Are infographics worth it? I looked online for answers. What I found was a lot of anecdotal evidence (it’s great for this or that) with no analysis. The reality is that a great infographic isn’t a piece of cake to make. It takes time, money, and expertise. So the simple question is – is it worth the time, money, and expertise, to make an infographic?
I take a slightly different view to asset allocation in business decision making than others, especially when it comes to the development of media assets. Most managers/leaders look at how much something “costs” and use that analysis to drive their allocations. If something costs “a lot” then it gets looked at more closely than something that costs “a little”. That’s why marketing budget is always seen as a cost function and not a revenue function.
Put simply – that is nonsense. Marketing is a revenue function, not a cost function, and thus, it shouldn’t be evaluated in terms of how much it costs, but how much it makes.
If every time you gave me a dollar, I gave you two – would you care how much the dollar cost? No. When marketing is properly allocated, it generates revenue.
So let’s then talk about infographics as an asset of media and how to measure it – then decide how much to put into it. There are three areas to look at – how much they cost to produce, how much an infographic can develop in short-term results, how much the asset is worth over the lifetime of its existence.
How much to Produce not a “good” but a “great” Infographic?
Short answer up front – a few thousand dollars realistically, and that’s presuming you already have key staff working for you and we’re allocating their cost. Freelancing would increase the cost significantly. Let’s detail who you need to make a good infographic:
- Copywriter – while an infographic is an art, the key idea and all the supporting facts that are going to be illustrated start as words. You’ll need a good solid copywriter. That person will be paid anywhere from 50 to 100 bucks an hour (all in) for their work. Figure you’ll need five hours to ideate and write it up.
- Researcher – so once the copywriter has the idea and the story, facts, and figures have to be found to support (or disprove) the idea. It’s the facts and the visualization of the facts that make for great graphics. A researcher has to bring the research together, write it up and have the salient facts for the infographic. Figure that takes a day at perhaps 20-30/hr.
- Graphic Artist – the guy who’s ultimately going to bring it all together. This guy is the one who has to illustrate or compose/design the graphic. He has to absorb what the copywriter and the researcher tell him, as well as figure out the “ah ha!” moment of the graphic itself. Figure that’s 10-20 hours for a decent graphic and pay roughly $100/hr for a seasoned enough artist who can put it together in a day or two (good artists range from 100-300 per hour).
- Designer – the guy who’s going to work ultimately with the artist to make something pleasing to the eye and makes sense to the brain. Not all artists are designers, and not all designers are artists. Figure a good designer and artist work together for about the same amount of time. They also cost about the same – 70-100/hr. For someone good enough to do this project (ranges for designers goes between 50-200 per hour).
- Creative Director – someone has to run this rodeo and get the thing done and together. The artist or the designer might ultimately be the creative director, but a good creative director generally knows three things 1) how to bring all the elements together, 2) how to mediate the dispute between art, copy, and design, and 3) how to deliver a project in the required timeframe. Figure that person is going to cost you $100 an hour and probably do five hours.
That means your average solid infographic should cost you anywhere from one to three thousand dollars – per graphic. That sounds like a lot perhaps – but you went from nothing to a custom designed, researched, and artistically produced infographic in less than a week of your team’s time. There are a couple of things to note about these figures – one; this is a “one-off” type price analysis. If you had a copywriter, researcher, and a good designer on staff, and all they did was produce 4-5 infographics a month, then you could probably get the cost down to about 700-100/per graphic.
I realize my figure differs considerably from others out there – who will say the graphic only costs a few hundred per throw. Two things you should think about with those figures – 1) with all due respect to them, their infographics are simple and awful; doubtful they would garner much attention now; 2) the world is AWASH in crappy infographics being put together by everyone. To truly have the impact you’re seeking (which I’ll get to in a moment why it’s happening even to the best of them), your graphic game and the subjects you illustrate have to be increasingly more “wow” factor to get the results. People have become accustomed to cheaply manufactured infographics – thus; they become part of the noise. Neal Patel says he pays about $600 per infographic – and here’s his average infographic:
Ok, it’s like the 1000’s of other infographics you’ve seen – stock art and text. BORING! Compare it to this – you really think it cost $600 bucks (I’ll give you a hint – the illustration alone is several grand of an artist’s time – presuming they’re a comic illustrator).
