The shady infographic practices of today
In AP Economics, one of the first things we learned was TINSTAFL, said “tin-staff-full,” and Mrs. Burger insisted that when looking at anything in life, There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, a concept that dates back generations and will continue to be taught in our culture, and in our schools, and it is based on the very human principle that people don’t typically give things away without a catch.
Lenders give away tacos for breakfast if you sit through their seminar, bankers give away free gift cards if you apply for a specific loan or program (even if you don’t want the program, since they say you can always cancel later), car dealers give away free televisions if you take a test drive. If, if, if. Life is all based on “if this, then that” conditional logic.
So why does anyone think any of this is different for companies that are mass producing infographics? A while back, we instituted a policy here that we would not publish any infographics unless it was unique to our news organization, added so much more to a story than words could, or for other small reasons, but in general, we shy away from them.
Why? Because there are endlessly shady infographic practices today. Oh what, you thought that random company you’ve never heard of was doing you a service and giving you a free infographic for your blog with no strings attached? No, there is a catch.
OnlineSchools.org and other infographic shops
Dan Tynan’s column at IT World examined the current practices, adding that he too has published others’ infographics, fully aware that these companies give away infographics they paid to produce so they can get backlinks to their sites, and get “Google juice,” all of which is pretty obvious, and no one is hiding behind that practice. Tynan warns, however, that sometimes “the motives are a little more nefarious.”
“One of the biggest producers of infographics – and one of the skeeviest, in my opinion – is OnlineSchools.org,” Tynan said. The company has over 100 infographics on various non-school related topics, so Tynan investigated the site, finding that they are not hiding that they are a lead generation company for online schools, and after he went through the application process to see what happened, he was instantly deluged with calls and emails, and bombarded by online schools.
But that’s not nefarious, he had to go through the application process before his information was sold blindly to all online colleges, even those that didn’t offer the program he said he was seeking. No, Tynan notes that OnlineSchools emailed him two years after using an infographic, asking that the anchor text of his post be changed. The company emailed, “We have recently received warning from Google that they are suspicious of link trading schemes surrounding this, and we want to make sure that you are taking the necessary precautionary measures so that your site is not adversely affected.”
Years down the road, requests being made
We have also received this exact email, years after using an infographic, and if you Google it, AG and Tynan are far from alone. Tynan asks, “How, I wondered, could running a link to an infographic adversely affect my site, some two years down the road? Why would Google think I’d traded something for that link? Who was OnlineSchools, exactly, and what the heck did they want from me?”
Thus, his experiment began. We handled it differently than Tynan – when someone contacts us requesting changes to any infographic anchor text, or for there to be a link to a different page than original, or for an image to change, for any reason, we either deny the request, remove the infographic, or remove the entire article altogether, depending on their request and response.
Most infographics are legitimate, and put out by companies that have pertinent information to share, but the handful of schemers prey on those that don’t understand how this scheme works. Most infographics have the name of the company (“OnlineSchools.org” or otherwise) printed on the actual infographic, which should suffice, but no, they want a link to their website.
This got us to thinking about vulnerabilities
This got us to thinking – because most people grant them this request, what is to stop them from changing the actual link 30, 60, 365 days down the road to point to something nefarious? What if the spammers begin to (or already are) producing infographics, blindly sending them to bloggers with the only request that the infographic link back to them, and in a month when you click the link, it no longer goes to the hosted infographic, it is a page that says “log in to learn more” which asks for email information which is then sold, or worse, the link later points to malware instead of a graphic.
While we will continue working with the handful of companies we know personally and have exclusive agreements with, we will sharpen our policies even more in regards to infographics. Most of them are barely more than a wall of text with some lame vector images anyhow, but for the legitimate infographic creators, the bad guys have shown up, shady infographic practices are in play, and the blogger world must pause and consider what they are doing before hitting publish.
If an infographic has a link typed into the image, that should suffice if a company truly wants to get the word out about something, otherwise, you may just be a pawn in their SEO game or worse. Do you really want your customers and readers clicking on a link that gives Google juice to a spammer, later requests their information, or even infects their computer? Think about it.
Bonus: the entire article above also applies to the “guest blog posts” random companies are offering you, all in exchange for a link that may point to a malware site in 60 days.