6 Characteristics of the Most Eye-Catching Visual Content

How do you ensure that your visual content not only offers readers relevant insights and real value, but performs well across platforms? Here are the six characteristics every successful piece of visual content needs to have. 

A recent study by marketing company Siege Media took a look at 1,000 of the most-shared infographics on the web, and found an average word count of just 396. Why so low? Considering audiences only read about 20 percent of a web page that has 600 words or more, you just don’t have much time to pique their interest. The visuals, not the text, are what will make them stay, engage, and share. 

2. It incorporates custom design. 

Stock icons, illustrations, and photos are impersonal, a dime a dozen, and only vaguely good at their job. How would you feel if someone described your company like that? Custom design may have a higher price tag at the outset, but it increases conversions by communicating your brand’s commitment to quality and ensuring a personal touch. 

Illustrations made especially for a particular campaign belong exclusively to you, and help boost brand recognition since they’re more obviously yours and yours alone. Custom sound design and music for a motion graphic are perfectly timed to align with the visuals and communicate emotional tenor. You invest in delivering a quality product or service–but if you don’t invest in proving this to potential customers, you may not have many customers at all. 

3. It commits to a strong color scheme. 

Siege Media also reports that 73 percent of the web’s most popular infographics had a recognizable color scheme. It’s easy to see why. Visuals that incorporate too broad a variety of colors tend to look muddled, busy, and unfocused. Triadic color schemes–those evenly spaced around the color wheel–and monochromatic palettes are among the most popular. 

Make sure that, if you’re incorporating multiple pieces of visual content into a campaign, they have a consistent and recognizable palette. This can go a long way toward giving your content has a distinctive and instantly recognizable look, without having to be overly branded.

Similarly, consistent font and design style usage are just as important. These maintain clean, engaging content that offers maximum value to the reader. 

4. It’s optimized for its platform. 

While LinkedIn users are more likely to read infographics with up to 502 words on average, Pinterest lovers are the least likely to tolerate text. And while health-related infographics perform best on Facebook and Pinterest, business or industrial visual content performs better on LinkedIn and Twitter. 

Why should you pay attention to these distinctions? If you’re posting content optimized for display on Instagram on your brand’s Facebook account, you may be losing out. If the format of your visual content–from dimensions to overall size or video length–doesn’t display well on the platform where it appears, you may be needlessness losing out on crucial conversions. 

Format isn’t the only factor. Considering that 81 percent of millennials are on Twitter daily while Facebook is a fast-growing market for seniors, you might want to reconsider the tone, wording, or visual presentation of different aspects of a campaign depending on what audiences you’ll most likely reach on each platform. 

5. It delivers the message quickly.

You only have a few seconds and a few words to convince someone to keep engaging with your static visual content, and the same goes for video. Nielsen and Facebook report that 47 percent of a video campaign’s conversions come from the first three seconds. 

A similar study Facebook conducted with MetrixLab found that the most successful videos have several characteristics in common. They incorporate brand identity in the first three seconds, they include the brand during half of the length of the video or longer, and finally, they feature the key takeaway right away rather than at the end.

Likewise, utilizing powerful data visualization can cut to the chase immediately, and convince viewers more quickly of your message. It’s one of your most useful tools.

6. It’s paired with great SEO. 

Even some of the most seasoned SEO experts find it challenging to optimize visual content for search engines incapable of scanning the actual content of an image. Pairing your motion graphic or infographic with 300+ words of summarizing text on the same page as well as the smart use of alt tags and metadata can make all the difference. Check out my guide to SEO for visual content

A piece of visual content that doesn’t incorporate each of these features risks disappointing your goals for engagement or failing to communicate your brand’s true value. Implement these tactics today to see a quick boost in your shares and conversions. 

USCIS Changed Website To Block Foreign Student Jobs

, I write about globalization, business, technology and immigration. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) changed its website in an attempt to stop international students on Optional Practical Training (OPT) in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields from working at third-party sites. Immigration experts have concluded the USCIS action does not prevent students from working at such sites. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Businesses thrive on certainty but erratic government policies can cause companies to stumble. On trade and immigration, the Trump administration has not been friendly towards business: Uncertainty on the impact of new tariffs has inhibited investment, while immigration actions have encouraged companies to move work out of the country and scramble to understand shifts in policy. A case in point is the government’s policies on international students in training status and work on third-party customer sites.

In April 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) changed its website without notice and appeared to prohibit international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training (OPT) from working at third-party locations. This raised more than a few questions: Is it actually against the law or current regulations for students in STEM OPT status to work at third-party sites? Would individuals who continue to do so be violating their immigration status? Does USCIS have the authority to make this change, particularly in this manner?

To answer these and other questions, I interviewed Andrew Greenfield, managing partner of the Washington, D.C. office of the Fragomen law firm. Andrew has more than 20 years of experience in employment-based immigration law.

Stuart Anderson: What is the difference between Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM OPT? How do the rules differ?