The reality is that as infographics flood the market – you need an increasingly better game to get noticed. That means, quite frankly; you need talented artists and creative ideas. Creativity and talent costs – but it’s always way cheaper than sacrificing them for amateurs. I’m a firm believer in this idea – if you think working with professionals is expensive, wait until you work with amateurs.
One last graphic for H&R Block that I thought was brilliant. If I had to guess – the campaign artwork and design elements (production of this graphic) was probably several thousand dollars (under ten but probably more than five thousand):
Measuring Short-Term Results – first element of ROI
So you take your infographic, and you hurl it out into the world on your blog, in social media, and in sharing sites, etc. The obvious metrics in the short term tell you a fair amount of the value of your efforts. Just like a movie, you’ll make 90% of what you’re going to make (in terms of revenue and results) in the immediate short term.
There is very little data about the short term results of infographic marketing. The best information comes from Neal Patel at KISSMetrics:
At KISSmetrics, we’ve created a total of 47 infographics. An infographic on average costs us $600, which means we have spent $28,200 on infographics in the last two years.
Within the two-year period, we’ve generated 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 backlinks from 3,741 unique domains, all from those 47 infographics.
From the social media perspective, in the last two years, the infographics have driven 41,359 tweets and 20,859 likes.
If you decided that you want to buy 2,512,596 visitors, it would cost you $125,629.80 if you paid 5 cents a visitor. If you bought 41,142 links from a service like Sponsored Reviews at a rate of $20 a link, you would have spent $822,840. And that wouldn’t even give you high quality links. We naturally got our links from sites like Huffington Post and Forbes.
If you want to buy 41,359 tweets, it would cost you $82,718, assuming you paid $2.00 a tweet. It would also cost you an additional $41,718 if you paid $2.00 a Like.
In total, if you were trying to game Google and get the same results as we did at KISSmetrics, you would have spent a total of $1,072,905.80. Now, that’s a lot of money, especially if you compare that number to the $28,200 we spent on creating the infographics.
Now that’s from Neal’s article back in October of 2012. But what it says – is that in the first year, they got roughly a five to one ratio for every marketing dollar they spent on an infographic. That’s not bad. Unfortunately, it hasn’t held for long. Here’s what Neal said two years later:
Within the two-year period, from 2010 to 2012, 47 infographics generated 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 backlinks from 3,741 unique domains. They also generated 41,359 tweets and 20,859 likes.
That means, on average, each infographic generated 53,459 visitors and 875 backlinks from 79 unique domains. When it comes to social shares, each one generated 879 tweets and 443 likes.
After 2012, infographics weren’t providing the same results as before. One of the main reasons for the poorer ROI was their rise in popularity. More and more companies started leveraging them, which made them more common.
The newer infographics, on average, drove 21,582 visitors and 371 backlinks from 34 unique domains. As for social shares, each one generated 486 tweets and 259 likes.
The reason for the drop in traffic and links isn’t related to the quality of the infographics. We used the same research methods to come up with topics and the same designer in many cases. And we promoted them through the same channels.
As you can see from the KISSmetrics data, infographics still drive traffic but not as much as they used to.
What Neal’s experience suggests (and I see this as being entirely legitimate), is that because of the glut of crappy graphics out there, it’s not worth it to produce a crappy graphic most of the time. The SEO value is weak, and the overall traffic volume in the short term is dubious. This is true of nearly all elements of content marketing.
Sidebar – Why Great Infographics may be a good bet, Good infographics are a crappy bet
In 2007, if you were Copyblogger & Brian Clark, persistence and writing, creates an eight-figure business (similarly, Problogger, Marketing Profs, Content Marketing Institute, and others all explode from 2007 to 2010 riding the wave of blogging). If in 2015 you want to do this, it’s a challenge.
The simple reason why is long-tail.
