By Chuck Frey published April 14, 2013

5 Ways to Create Visual Blog Content with Mind Maps

mind map-CMI topicsIn today’s post-literate world, visual content makes it possible to convey complex information in a variety of concise, understandable, and colorful formats that aren’t possible using words alone. Adding visual content to your blog content is a powerful way to get the attention of your readers and differentiate your thinking from competing bloggers in your niche.

In particular, mind maps are one form of visual content you should consider adding to your blog. They typically consist of a central topic with branches containing key words and concepts radiating out in all directions. Remember the hierarchical outlines you did in primary school? Mind maps are a visual version of them. 

Mind maps are growing in popularity because they match the way our brains work — by association. They enable us to translate our thinking into a more tangible form, so we can expand upon our ideas, refine them, and use them to get things done. They are also powerful ways to communicate ideas and concepts to others.

Within the context of a blog, mind maps represent distinctive content objects that command attention and get readers thinking. The position of topics and subtopics conveys both meaning and context; these visual communication tools can be embellished with images, icons, and other supporting information to further increase their value. When converted into images, they can be shared on a variety of social media channels. This makes them an ideal form of visual, shareable content that you should consider adding to your repertoire.

Here are 5 ways in which you can employ mind maps to create more powerful blog content:

1. Resource maps

Create a collection of resources on a topic that’s of interest to your readers, with links to web pages where they can learn more. This type of map image includes a set of links embedded in it, so that when readers click on a topic, their browser takes them to the corresponding web page. Here is an example:

visual blog content-google+

Mind-mapping experts, developers, and resources on Google+

Note that the topics in the image displayed in this blog post do not contain links; that’s because WordPress will only allow you to assign one URL to each image. You need to click on the image, which will take you to a separate HTML page that contains the hot-spotted version.

This type of interactive mind map can be created in two steps:

  1. Create your visual map in your favorite mind-mapping program and export it as an image file.
  2. Open it in an image editing program that allows you to create hot spots and add links to them (my program of choice is Adobe Fireworks).

If you don’t want to manipulate an image, you can simply generate a jpeg, gif, or png image of your mind map — sans links — and then include the links and resource descriptions in the body of your blog post, as I’ve done here:

visual blog content-linkedin

LinkedIn groups for visual thinkers and mind mappers

2. Solicit reader feedback on an info product idea 

One product development technique that bloggers are starting to use is crowdsourcing: posting an early prototype of an information product on your blog to solicit reader feedback on it. You can present a mind map that showcases the topics and issues you plan to cover in your info product, and the sequence in which you plan to do so.

Doesn’t this potentially expose you to rip-off artists, who may try to use your outline to beat you to the punch? Technology guru Guy Kawasaki, in his new Kindle book “APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur,” describes how he posted an early outline of it online and asked for feedback. He says the input he got was so valuable that it was well worth the risk. He also believes it resulted in higher book sales, because so many people felt a sense of “ownership” in the book when it was published.

3. Create a small collection of quotes or life lessons 

Using this technique, you can copy and paste favorite quotes or life lessons from someone you admire into a mind map. This takes a list of fairly mundane, text-based pieces of information and transforms it into something beautiful and inspiring.

Be sure to include an iconic image of the person as part of the central topic — especially if your subject is someone famous. This will create significantly more visual interest than a text-only central topic. Then export your mind map as an image, as described in the first technique.

This approach creates a content object that has lots of “legs” compared to a simple text list of 8 to 10 quotes or life lessons. You can post your map image to Pinterest and Instagram, share it on your personal or business Facebook page, refer to it in a Twitter post, and much more. Here are several examples:

visual blog content-Einstein

10 life lessons from Albert Einstein

visual blog content-Jobs

21 vital life lessons from Steve Jobs — in visual form

visual blog content-Apple

Apple’s “Think Different” manifesto as a mind map

4. Communicate information more clearly to your readers 

Dissect an idea into its essential elements in a blog post, and use a mind map to visually support your analysis. This is an excellent way to expose your thinking to your readers in a colorful, impactful way.