Andrew Greenfield: International students holding “F-1” visa status and pursuing degree programs in the United States are typically granted one year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in order to gain work experience related to their major fields of study. Students commonly complete their studies before commencing OPT so they can seek employment for a continuous year after graduation. For students whose degree is in a qualifying STEM field, they may apply for an additional 24 months, or a total of 36 months, of OPT work authorization, known as STEM OPT.

Students may apply for OPT and receive an employment authorization document (EAD) without first securing a job offer from a U.S. employer. However, to obtain an additional 24 months of STEM OPT, the international student must have a job offer and the prospective employer must participate in the U.S. government’s E-Verify program. In addition, the STEM OPT employer must assist the student in completing a training plan that explains how the employer will provide the student with work-based learning opportunities related to the student’s curriculum, evaluate his or her performance, and provide oversight and supervision. The training plan must then be reviewed by the student’s school before USCIS will issue a new employment authorization document to cover the additional 24-month STEM OPT period.

Anderson: How does the U.S. government define a “third-party” site and an “employer-employee relationship”?

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Coming soon from Netflix: Three dozen billboards in Hollywood

NEW YORK and LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Netflix Inc, the streaming video pioneer that revolutionized television, is investing in one of the oldest forms of media to gain an edge in the raging battle for online viewers and top-notch talent.

A billboard is pictured on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 28, 2018. Picture taken June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Known for acclaimed shows such as “Stranger Things” and “The Crown,” Netflix will soon own up to 35 billboard displays on roughly two dozen structures along West Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Netflix, already a heavy advertiser on billboards in the area, was offering $300 million in April to acquire Los Angeles-based Regency Outdoor Advertising, Reuters previously reported.

The sources told Reuters that Netflix decided to buy only half of Regency’s assets for $150 million, to focus on the Sunset Strip in a deal expected to close in July. It is also considering acquiring other Regency billboards in Hollywood, such as near the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards, they added.

A Netflix spokesman had no comment.

Locking up prime ad inventory on the busy Sunset Strip – seen daily by actors, writers and directors – is Netflix’s latest move to demonstrate its prowess to be a leading Hollywood producer and distributor. The company plans to release about 700 original TV series, movies and other programming this year.

The new strategy calls for Netflix to use the billboards in house and not rent space to other companies, according to the people, who asked to remain anonymous because the agreement has not been announced.

Billboards are pictured on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 28, 2018. Picture taken June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

That means advertisements for rivals such as AT&T Inc’s HBO and CBS Corp’s Showtime, which currently promote shows on Regency billboards in the area, will cycle off once the deal closes, a person close to the talks said.

This approach differs from CBS and other media companies that have owned billboards but rented space out to other media customers. That said, competing TV and movie producers still will have access to dozens of billboards owned by other companies on the Sunset Strip and in other locations across Los Angeles.

Representatives for HBO and Showtime had no comment.

Advertising on billboards is part of the $2 billion that Netflix plans to spend on marketing this year to help grow its 125 million streaming customer base around the world.

Billboards must compete with digital advertising and the fact that people often are glued to their phones rather than the advertising on the street. And yet advertisers remain interested in billboards in part because they are hard to ignore by captive audiences in cars, and many take photos of them to post on social media, expanding their reach.

In Hollywood, studios use billboards to impress talent with a highly visible show of support. This helps lure filmmakers who crave attention for their movies, which Netflix releases in only a limited number of theaters, according to one Hollywood executive.

“This is a way for you to feel better that your name and your product and your film is getting the exposure to the public that you want at some level,” the executive said.

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Netflix will save marketing dollars over time in the deal because its rates will never go up on these billboards, and it could recoup the deal’s cost in a short time, sources said.

“It makes total economic sense,” said Gino Sesto, owner and founder of Dash Two, a company that buys outdoor and digital advertising for clients including Universal Music Group and Vice Media.

Renting a single billboard on the Sunset Strip averages around $25,000 a month, Sesto said. For billboards it owns, Netflix would have to pay only the price of replacing the vinyl on the sign, which costs about $800, plus minimal maintenance costs, he said.

Plus, Netflix will have more flexibility to change a billboard in the middle of a month.

“Netflix has got so many shows that they can literally blanket the market for one show for a week, and then switch it out,” he said.

The billboards’ value stands to appreciate over time, particularly because Los Angeles authorities rarely approve construction of new ones, Sesto said.

Out-of-home advertising, which includes billboards, bus shelters and other locations, is the only traditional advertising platform projected to grow in the United States in 2018, according to Magna Global. The media buying firm projects a 21.9 percent increase to $8 billion.

Netflix could choose to upgrade static billboards to digital signs, which can play several video messages, or try adding other technology. Operators have been experimenting with having the signs interact with mobile phones and sometimes display personalized messages.

Even if they have to find a new billboard operator on the Sunset Strip, competitors could pull a copy-cat move: A process is still ongoing to sell the rest of Regency’s assets.

