Matt Cutts, head of the Google spam team, recently had this to say about infographics.
In principle, there's nothing wrong with the concept of an infographic. What concerns me is the types of things that people are doing with them. They get far off topic, or the fact checking is really poor...
The other thing that happens is that people don't always realize what they are linking to when they reprint these infographics. Often the link goes to a completely unrelated site, and one that they don't mean to endorse...
The big key is that the person publishing the infographic has to know, and agree with, including an endorsement to your site as attribution with the infographic. Even then, there is reason to believe that the link is more about the barter to get the infographic than a real endorsement of your site.
I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we did not start to discount these infographic-type links to a degree.
This is undoubtedly shocking news to some in the industry, but it doesn't surprise us all that much. This is hardly the first time we've mentioned how important it is to think ahead (or even the first time we've mentioned the threats infographics face), but it's a great excuse to revisit the topic and see if we can't learn anything new.
What's Being Abused?
A long time ago (okay, maybe about ten years ago), there were essentially two ways to get links. You could get them from a directory like the Open Directory, or you could build online relationships with webmasters and get links that way.
The SEO industry then proclaimed that the best way to boost your rankings in the search engines was to get links in directories and trade links. At the time, they were right.
Soon afterward, thousands of link directories started popping up. Nobody actually used them and they had no standards, but the SEOs who didn't think ahead submitted their sites to all of them and saw a boost in the search engines, until it all went away and their sites dropped off the map.
Meanwhile, thousands of reciprocal linking networks popped up. Sites would all link to one another and share their "link juice" in order to boost their rankings. For a while, it worked. Then Google discounted these reciprocal links and all these sites dropped off the map.
Do you see a pattern?
Today's top tier tactic is tomorrow's bargain bin hype machine. What's important isn't so much the tactic you use, but the reasoning behind it.
"Reciprocal links" can actually still work. It just has to be based off of a real relationship with an influential webmaster or blogger that isn't part of a scheming link network.
"Directory links" can actually still work. They just have to come from high quality directories that people actually use and that have standards, like AllTop.
Are You In Good Company?
More than anything else, this is the question you should be asking yourself. Is your infographic extremely authoritative, wildly popular, and a great piece of link bait? Does it bring traffic on its own and do actual experts on the subject it discusses want to link to it? If so, you're on the right track.
Are you trading infographics for links from sites that almost anybody can submit to, that seem to have no standards and don't have an audience? Do these links send zero traffic and do the sites also link out to XYZPillsForALowerPriceThanTheOtherGuy.com.org.net.biz? Does it feel like you're in the back alleys of the internet, eyes darting back and forth before you hand off an infographic in exchange for a link, hoping the Google cops don't catch you? If so, it's time to switch gears.
Whenever you see links to thin affiliate sites, brandless microsites, keyword-centric domain names, or anything that reminds you of late night infomercials, you need to turn around and walk away. That's really all it comes down to. That's how you can tell the difference between a worthwhile effort and a waste of time.
And if your own site reminds you of late night infomercials? You have two options. Get an AdWords account, or start producing content that people will actually want to link to. That's what it takes. SEO is about research, content, and relationships.
All the "shortcuts" are really detours.
Will this news impact your strategy? Do other tactics face a discount?
Image credit: Pratap Sankar