar
      April 24, 2012 at 1:51 am

      I think the Scale of the Universe 2, which made the social media rounds earlier this year, is a great look at what the future of infographics can be. Maybe not on this kind of grand scale, because of the work involved, but interactive is always good. However, it isn’t quite as easy to share as a neat and tidy “copy and paste” code anyone can paste into Facebook, Pinterest or a blog. But then it starts getting closer to widgets and games, that are already being used and abused too.

      In the end, I think people will look to share whatever it is, if it is quality. But that doesn’t really help the Google algo in determining if a link is genuine quality or not.

      Scale of the Universe 2: http://htwins.net/scale2/scale2.swf?bordercolor=white
      Well worth looking at if you haven’t seen it yet.

    11. April 24, 2012 at 4:13 am

      Jennifer – great article. Infographics are definitely the new “badges” – only a matter of time before Google discounts them, if they haven’t already.

    12. April 24, 2012 at 6:20 am

      @Alex – Thanks for the reference… Lots of creativity there.

      Any thoughts on “what’s next”?

    13. Allen Schowengerdt
      April 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Why would the links be discounted? A crappy infographic will not get many links at all anyway, because nobody wants to share a crappy graphic. Good graphics get links because they present information or data in a visual way that people haven’t seen before, and therefore attract sharing and links. That is the essence of the internet, so I do not quite understand why Google or any search engine would want to discount that.

    14. Spencer B
      April 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      Jennifer,

      I appreciate your post and can understand being sick of low quality infographics. Low quality, template-based infographics are annoying, no doubt about it. That being said, I have to respectfully disagree on a couple of things. (Big Disclaimer…my company designs and promotes infographics. I removed the link to my website and my last name so this is far from a sales pitch.)

      Infographics are the definition of white-hat link building. “Build high quality content and people will link to it.” Nobody is making people link to and/or share infographics…people, websites, journalists, etc. link to them and share them because they want to or they feel their readers will get added value.

      I can see how an embed code might leave a footprint of sorts…as does any viral link growth and most link building in general…especially social promotion through bitly and other trackable URLs, press releases, video marketing, etc….but I don’t see any reason, unless someone is very foolish i.e. using keyword rich anchor text in their ebed code, why this type of footprint is a bad thing. Granted, I think there’s some short term link devaluation when you get the same link over and over again w/ the same anchor, but long term I’ve found these links to be extremely beneficial. (Plus, why not rotate the embed code either on your site or in your outreach?) This also excludes the fact that many journalists/bloggers will use the graphic as a supplement to a larger story and not use the embed code.

      Finally, the links that are attainable via infographics are of remarkable quality. If it’s alright with you, I’ll share a few links from recent infographics I’ve done (you can email me and I’ll provide a link in a comment here). Point being, they garnered editorial links from ReadWriteWeb, National Geographic, Mashable, Business Insider, FoxNews, LifeHacker, Inc.com, EFF.org, and on and on. And the SEO value of these links is undoubtedly very, very real.

      I wish this was my blog too so I could right a more lengthy response:) Seriously, I can assure you that I’m as sick of crappy infographics as you are. But I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and deem them a tactic of the past that’s ineffective, counter-productive, or “red flag raising”.

      At the end of the day, it’s about what people want. if they didn’t want or enjoy infographics, then nobody would be using them.

      Thanks for letting me rant on your blog,

      Spencer

    15. Jenstar
      April 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm

      I welcome all rants :) I did say there are some really awesome infographics. Unfortunately, the pretty horrible ones that are being spammed all over the place will ruin it for the good ones.

    16. Jenstar
      April 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      >> Why would the links be discounted

      Well, a lot of the people pumping out bad infographics also have some pretty impressive networks of fake twitter accounts / pinterest accounts / Facebook accounts. And more than a few different networks will share shares/likes/pins amongst themselves too, because it is not that hard to rebuild social networks.

    17. Spencer B
      April 24, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Jennifer,

      You’re a wonderful sport for putting up with me…I’m definitely one of those wannabe bloggers who loves to write, but isn’t disciplined (or brave) enough to organize and share my my thoughts on a consistent basis.

      Re: Links Being Discounted

      I completely believe that spammers are really smart and capable of building large social media accounts. And it would make sense if some of the “social signals” are discounted. But, in my experience, I’ve had more success generating social signals w/ graphics that textual content. Perhaps that’s because I’m a horrible writer :)

      But, I think we agree that at the end of the day, as evidenced by Google’s update today, slow and steady wins the race. While a graphic might get you a burst of link or social authority, it has to be followed by a lot more hard work.

      Thanks Again,

      Spencer

    18. Jenstar
      April 24, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      >> While a graphic might get you a burst of link or social authority, it has to be followed by a lot more hard work.

      True… and there are definitely those sites that are trying to skate by on just infographics. It is a great way to get a foothold and attention for a new site, but you have to do a lot more than just popping out infographics to sustain it.

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