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What Are the Best Tools for Storytelling With Data Visualization?

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What Are the Best Tools for Storytelling With Data Visualization?

Storytelling with data is a crucial part of any content marketer’s toolbox. Whether you are using data visualization to illustrate a point you’re trying to make, or you want to showcase data from an analysis your team has done, proper data design is key to creating effective visuals that everyone is happy with. Charts and infographics can be pretty, but if they aren’t also properly breaking down data in a way that makes an impact on the audience, they are likely not worth the time and effort.

Below, we discuss how storytelling ties into data visualization, and what tools can help you bring more data into your content. We also recently updated our Learn Center article about storytelling with data, to highlight how data transforms our content and legitimizes the points we’re trying to make, no matter the topic. Be sure to check it out for even more insights!

How does storytelling tie into data visualization?

Visualization is the act of taking data and breaking it down in a visual way that helps the audience understand at a glance what the data is telling us. This could be something like taking population data from a town and creating a pie chart that shows the age ranges of all residents or looking at a bar chart to see that the number of apps an average user downloads on their smartphone has slowly increased over time. Then, after this data is introduced, we use storytelling through content to further explain what the data is telling us.

For instance, if we know that the average user downloads two more apps to their phone then they did five years prior, we can deduce that users are likely using their phones more. This can help us introduce our main point or solution, such as an app cleaning utility to help users remove apps they no longer use, or behavioral modifications for users that want to be on their phone less.

The best tools for data visualization

If you’re looking to create your unique data visuals, which is recommended so you don’t use someone else’s data without their permission, there are several tools you can use to gather data that will influence the main points in your content narrative. These free and paid tools range from the following:

  • providing the data for you in a chart format

  • giving you raw data to build into graphics

  • allowing you to import your raw data so you can build the visuals you need to properly summarize the data points

Creating your own data visualizations can help you create imagery that illustrates your point, influences users to take action, or helps you explain your points in a visual way. Whether you need data trends over time or an analysis of your data to determine next steps, these tools can help.

Google Trends

Most SEOs are aware of Google Trends, but almost any industry can use it to get a quick pulse on what is trending in their specific field of products or services. For instance, if you are an e-commerce, you can check out the Google shopping trends to see what products are being searched for most recently. The page also points out large spikes for specific product terms for e-commerce, such as “y2k aesthetic.”

Additionally, Google Trends also shows daily overall trending search topics in specific countries. This is really useful if you’re looking for data that applies to a specific country or the pulse of a certain area overall, such as music or current events.

The main section of Google Trends allows you to compare multiple topics as once to see how user interest has ebbed and flowed over time.

Screenshot of trend lines for cryptocurrency and NFTs on Google Trends.

This data can be an effective way to showcase how specific audiences have gained or lost interest in a topic over a set period of time.

Google Charts

If you already have data that you need to plot into charts, Google Charts under Google’s development tools is a great way to do that. It allows you to import data which you can create visualizations from and then place on your website.

It’s free and completely customizable. It also has a gallery you can browse for examples of available charts, which can help you decide which is best for your data.

Screenshot of Google Charts options. Top row: Geo Chart, Scatter Chart, Column Chart. Bottom row: Histogram, Bar Chart, Combo Chart.

This tool may require more developer knowledge since you’ll have to HTML5 and other code to pull in the data.

Additionally, Google Data Studio is similar to Google Charts, where you can import several different data sources to create graphics and live charts based on API-connected data. However, it is focused more on providing an internal data dashboard rather than public-facing charts for content pages.

Moz

If you’re looking to share keyword research or search data over time, consider using Moz. Moz Pro allows you to track your campaign data over time (as well as research competitors), and the suite of free tools lets you view data on specific keywords or links.

Screenshot of Moz Keyword Explorer results for keyword "chromebooks"

This data analysis can be used in marketing pieces to describe trends in search over time, or you can use this type of data in your internal stakeholder content, such as when you want to illustrate the success of your organic content campaigns or how the number of links to specific pages has increased over time since you started updating old posts.

Tableau

Tableau is arguably the most well-known data visualization tool available. It has paid and free versions. The free version, Tableau Public, requires a software download, but then lets you create data visualizations for free (with some limitations that are lifted in the paid version).