PJ Solomon, a unit of Natixis SA, advised Netflix and Moelis advised Regency Outdoor. The legal advisers were Loeb & Loeb for Netflix and Manatt for Regency. PJ Solomon, Moelis and Manatt declined to comment while Loeb & Loeb did not respond to a request for comment on the deal.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; editing by Edward Tobin

Tap It: How Urban Transport Ticketing Transformed Banking

Transport for London

Millions of people rely on RFID-enabled cards to travel around their local transport network, but how many of them stop to think how it works? (Image provided by TfL)

If you’re in Vancouver, you might have a Compass, or in Sydney, an Opal. San Francisco favors the Clipper, while it’s the Navigo in Paris, and the Snapper here in Wellington. But arguably, the most iconic transport smartcard in the world is London’s Oyster card. And it turns out that it’s transformed far more than the way people move through the city.

To understand how, we need to start with paper tickets. In the early days of Britain’s railways, clerks in the booking office had to laboriously complete three-part tickets for each customer – the passenger kept one slip, the office kept the second, and the third slip was handed to the guard on the train. As train travel became more popular, operators began to struggle with long queues. The lack of serial numbers on these handwritten slips also led to issues with accountability – unscrupulous clerks and guards were found to be pocketing fares. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that a ‘standardized’, numbered ticket – the Edmondson system – was introduced to the UK, and was adopted in many other countries.

The following century saw an explosion in urban populations, and a requisite growth in the world’s railway network, but this was not accompanied by a substantial changes in the world of ticketing. Manually-operated entry gates to train stations had slowly become more common, but most public transport passengers continued to rely on bits of paper – or occasionally, metal tokens – to get around their city.

In 1950s London, this was starting to cause problems. The Tube network was bigger and busier than ever, which prompted operators to consider installing automated gates, like those in NYC. “We knew that this would help ease congestion, but it was complicated by the fact that London has always had fares based on distance,” Shashi Verma, Chief Technology Officer of Transport for London (TfL), told me, “Standard metal tokens weren’t an option.” So, the then-named London Transit Authority started looking at alternatives. The result, which was released to the world in 1964, was the printed magnetic stripe. The idea of using magnetism to store information had been around since the late 1800s, and magnetic tape was patented in 1928 by audio engineer Fritz Pfeulmer. But transport was its very first ‘real-world’ application. A full decade before the now-ubiquitous black/brown magnetic stripe was added to a single bank card, it was printed onto millions of tickets for the London Underground.

The stripe consists of carefully-aligned iron oxide particles suspended in a resin. Because these particles are ferromagnetic, they respond to external magnetic fields. By rapidly changing the current flow in a nearby ring magnet, data can be ‘written’ to the stripe as a series of 1s and 0s. Standard paper tickets used on the UK rail network have a storage capacity of 192 bits, allowing them to store information that includes the ticket type, and expiry date.

This system offered TfL the flexibility they needed in their ticketing system, and worked well for nearly twenty years. But that was partly because, during the same period, Tube passenger numbers had been steadily declining (attributed to a growth in the suburbs). As London transformed into a modern financial hub in the 1980s, the Tube began to get busier, and work patterns started to change. “By now the gates were a major point of congestion,” said Verma. “And we were dealing with enormous queues at the ticket windows.” TfL began to realize that they weren’t serving all of their customer base. “Those on monthly or annual travelcards were ok, but we had lots of regular, but not daily, customers too. They had to queue up for every single trip.” It wasn’t a good experience for anyone, really. As Verma told me, “Ticketing is not our core job – we’re there to get people to where they want to go.”

It was then that TfL started talking about smartcard technology; a small plastic card that could be used to store tickets for daily commuters, and a cash balance that could be topped up for casual users. TfL trialed the first iteration of this technology on the Tube in 1991, and on London buses in 1993. But despite the success of the trials, the scale of the changes needed to roll it out across the network were enormous, and other priorities kept reaching the top of their list. The Oyster card finally went live for customers on 30th June 2003 (Happy fifteenth birthday, Oyster!). London wasn’t the first city to use smartcards for transport – Hong Kong’s Octopus and Washington DC’s SmarTrip both predated it – but according to Verma, “…They both had relatively simple fare systems, especially compared with London.”

Since its introduction, the Oyster card has allowed people to move (relatively) seamlessly through London’s transport network, beeping them from Tube to bus to train, and back again. Like most transport cards, the Oyster achieves this using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. The card itself contains an integrated circuit with two main components – a tiny microchip that stores data, and an antenna that can transmit and receive data. The RFID readers – which on the Tube, are bright yellow disks found on every station gate – contain a two-way radio transceiver. When the card is brought close to the reader, the reader sends a pulse of radio waves to it. This effectively activates the chip, providing enough power for the reader to check the card’s serial number and the presence (or absence) of a ticket or pay-as-you-go balance. It is very much like a digital ticket-stamp. If Oyster users choose to register their card, TfL also collect anonymized data on their journeys. Across the entire network, this is a huge amount of information, and it is a key transport planning tool for the city. (CONTINUED…)