Let’s take a simple website that has been creating ANY type of content for five years. Let’s say they’re decent at it – producing good SEO content, building links, etc. In five years, let’s assume an aggressive production case: produced one good article (or piece of content) per day, Monday through Friday. All in all, that’s about 22 pieces per month. In five years, that’s 1,320 pieces of content.
Let’s assume that you decide you want to follow this company and you go “Oh hey we can do that!” What does that really mean?
First you need to develop over a thousand pieces of solid content, and you need to do it in like a day (no easy feat crushing five years of effort into one day). Second, you need to then get that content seeded across the market (nearly impossible.)
Here’s why you’ll never succeed. Every day the main competitor exists, he pumps out 1/1320th of new content adding to his library. The day after, he pumps out 1/1321th. You, on the other hand, have to first double your library (from one to two), then quadruple your library (from one to four), and so on. Catching up to competitors in content marketing is a logarithmic. not linear, challenge.
Five years is a massive lead. Quite frankly, one year is a massive lead, in terms of attempting to “capture” an idea online – whether it’s blogging, infographics, artwork, or whatever. The reason that infographics have declined in their ROI has more to do with mimicking in the marketplace and not that infographics don’t work (or don’t work as well as they did).
If you are producing very high-quality infographics, you’re the first (or among the first) in your niche, and you’re the best at it (you’re producing things that look more like H&R block and less like KISSMetrics), then the thousands of dollars you will spend will mean MILLIONS of dollars a competitor has to spend to catch up with you.
If you’re just trying to copy everyone else and hope it drives traffic – you’re probably screwed. You won’t make enough money in the short-term to survive to the long-term.
That’s why I outlined what it takes to produce a great infographic. A good one doesn’t do anything – it’s not even worth the effort.
Second Sidebar – What then tells me I’m making good graphics that get results?
So if you’re going to test the waters, what makes for great ROI in the short term? Really only two things – backlinks and social shares. In other words, making an infographic is really all about one activity – SEO.
Neal’s analysis of how many tweets and likes and shares he got is the key. The reality is – you really can’t even BUY that type of interaction if you want to. He’s put a value on it – but the reality is that if you buy twitter followers, likes, etc., what you’re actually buying is garbage. That won’t lead to sales. It won’t lead to authority. It won’t lead to anything meaningful.
If you spent five thousand dollars making an infographic – here’s what I’d suggest would be “a good day” in terms of results:
- You got somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 really solid backlinks from relevant websites that matter (that means people saw it and wrote it up, but more importantly, people who mattered saw it and wrote it up)
- You got somewhere in the neighborhood of about 5-10K visitors in traffic as a result of the graphic in the first 30 days. I mean I realize that sounds like a lot of traffic – but we’re only talking about 250 people a day. If you really made something that is stunning to your niche and really “wow’ed” people – that isn’t that hard to do.
- You got somewhere in the neighborhood of about 500 to a thousand tweets/shares on social media. Social media is a significant feedback signal for SEO. Something that suddenly spikes gets noticed by Google.
If those three things happened – one would presume that would lead to a fair amount of traffic to the page and at least increased awareness of your thoughts and offerings. You’re paying roughly then about a dollar a visitor (on average) and about 10 bucks for a backlink (which is cheap since you have it forever) and about a dollar to two dollars per social interaction (which is about half of what you’d pay twitter or facebook for the same result).
How much is an Infographic worth in the Long-Term?
This is somewhat more difficult to evaluate. For one thing, an infographic is tied into media channels that last seconds – not even days. Your average tweet’s shelf life is in minutes. Your average facebook post’s life is in minutes. Thus, “long-term” for content is pretty difficult to gauge – it’s like fruit fly lives – a day or so.
That said, the real long-term value has to do with things not related to the infographic itself insomuch as what the infographic does in terms of linkages and connections.
Neal Patel’s KISSMetric site has about 50 graphics (and counting). If over the life of the graphic library he creates (all of which are on topics related to the SEO of his business – like conversion, check outs, SEO issues, etc.) 1000 backlinks per graphic (which is about his average – 800-1000 per), then for three thousand dollars he’s generated 50,000 backlinks.