To see some of the data visualizations that were created using Tableau, they have their free 3D VizGallery that lets you walk through a 3D “art gallery” of real projects. Here’s an example covering “Work Like an Artist: Daily Routines of Famous Creatives” from a user who adapted information from books on creatives’ work schedules by Mason Currey, Wikipedia, and blog posts.

Example Tableau report showing pie graphs for different composers and artists.

External data from company user data

If you were looking for data from large companies, many make some of their data public, which can be pulled to create a data analysis or trend report over time. Two good examples of this are:

Spotify Charts

If you want to see how specific music or other media hosted on Spotify is performing over time, check out Spotify Charts, which shows you trends in specific genres of music or by country.

Amazon Sales Data

You can also view trends in Amazon products, such as its best-selling books list or lists of top-selling products in specific categories. External tools, like Amzscout, pull this data to help you see how specific products are selling over time.

Pivot tables

If you want the most simple way to chart your raw data, don’t discount the power of pivot tables and charts in Excel or Google Sheets. These can automatically provide you with charts and other data graphics fast, right within your saved data spreadsheet. There are lots of resources to create effective charts and graphics. It’s important to note Google Sheets may have slightly different formula functions than Excel in some cases.

In conclusion

To learn more about storytelling with data, don’t forget to review our recently updated Learn Center page. Whether you are using a simpler tool like Google Sheets or want to build a beautifully-designed infographic in Tableau, data visualization is a great way to further your storytelling narrative by illustrating your point and growing users’ understanding of the topic at hand.

To see more examples of great data visualizations, check out Juice Analytics’ thoughtful roundup of examples across several different topics and industries.

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Local Pack Header Specificity Vanishes while Local Packs Downtrend

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9 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About from Q3 2022

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

In July of this year, Dr. Peter J. Meyers and I published a report analyzing an element of Google’s local results we termed “local pack headers”. About a month after publication, members of the local SEO community, like Colan Nielsen, began noticing that the extraordinary diversity of headings we had captured had suddenly diminished:

Today, I’m doing a quick follow-up to the manual portion of our earlier study in an effort to quantify and illustrate this abrupt alteration.

A total sea change in local pack headers

Between July and November of 2022, 83% of our previously-queried local pack headers underwent a complete transformation of nomenclature. Only 17% of the local pack headers were still worded the same way in autumn as they had been in the summertime. Here is a small set of examples:

In our manual analysis of 60 queries in July, we encountered 40 unique local pack headers – a tremendous variety. Now, all specificity is gone. For all of our queries, headings have been reduced to just 3 types: in-store availability, places, and businesses.

Entity relationships remain mysterious

What hasn’t changed is my sense that the logic underpinning which businesses receive which local pack header remains rather odd. In the original study, we noted the mystery of why a query like “karate” fell under the heading of “martial arts school” but a query for “tai chi” got a unique “tai chi heading”, or why “adopt dog” results were headed “animal rescue services” but “adopt bunny” got a pack labeled “adopt bunny”. The curious entity relationships continue on, even in this new, genericized local pack header scenario. For example, why is my search for “tacos” (which formerly brought up a pack labeled “Mexican restaurants”, now labeled this:

But my search for “oil change” gets this header:

Is there something about a Mexican restaurant that makes it more of a “place” and an oil change spot that makes it more of a “business”? I don’t follow the logic. Meanwhile, why are service area businesses, as shown in my search for “high weed mowing” being labeled “places”?

Surely high weed mowing is not a place…unless it is a philosophical one. Yet I saw many SABs labeled this way instead of as “businesses”, which would seem a more rational label, given Google’s historic distinction between physical premises and go-to-client models. There are many instances like this of the labeling not making much horse sense, and with the new absence of more specific wording, it feels like local pack headers are likely to convey less meaning and be more easily overlooked now.

Why has Google done this and does it matter to your local search marketing?

Clearly, Google decided to streamline their classifications. There may be more than three total local pack header types, but I have yet to see them. Hotel packs continue to have their own headings, but they have always been a different animal:

In general, Google experiments with whatever they think will move users about within their system, and perhaps they felt the varied local pack headers were more of a distraction than an aid to interactivity with the local packs. We can’t know for sure, nor can we say how long this change will remain in place, because Google could bring back the diverse headings the day after I publish this column!

