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On the subject of infographics

cognitive-science

Danny Danny

March 19th, 2013.

What Can Cognitive Science Teach us about Outreach?

Over the past few decades, businesses which engage in advertising, PR and marketing have increasingly turned to research in the cognitive sciences to inform their decision making. The hope is that greater insight into the psyche of the consumer will ultimately lead to more profit. In recent years, the rapidly developing field of neuroscience has come to the fore with organisations as diverse as PepsiCo, Intel, CBS, eBay and ESPN utilising ‘neuromarketing’ company NeuroFocus to test for various physiological and cognitive responses to commercials, branding and products.


Neurofocus-timeline

There is a straightforward reason for making use of such complex science:

Christof Ehrhart

We need some understanding of who and what we are communicating with, if we want to have any hope of them understanding us. This is why it is worthwhile incorporating an understanding of cognitive science, whether psychological, philosophical or neuroscientific, into an outreach strategy. Even a cursory glance over the cognitive science page of Wikipedia will reveal that our gut instinct about both ourselves and others is more often than not, flat out wrong. A good outreacher needs to dig a little deeper.

Classic Study: Behaviourism – Skinner and the Rat

Skinner-and-the-RatPsychologist B.F. Skinner devoted the bulk of his career to the understanding of human behaviour.  Perhaps his greatest contribution to cognitive science was his theory of operant conditioning, which holds that behaviours can be learnt on the basis of positive or negative reinforcement.

Skinner demonstrated his theory with a device known as the ‘Skinner Box’, which featured little more than a small container, a hungry rat and a selection of levers. When pressed, one of the levers would release a small pellet of food.  Quickly the rat learnt to only press this lever if it wanted to get what it desired. Reinforced by the reward of food, the rat would readily repeat this action over and over again.

But what does this tell us about outreach?

It tells us that well-rewarded behaviour will be repeated. For example, if a journalist has posted an infographic before, had good results, then they are likely to do it again. They know the operation and realise the benefits. This factor of repeatability means that outreach is more scalable.

However, this is not to say that we shouldn’t outreach to those who have never posted infographics before. It took Skinner’s rat some time to understand the process, but once the behaviour is learnt, it is likely to be repeated. This is where persuasion and information kicks in. We wouldn’t dream of entrapping potential clients in a cage to reap some reward: in the rat’s case this was a bag of food, in our case it will be the prospect of driving traffic and awareness towards their website, or just spreading the joy of infographics.  Our positive reinforcement will be much harder to enforce. So we have to provide examples of previous successes, as well as building trust to get clients pressing the lever for content again and again.

skinner-and-the-journalist

Wisdom of the Ancients: Emotion and Reason

In the great philosopher Plato’s famous analogy of the soul, emotion was two horses pulling a charioteer, reason, in opposing directions. The harmonious soul would be able to keep both emotion and reason in balance. A strong outreach strategy should have a similar aim.

EMOTION:

Chris-Graves

REASON:

  • Marketers must be able to reassure the logical characteristics in consumers. A tug-at-the-heartstrings ploy may go over some peoples’ heads, or worse still, invite cynicism.

How does this relate to outreach?

  • While using emotional hooks is important for content you can’t rely on it for all methods of outreach.
  • Know your market.  Some markets will not mind their emotions being pandered to whereas others will see this as little more than fluff, prizing ‘the facts’ much more highly.

Donald-B.-Calne

A more integrated approach between the emotional and the rational will maximise the effectiveness of the outreach.

Recent Study: Optimism Bias and the Effort of Rejection

Optimism Bias:- Research into human decision-making suggests that humans are naturally hard-wired to believe.

It requires greater cognitive resources to question an assumption. It is more effective to believe something than to reject it. By nature, we are trusting. This is why big institutions, popular brands and institutions are built on popular belief and trust. To constantly test and question stimuli would be too draining on our cognitive resources.

Daniel-Gilbert

How is this applicable to outreach?

  • Spend time outreaching to larger influencers. Your content/image/post/media will have greater longevity and far reaching effects- people trust household names.
  • Engage in an initial conversation to build the relationship, assuring and informing your outreach target. Eventually, once the aims have been met, it will be far less likely that your request will be denied due to the cognitive efforts of rejection on the receiver’s part.
  • Have a full proof strategy, that way you are prepared to respond to any queries.
  • This can also be applied to persuasion, turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. It’s like a mental tug of war, making the effort of rejection even more exhausting.