Those have a lifetime indefinite value from Google’s perspective. And they’re real backlinks – not manufactured – not “purchased” and not likely to lead to being penalized. Good content that creates backlinks has NEVER been penalized by Google. This is because backlinks are one of the best indications of great content written by great authoritative authors.
As an aside – this video was made before the collapse of Google author. That project was an attempt to essentially start establishing authority scores of content creators. It was a complete flop because quite frankly nobody beyond techno-wonks (like me) got it and used it. The adoption of Google authorship was so low, it had no value. As a consequence, although Google wants to go to something more natural – like celebrity type status or “authority” to determine who’s likely to be generating good content – linkages are still the number 1 proxy.
So the long term value of a great infographic is it will develop a trove of serious backlinks from sites that matter. That has a long-term value that just builds over time and if you’re someone looking to preclude people from entering as competitors, it’s one of the few ways to build monopolistic positioning into your activities (for the reasons I mentioned in the above sidebar).
All infographics, just like all content generally, has a limited shelf value. The most I think one could expect would be an infographic that lasts a few years driving traffic. That’s considerably better than a blog post – less than 1% wind up being “the best of all time” – and that’s even from routine home-run hitters like Seth Godin. The reality is – the information stream is too much for anyone to remember anything for very long.
So since an infographic is more likely to get shares, more likely to wind up bouncing around the social sphere, and more likely to get deeply valued backlinks – infographics as a category are probably more valuable than say – your average blog post. How much more valuable? The data isn’t really obvious – but I think a decent measure would be to expect the lifetime value of a great infographic is roughly four times the cost to make it (when you look at traffic brought to your site over the ‘long tail” of the graphic’s existence, the share value of the graphic, and the library value of the graphic as a media asset).
So what’s Point Vanessa? Should we have infographics?
The simple answer is – yes, but only if you’re really committed, have people who know what they’re doing, and you’re going to track it closely to business needs and results.
A great infographic can create all types of good things – traffic, sharing, engagement, instruction, awareness, backlinks, SEO, etc. Making a great infographic costs much more than you’ve probably been told, thought about, or think you can do it for. You’ll need skilled writers, artists, designers, and a great mechanism for distribution. You also have to connect the dots in a way that generates that “ah ha!” moment that makes people really take note of what you’re telling them and then share it.
That’s not easy – and until you know you can do it – infographics are a gamble. The first few may be an absolute flop.
But if you can consistently generate a collection of them – you’ll be able to enter people’s minds in such a way that you cut through the clutter of advertising, blogging, and other infographic crap and you start connecting and building an audience. The long-term value of that process is undoubtedly worth the costs up front. While there are no great bright lines in measuring this – here’s my general rules of thumb about whether or not your infographics are worth it:
When compared to costs to produce the infographics:
- It should cost less than five dollars per backlink from a unique source.
- It should cost less than 5 cents per visitor from a unique source.
- It should be drawing in links and visitors within the target audience you’re interested in connecting with (it doesn’t matter if you sell tractors and make a great infographic on sex toys – you’ll get tons of visitors and backlinks, all of them worthless to you)
- It should cost less than a dollar per social media share
- Your “social media intensity” should be more than 1/3 — that means as a ratio of those who visit the page, see the graphic, etc., one out of every three visitors (or better) should pass it on. That tells you that you’ve really connected with the audience and start giving them “more cowbell” to grow your audience even further.
All in all – how would I boil it down? If I spent five thousand on an infographic design – I’d expect somewhere in the neighborhood of double that amount in revenue generation within 90 days and I’d expect long term somewhere in the neighborhood of 20K total over the course of the year as it improves my online ranking, backlinks, presence, authority, etc. Again – it’s a logarithmic race – not a linear one. The more I do it – the better I get at – the more traffic I bring in – the better I get known – the harder it becomes to catch up with me.
So bottom line – yes, it’s worth it… but only if you’re ready to play at the top of your game, do something in an area nobody is doing (in other words your graphics are novel in their conclusions and topics), and you can translate that traffic into revenue through your capture mechanism. Not what you were expecting? Was it?