As to whether this matters to your local search campaigns, unfortunately, the generic headers do obscure former clues to the mind of Google that might have been useful in your SEO. I previously suggested that local businesses might want to incorporate the varied local pack terms into the optimization of the website tags and text, but in the new scenario, it is likely to be pointless to optimize anything for “places”, “businesses”, or “in-store availability”. It’s a given that your company is some kind of place or business if you’re creating a Google Business Profile for it. And, your best bet for featuring that you carry certain products is to publish them on your listing and consider whether you want to opt into programs like Pointy.

In sum, this change is not a huge deal, but I’m a bit sorry to see the little clues of the diversified headers vanish from sight. Meanwhile, there’s another local pack trend going on right now that you should definitely be paying attention to…

A precipitous drop in overall local pack presence

In our original study, Google did not return a local pack for 18% of our manual July queries. By November, the picture had significantly changed. A startling 42% of our queries suddenly no longer displayed a local pack. This is right in line with Andrew Shotland’s documentation of a 42.3% drop from peak local pack display between August and October. Mozcast, pictured above, captured a drop from 39.6% of queries returning local packs on October 24th to just 25.1% on October 25th. The number has remained in the low-to-mid 20s in the ensuing weeks. It’s enough of a downward slope to give one pause.

Because I’m convinced of the need for economic localism as critical to healing the climate and society, I would personally like Google to return local packs for all commercial queries so that searchers can always see the nearest resource for purchasing whatever they need, but if Google is reducing the number of queries for which they deliver local results, I have to try to understand their thinking.

To do that, I have to remember that the presence of a local pack is a signal that Google believes a query has a local intent. Likely, they often get this right, but I can think of times when a local result has appeared for a search term that doesn’t seem to me to be obviously, inherently local. For example, in the study Dr. Pete and I conducted, we saw Google not just returning a local pack for the keyword “pickles” but even giving it its own local pack header:

If I search for pickles, am I definitely looking for pickles near me, or could I be looking for recipes, articles about the nutritional value of pickles, the history of pickles, something else? How high is Google’s confidence that vague searches like these should be fulfilled with a local result?

After looking at a number of searches like these in the context of intent, my current thinking is this: for some reason unknown to us, Google is dialing back presumed local intent. Ever since Google made the user the centroid of search and began showing us nearby results almost by default for countless queries, we users became trained not to have to add many (or any) modifiers to our search language to prompt Google to lay out our local options for us. We could be quite lazy in our searches and still get local results.

In the new context of a reduced number of searches generating local packs, though, we will have to rehabituate ourselves to writing more detailed queries to get to what we want if Google no longer thinks our simple search for “pickles” implies “pickles near me”. I almost get the feeling that Google wants us to start being more specific again because its confidence level about what constitutes a local search has suffered some kind of unknown challenge.

It’s also worth throwing into our thinking what our friends over at NearMedia.co have pointed out:

“The Local Pack’s future is unclear. EU’s no “self-preferencing” DMA takes effect in 2023. The pending AICOA has a similar language.”

It could be that Google’s confidence is being shaken in a variety of ways, including by regulatory rulings, and local SEOs should always expect change. For now, though, local businesses may be experiencing some drop in their local pack traffic and CTR. On the other hand, if Google is getting it right, there may be no significant loss. If your business was formerly showing up in a local pack for a query that didn’t actually have a local intent, you likely weren’t getting those clicks anyway because a local result wasn’t what the searcher was looking for to begin with.

That being said, I am seeing examples in which I feel Google is definitely getting it wrong. For instance, my former searches for articles of furniture all brought up local packs with headings like “accent chairs” or “lamps”. Now, Google is returning no local pack for some of these searches and is instead plugging an enormous display of remote, corporate shopping options. There are still furniture stores near me, but Google is now hiding them, and that disappoints me greatly:

So here’s today’s word to the wise: keep working on the organic optimization of your website and the publication of helpful content. Both will underpin your key local pack rankings, and as we learned from our recent large-scale local business review survey, 51% of consumers are going to end up on your site as their next step after reading reviews on your listings. 2023 will be a good year to invest in the warm and inclusive welcome your site is offering people, and the investment will also stand you in good stead however local pack elements like headers, or even local packs, themselves, wax and wane.



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