To Conclude:-

  • Well-rewarded behaviour will be repeated.
  • Emotion and reason come hand-in-hand. A conclusion (logic) usually results in an action (emotional impulse).
  • Determine the market before taking the plunge, whether a more emotive or logical method should be applied.
  • Have a full proof outreach POA so that any queries can be met with total reassurance, making rejection less probable.
  • Use other brands and institutions where possible to enhance your own content.

Bill-Gates

Danny Ashton is the director of outreach at the infographic design agency – Neomam. He can be found on Twitter and Google+.

Matt

July 19th, 2011.

Ecommerce website content for SEO – what is it and are you wasting your time?

A phrase that you often hear being thrown about by SEOs is “content is king”, Although this is (arguably) true, I think that in many cases this just leads to commercial webmasters blindly adding low-quality content to their websites for the sake of it without really considering if it is beneficial to them in any way.

It is incredibly important to understand that different kinds of content act in different ways and using different types of content in different areas of your website can drastically influence traffic, sales and conversion rates.

The table below outlines the typical types of content that commercial websites may use and the likely impact on rankings, conversions and links.

Filler Blog Posts

Description

What I would term as ‘filler’ blog posts are often the first thing many people produce when asked to provide ‘SEO content’.   Frequently outsourced they often ask their writers to write low-quality bulk copy based around their range of products and services and then dump it all onto a blog attached to their domain.

While this kind of content by virtue of its sheer volume can sometimes produce visitors, it really is the SEO equivalent of a numbers’ game, and webmasters have recently seen Google move to reduce the effectiveness of this kind of mass produced content with the Panda updates.

This type of filler content almost always converts very poorly, it is of low quality and therefore generally results in a high bounce rate, also because visitors end up on an article page rather than a  product or category page you are relying on them to navigate quite a few pages before they reach your products.

That’s not to say that keeping and writing a company blog or news pages is going to harm your site in any way, but there is a large distinction to be made between in-house staff adding knowledgeable and informed content and an external agency using it as a dumping ground for keyword stuffed articles.

Examples

Rather than picking out and linking to any sites in particular I found the example below on a paydays loans site. As you can see, it’s not particularly compelling to visitors, fairly keyword heavy along with a lack of images and calls to action. I would expect a page like this to suffer from a very high bounce rate and a minuscule sales conversion rate.

Resources, FAQs And How To Guides

Description

Resource guides, cheat sheets and how to articles are brilliant sources of great quality content if you are an expert on a topic. Even if you’re not a  fountain of knowledge you can easily research topics well enough to write an influential guide for others.

The great thing about this type of content is that it tends to attract topical links from closely related sites over a longer period of time, and because of it’s text heavy nature and the number of links that it attracts you will find that these type of articles frequently rank very well for a wide range of generic and long-tail key phrases.

However this type of content isn’t often going to convert into sales directly, but the branding a link benefits often result in secondary traffic from SEO, brand recognition or word of mouth.

Examples

Yoast – WordPress SEO

Yoast is a very well-known SEO who specialises in WordPress, he wrote the definitive guide to WordPress SEO which attracted hundreds of topical links and social shares.

The Mashable Twitter Guide Book

Social media website Mashable launched a Twitter guide book in both an online and downloadable pdf versions.With an impressive 16k Tweets and over 5,000 links to date.


Linkbait

Description

Linkbait covers a wide rage of content types, and really encompasses anything that is specifically designed to elicit a link from other websites or more recently, sharing on social media websites. Linkbait can range from anything from a funny image or video, controversial views or interesting top 10 type lists.

Again SEO behaviour is very similar to resources and how-to guides, linkbait won’t often result in direct sales, but will often attract links far better than other types of content.

Examples

Will It Blend? iPad

A really clever viral video linkbait from Blendtec piggybacking onto aspirational nature of the Apple iPad, while using the shock of destroying one to send it viral.

Berocca – Blogger Relief

Berocca used a free giveaway in conjunction with a blogger outreach programme in order to directly target the linkerati themselves. Using social media to promote the campaign and the the bloggers themselves to spread the word.

 

Infographics

Description

Strictly speaking inforgraphics would probably fall within the linkbait category, but I think their usage is now so widespread that they deserve a mention on their own.

