How to increase engagement through data visualization

One of the best ways to get visitors to engage with online content is to make it visually appealing. Content marketers typically achieve this by adding images, but gathering and presenting data in the form of interactive charts and tables can have a significant impact on engagement.

Many content marketers primarily focus on writing and optimizing article copy for search engines, but they give little attention to how visitors will experience their content. As a result, their content may receive a significant amount of search traffic, but experience low engagement and a high bounce rate.

Content marketers need to focus on producing content that will not only get visitors to their site but will also keep them there.

One way marketers attempt to increase session duration is by adding a compelling image at the beginning of articles. However, the effect the image has on overall engagement is minimal. Even with an image, about 40% of readers will leave by the time they reach the end of the third paragraph. 👋

The importance of including imagery

There’s a reason why adding an image to the beginning of an article can slightly increase engagement, and that’s because human beings are visual creatures. Consider these facts:

Those reasons are why utilizing imagery throughout an article can help maintain the attention of readers.

Using data visualization for increased engagement

Images can help with engagement, but data visualizations via the use of charts, graphs, and tables can further stimulate a reader’s interest. That’s because data visualizations are more interesting to look at and can offer more context than just pictures and text.

Data visualizations also give the impression that a significant amount of time and research has gone into the creation of the content. Psychologically, it impresses upon the reader that the content is probably worth reading and sharing with others.

This article provides methods and resources for data gathering. It also covers the best data visualization options for creating and publishing graphs, charts, tables, lists, code, infographics, and documents for increased engagement.

Table of contents

Data gathering sources and methods

There are sources of data all around us. The companies where we work have data, people have analog data that can be shared digitally, and researchers have data that’s available to download.

The data needed for visualizations is out there. Here’s how to get it.

Use your existing data

Most companies have data that are relevant to their target audience. Research which data is being collected and then create a list of everything that might interest your readers. Then go through the list and think about how you could extrapolate the data or combine multiple data points into something that’s new and unique.

Do not use any data that you don’t have explicit permission to use. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a lot of legal trouble. Data should also be fully anonymized to alleviate any privacy concerns.

Getting new data

If using data from your company isn’t a viable option, consider getting new data through the use of surveys. Each answer to a survey question is something that can be visualized.

Pie chart created using data from a Twitter poll

If you’re running WordPress, you can create surveys using a form plugin like Gravity Forms. Gravity Forms, in particular, supports exporting submissions as CSVs, making it easy to edit in a spreadsheet.

Another option is to use a hosted survey service like SurveyMonkey or Typeform. I prefer to use these services because they’re made especially for creating, sharing, and reporting survey results. Some key features include:

After you’ve created a survey, you can use your email list to send them or share them via social networks. Keep in mind that how and who you share your surveys with may dramatically affect the quality of your results. I suggest reading Typeform’s survey best practices guide before creating and sending surveys.

Another method for getting survey participants is to use a service like Google Surveys. The benefit of Google Surveys is that they provide good targeting and provide you with statistically significant results. The service requires less effort and may result in better data, but it can also be expensive. It all depends on the targeting options you choose and how many participants you need.

Using someone else’s data

A quicker and easier way to get data is to use someone else’s data, legitimately, of course.

There is a service called Statista that aggregates consumer and business data on over 600 industries. It’s a powerful tool for finding relevant datasets, but it requires an annual fee of $7,800/year to republish the data. If the data they provide is essential to an ongoing content strategy, then the price may be worth it. However, for most content marketers, it will likely be cost-prohibitive.

Google provides a search engine called Dataset Search. It returns results from a multitude of sites and makes it easy to find datasets for virtually any topic. Unfortunately, most of the results it returns for consumer and business data are none other than Statista.

Depending on your content needs, there’s still plenty of freely available datasets. The U.S. government has a site that’s similar to Google’s Dataset Search called Data.gov. It has tens of thousands of datasets that cover a multitude of topics, including finance, climate, consumer, and several others. The European Union has a similar site called European Data Portal.

Harvard has a site called Dataverse that contains research data on a wide range of topics, and the Pew Research Center also makes its datasets freely available. You can also download and use data from sites that publish stats, like StatCounter. For example, I was able to make this interactive chart of Facebook and Twitter’s social traffic share using a CSV file from StatCounter’s Social Media Stats page.

Jan 2019 – Jan 2020 Worldwide Social Media Stats from StatCounter

Ultimately, any data that you can find that’s been made freely available and doesn’t have any publishing restrictions can be used for content creation and data visualization.

