We understand the rhetorical power of data visualization, and its ability to conjure a narrative from seemingly bland sets of digits in a row. This is the effect that striking imagery, well-matched data, enlightening comparisons and intelligent insight have on the human mind.

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But the complexity of human psychology is a mere drop in the ocean when compared with the head-scratchingly infuriating world of search engine optimization. How does data visualization measure up in this arena?

I’m being facetious of course, but this is still an important point. When we use data visualization as part of our content marketing strategies, our reach and the potential worth of the content we produce are at the forefront of our mind, and this makes SEO vital.

With our content marketing hats on, we want to be certain that our data visualizations are pulling their SEO weight and helping our content reach the heights it deserves. But, even more than this, we want to be sure that our visuals are not harming the overall prominence of our pages.

So, do data visualizations have an impact on SEO, and is that impact a positive one?

What is SEO Trying to Achieve?

To understand the SEO impact of a visualization, we must first recognize the point of SEO in the first place. SEO is not a long-game prank played by the head honchos at Google on innocent content producers and webmasters, it is a sincere attempt to deliver search engine users the results they need.

The endgame of SEO is to create a world in which information is delivered directly to the user when they need it; not information clouded by spam, clickbait headlines, and flimsily researched content, but real, pure, honest information. Quality really is everything.

When we look at SEO from this perspective, the answer is clear. Data visualization certainly does have a positive impact on the search engine optimization of our pages. There is, of course, a caveat; the visualizations must be great, they must be relevant, they must provide the user with valuable insight, and they must be of genuine value to searchers.

As conscientious data visualizers, this should be our goal anyway; creating stunning visuals which spin an insightful narrative for our users is surely the aim of the game. Stay on the right side of the quality line, and stay on the right side of Google’s search engine algorithms in the process.

Authority Holds the Key

SEO is continuing to evolve. The practice is no longer simply a game of keywords and meta-data, there are a whole array of other factors which search engines take into account when they define their algorithms. One of these is authority.

In order to perform well for certain search terms and in certain areas, content must carry weight, it must have authority. To put it simply, the website must become a source which users respect and trust.

But how does this happen? And, more importantly, how could a search engine possibly measure something like this? Actually, it is more quantifiable than you might think. Search engines gather data regarding social media buzz, authorial associations with other high-ranking sites in the field, and inbound links, among other things, on their way to determining levels of authority.

Linkbuilding as an SEO practice took a major hit a few years ago, when search engines got wise to the dirty tricks being played by some webmasters. However, organic link building – with links from reputable, respected sources – is a sure-fire way to move up those all-important search engine rankings.

Create great visuals, attach embedded codes so they can be easily linked to via different websites, include share buttons to encourage social media virality, and watch that authority develop.

Diversified Content

Bounce rate is another indicator which search engines can use to sort the high-rollers from the bottom-feeders in the rankings stakes. If a user is accessing your website and then exiting soon after, without browsing your content further, this is a sign of one of three things: 1. Your content is poor, 2. You are trying to mislead by ranking for irrelevant search terms, or 3. Your website is too difficult for users to navigate.

If any one of these is the case, expect to take a major fall in the search engine rankings. This is why it pays to keep an eye on your bounce rate.

As long as your sitemap is well thought out and the information you are providing is of genuine and sincere worth, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem here. This is one of the key strengths of a strong data visualization game; a good visual draws the user in, grabbing their attention in the moment and then letting them unpeel the layers of narrative that you lay out before them.

This sort of diversified content is just what a website needs to keep its bounce rate healthy and low, and demonstrates just how valuable data visualization can be to SEO.

The Infographic Anxiety

Anyone who has ever posted an infographic on their website has felt a twinge of anxiety and self-doubt. We tend to question ourselves; wouldn’t I be better off just sticking a load of strong, SEO-sharp text up there for the search engine crawlers to get their teeth into?

Well no, not really. As we’ve seen above, the strengths of a good quality visualization enable the medium to more than hold its own in the cut-throat world of search engine optimization. However, to assuage the fears of missed keyword and semantic indexing opportunities, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

Adding meta data to your page, placing relevant keywords in the URL, utilizing H1 headings and attaching alt text to the infographic itself, all give Google’s crawlers a bit of a helping hand when it comes to recognizing the worth of your content and indexing it appropriately. Of course, a few contextual paragraphs to accompany the data doesn’t hurt either.

So, as we’ve seen, the question is not so much “does data visualization have an impact on SEO?” as “what can I do to maximize the impact of my visuals?”

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