Infographics are an attractive, visual presentation of statistics and data, however they are often criticised for over-simplifying data and not indicating facts are clearly as possible.

Scientific they are not, but they do tend to be viral magnets, people seem to be far more willing to link to or share data presented as an infographic that other forms of information.

Examples

Profile Of A Twitter User

Taking inspiration from a Guy Kawasaki tweet NG Online News put together this quirky infographic that spread like wildfire on Twitter.

The Spread Of Starbucks

Princeton University in conjunction with Flaming Toast Productions created a really interesting infographic detailing the spread of Starbucks coffee shops worldwide.

Optimised Product Copy

Description

I think that well optimised product copy is one area where many eCommerce websites are really missing a trick. You see so many with short inadequate product and category descriptions, or sometimes missing altogether. It’s all very well adding 2-3 keywords to your title tags, meta descriptions and H1 titles, but given the opportunity there is a wealth of long-tail keywords that you could also have the opportunity of getting traffic from.

Of course there are often design and branding implications that often limit the copy available on a page, but it really is worth trying to work through these issues in order to try to offer more extensive page copy. Being able to answer sales queries before they arise will also improve conversion rates and reduce the time your staff spend answering telephone or email queries.

Taking a fictitious example of a website with a category page selling toasters. You may expect to have optimised the page for key phrases such as Toaster, Sandwich Toaster etc. But if you did a little keyword research around the topic you could probably pull in  a few hundred other phrases that were used in conjunction with “toaster” each month. In this example the full list is over 400 phrases long.

Passing this list onto your copywriter and asking them to include these secondary phrases in the body text on product and category pages will have a huge impact on relevant long-tail traffic and sales to the site.

In terms of a financial impact, for example a website that has a modest 200 products, even adding 5 extra visitors per day to each product page will result in an extra £164,250 in increased revenue assuming a £30 average sale and a 1.5% conversion rate.

Examples

Simply one of the best product pages that I have ever seen is at Firebox. Product pages are immensely detailed, well written and optimised so each one should receive a large amount of long-tail keyphrase traffic. They have also incorporated social media voting, comments, videos and user reviews and FAQs. This is almost perfect in terms of creating a huge amount of content on normally difficult to optimise product pages.

Breaking News

Description

Being first to breaking news is a great way of going viral without too much effort. Of course it’s not easy to be first to the punch, but if you have inside knowledge and the ability to publish before others you will often find that you get cited and referenced on other websites that write subsequent articles.

Examples

One of the best examples of the power of breaking news is Gizmodo managing to break details of the next Apple iPhone when a prototype was lost in a bar. The story received a massive 245,000 Facebook likes and almost 10,000 links.

UGC And Reviews

Description

UGC content for eCommerce sites is really a no brainer for most sites these days. Being relatively easy to implement on most eCommerce platforms and easy to promote using reminder and follow-up emails to recent customers.

Where UGC really comes into it’s own is in competing for long-tail search phrases. Often your customers may use non-industry terms and phrases that you haven’t included in your original page optimisation.

Examples

Argos along with most large online retailers have been encouraging user product reviews on their websites for some time. Users as well as being able to leave star ratings for products are encouraged to leave more detailed text descriptions and reviews.

Widgets and Badges

Description

Although widgets and badges tend to fall far more into the off-site SEO remit I think they’re an important enough part of a promotion stratgey that they can fall into both on and off page strategies.
Often these can be used in conjunction with other content strategies such as generating top 100 lists of industry sites and asking those in the list to link back, or producing infographics with easy embed codes.

Examples

AdAge Digital produce a “Power 150″ of the top 150 worldwide marketing blogs. Members of the list can of course download versions of the badge to use on their blogs and Facebook pages.

Link Acquisition Rates

The graph below shows the typical link acquisition rates that you would expect to see over time from different types of content. The vertical axis represents the level of activity (links and social shares) and the horizontal axis the phase in the content cycle.

Content types such as infographics tend to attract a lot of links very quickly as they usually perform well on social bookmarking sites and get embedded on related blogs. This activity usually tails-off over time.

Compare this to content such as resources and how-to articles, which if well written then often sharing activity increases over time, and in the long-term can be a stable source of good quality links.

Conclusions

The main takeaways are that although content is vital to eCommerce websites, it has to be the right kind of content used in the right way. The best content strategy is one that is diverse and encompasses many of the above methods rather than focusing on one particualar one.

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