Using interactive charts

One of the most attention-getting methods for visualizing data is to use an interactive chart. Interactive charts are better than chart images for the following reasons:

Interactive charts are also beneficial to publishers because they’re more difficult for visitors to save and reuse on their sites. In cases where you want other sites to be able to reference your research and charts easily, I recommend providing download links to chart images that have your brand on them.

The best interactive chart libraries

While there are several chart libraries available, these are the ones that I recommend using. They all use HTML5 with either SVG or Canvas to render charts. They are also responsive, compatible with all major browsers, and are fairly easy to integrate into a site.

Chartist and Chart.js are my favorite libraries out of the four I recommended. They are both free to use, support a multitude of charting options, look great, and have a small codebase. I encourage you to check out the chart examples for Chartist and Chart.js.

I also recommend Google Charts and Highcharts, but both have caveats.

Google Charts is full-featured and has an excellent Quick Start guide, but you’re required to link to their JavaScript library to use it. Their license doesn’t allow it to be self-hosted, which means it has to be loaded offsite, and it can’t be used offline.

Highcharts is feature-rich and has some of the best charting capabilities out of the four, but their library isn’t free for commercial use. A single developer license costs $510 plus $268 to receive updates for one year. After the first twelve months, it cost $335/year to continue to receive updates. Similar to Statista, this may be cheap, depending on how it will get used, but for most content marketers, it will likely be cost-prohibitive.

Honorable mentions

These didn’t make the recommended list, but might be worth checking out. I didn’t include them for various reasons. Aside from not preferring them, they both lack good WordPress integrations. Also, FushionCharts costs the same amount as Highcharts over two years.

How to use interactive charts in WordPress

One of the easiest ways to include interactive charts in WordPress is to embed them.

Google Charts is built into Google Spreadsheets, enabling you to publish any chart created in a spreadsheet with an embed code. To get the embed code, click on the chart menu, and then click on Publish.

Google Spreadsheet Embed Chart
Embed charts from Google Spreadsheets

Highcharts also supports embedding interactive charts into WordPress. To embed charts, you will need to have a Highcharts Cloud subscription.

The downside to embedding charts is that you don’t have full control over performance and rendering. That’s why I recommend choosing a self-hosted solution.

Best interactive chart plugins for WordPress

Interactive charts can be self-hosted on WordPress by using a plugin. I recommend using either M Chart or wpDataTables.

M Chart is the plugin I use for Coywolf. It has a minimalist UX and is the most intuitive out of all the plugins I tested. It’s also well maintained, free, and utilizes the Chart.js library.

When you create a chart, you have the option to enter the data manually via an inline spreadsheet, or you can import a CSV file. The plugin also creates an image of the chart, which you can use for other media types like PDFs and presentations, or make available for sites to download and use.

If you need an interactive chart plugin that can handle complex datasets, multiple importing options, and offers the broadest range of chart types, I recommend using wpDataTables. It supports Chart.js, Highcharts, and Google Charts, and is reasonably priced at $59/year.

⚠️ When I was first testing the chart plugins, I couldn’t get any of them to render. The problem ended up being caused by one of my essential plugins putting the required jQuery links in the footer instead of the header. I was able to fix it by including the following function and filter in the functions.php file. The code forces WordPress to put jQuery links within the header.

function insert_jquery(){
	wp_enqueue_script('jquery', false, array(), false, false);
}
add_filter('wp_enqueue_scripts','insert_jquery',1);

Using interactive tables

Tables are things that aren’t used nearly enough but are great for search. Google loves tables because they help disambiguate and structure data. When tables are used, Google can create featured snippets and rich results from them.

Rich Result using data from table

Readers also like tables, and the only thing better than a table is an interactive table. Interactive tables allow visitors to modify and sort the data. They can also make a significant amount of data more manageable by adding paging and filtering.

The plugin I recommend for creating interactive tables on WordPress is TablePress. Similar to M Chart, it has a minimalist UX and is intuitive to use. It also has several extensions that can add additional custom features and enhancements. Coywolf uses this plugin and here’s an example of basic interactive table using data from Net MarketShare.

Browser Market Share

Next steps

In 2015 when I was still with Raven Tools, we did an On-Page SEO study using anonymized data from the Site Auditor tool. It was a very successful campaign at getting mentions and backlinks. If I were to do something like that again, I would replace the chart images with interactive charts and tables.

I encourage you to check out how we did that study, and then think about the type of data you could use to do something similar, but better. And if that kind of undertaking isn’t realistic, try falling back on the other suggestions made in this article, like conducting a survey or using someone else’s data to creating interactive data visualizations for your content.

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Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the EIC and the primary author reporting for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of digital marketing and internet technologies experience. Follow @henshaw