You might have noticed that there’s been an explosion of infographics over the last year or two. Unfortunately, they seem to have jumped the shark a bit lately with companies cranking out any old thing and sticking the “infographic” title on it. We get tons of pitches from companies about their latest infographics, but only a small fraction actually make the cut. While we love infographics at ReadWriteWeb, we want them to be high quality. Want to have a shot at getting traction with your infographics? Avoid these six flaws that doom any infographic.

They Don’t Visualize Data

Once upon a time, infographics performed a really valuable function. They were created to visualize data, so that people could more easily understand it. This map of the Linux kernel, for example, is pretty interesting if you’re a Linux geek. This data storage graphic from Mozy makes it easier to visualize the difference in square footage of some of the world’s largest data centers.

Now, it’s not absolutely mandatory for an infographic to visualize hard data. Check out this piece on the 8 deadly sins of site design. This isn’t hard data, but it’s useful. Print this out and take it to the next meeting where you’re talking about site design. If your site does these things, stop immediately! That’s useful, and it’s not hard data.

You can also use infographics to tell a (short) story. That’s OK too, as long as it’s compelling and doesn’t work better as a text narrative. The 20 things worth knowing about beer doesn’t need numerical data to be interesting. (Note, may be best viewed at home.)

But many other infographics just slop together some random facts and figures without contributing much at all. The whole point of an infographic is that you can convey something visually that’s difficult to convey with just text. A few cutesy icons and some stats do not an infographic make. Well, not a good one, anyway.

Too Company Specific or Self-Promotional

Companies put together infographics because they want to connect with people, and they know that people love infographics. So why do so many of the infographics suck? Because the graphics are what the company’s marketing folks want you to read rather than what their audience cares about.

This is a common problem with marketing in general. Too often infographics are simply marketing materials in sheep’s clothing. Now, most infographics are marketing materials – but the best ones work their magic by conveying information that the audience cares about. It’s not an immediate sale, but the audience is left with a better impression of the company than they had before. The worst ones are just the visual equivalent of a time-share pitch. They’re a turn-off for the audience, and your company is – believe it or not – worse off for abusing the attention of the audience.

If you want to lure the audience to your site, you need to give them information they want. Don’t try to force-feed the audience the reasons that your company is wonderful. Instead, demonstrate that you understand your field. Mine your company’s data for information that others will find useful. If you’re in the business of selling development tools, tell us what operating systems and languages your users find most interesting – not the 10 reasons why Acme IDE is the snazziest.

Ugly Graphics

Not all graphic designers are created equal, sorry. Your company may have someone who’s perfectly competent for putting together trade show brochures, marketing materials and whatnot – that doesn’t mean they have the eye to create a really compelling infographic.

As the number of infographics seems to be increasing exponentially, many are just plain ugly. Even if you have good data and the graphic isn’t self-promotional, it can and will fall flat if it’s homely. Sorry, but that’s the hard truth.

Some examples of good infographics? Check out the email habits infographic and disruptive companies in tech infographics.

Too Short or Too Long

Infographics fit well with our abbreviated attention spans – but there’s such a thing as too short. If you only have a few stats or figures, it’s probably not worth an infographic.

By the same token, if it takes ten minutes of scrolling to reach the bottom of your infographic – it might just be a bit too long. The Innovation Abounds infographic is just about right. The sins of site design graphic is almost too long, but it works.

Requires Flash

Animated infographics are neat when they’re done well. They’re not so neat when they require users to have Flash installed. Lots of folks browse using their iPad or other Flash-incompatible devices. Don’t squander their attention by making them find a computer with Flash – it’s entirely likely they’ll just forget about it and move on to something more interesting.

Don’t Cite Sources

There’s a limit to how much you can cover in an infographic. If you’ve done it right, you’ve created a hunger for more information. One source of information should be the original data that was used to create the graphic.

If you’re doing something like this email habits infographic, cite the data. Ideally, this will include some shortened links that your audience can type and go directly to the data. Companies should also accompany infographics with a post on their blog with links to the data.

The companion to this faux pas is infographics that draw conclusions from questionable data. For instance, the assertion that a major social network’s traffic is down because your third-party service has some limited data that shows a trend. Show us the data, and be honest about it.

Infographics can be a powerful marketing tool for your business, or they can be a dud. It’s up to you to decide which. Have a favorite infographic, or another feature that’s important to you with infographics? Tell us about it in the comments.