Mind maps do an outstanding job of showing the relationships between your ideas — much more clearly than text only. First-level topics give your readers the bigger picture — the major parts of the idea about which you’re writing. “Child” topics branching off of them show the next level of detail. Their sequence, when read in a clockwise direction, gives your readers an intuitive grasp of how all of the pieces fit together. Here are several examples:

visual blog content-manage blog

8 ways in which you can use mind-mapping software to manage your blog

visual blog content-problogger

Starting a new blog? Start with a mind map

One consumer product company, Nestlé, has adapted the idea of a mind map to help consumers make healthier choices about the foods they’re buying, which it calls the Nutritional Compass. As the company explains on its Nutritional Compass web page, “The compass has always been treated as an essential navigation tool. It helps you know where you stand, decide where you want to go and find your way ahead.” By connecting the traditional table of nutritional information with more specific details on the food’s nutritional benefits and a tip on how to make healthier choices, Nestlé says the Nutritional Compass makes it easier for consumers to make more informed choices about the foods that families eat.

visual blog content-Nestle

Nestle’s Nutritional Compass

5. Visually explain a simple process 

Although many mind maps are radial in design, with topics facing in all directions, they don’t have to be. You can create a right-facing mind map to visualize a simple business process. In this type of visual map, the timeline goes from top to bottom. In other words, the topic at the top is the first step in the process; the second one is the next step, and so forth. You can learn more about this technique here:

visual blog content-simple process

How to mind map a simple process

Tips for incorporating mind maps into your blog posts

If you decide to give one or more of these techniques a try, here are some tips to keep in mind:

If you don’t currently own mind-mapping software, Xmind and MindMaple are well-designed, easy to use, free programs that you can use to get started.

  • The default setting of most mind-mapping software programs is to produce a simple black-and-white visual map. Explore your program’s settings to see what you need to do in order to add color to your mind map. Some programs include themes that you can apply to your maps to do this quickly. I like to use NovaMind to quickly generate maps with a rainbow of topic colors, using one of its built-in themes. Otherwise, you can color topics manually to meet your needs using your program’s topic formatting options.
  • Use larger fonts in your mind map (14 points or more), so when you export it and resize it to fit within the layout of your blog, the text will still be readable.
  • Most mind-mapping programs generate visual maps that are taller than they are wide. Plan to do some experimenting with positioning of topics and the distance between them to make your mind map more vertically compact. This will ensure that your readers can see both the map image and the first paragraph or two of your blog post “above the fold” (within the first screen-full of information).
  • Each of these techniques requires that you export your visual map from your mind-mapping program to an image file, which you must then resize and crop to fit your blog’s layout. For best results, I recommend exporting to tiff, bmp, or png image formats, because they retain the greatest amount of image data. Exporting to jpeg or gif are not recommended, because these are compressed image formats that may appear jaggy when resized.
  • When you’re formatting map images for your blog, create two sizes: One to fit within the standard layout of your blog and a second, larger image that readers can view to see more detail. For example, when I add such a map image to one of my blog posts, I generate one image that is 600 pixels wide (the full width of blog posts in the WordPress template I use); it appears along with my blog post. Within the WordPress image settings, I then link to a large version (900-1200 pixels wide) that will be displayed when the reader clicks on the smaller one. Be sure to include some wording in your blog posts that instructs your readers about this functionality — otherwise they may not realize it’s there.
  • Consider adding your name, company, email address, and logo to your map image in an unobtrusive way. Why? Because of the growing popularity of image-oriented social media channels like Pinterest and Instagram, it’s likely that your most compelling map images will be shared by others in places outside of your blog. This will ensure that people who see your map image will know who created it — and may visit your blog to access more of your innovative thinking.
  • Limit your mind maps to the high-level details of your blog topic. Too much information crammed into a visual map may make it hard to read and understand. If you must share something more complex with your readers, provide a simplified image of your mind map with the topics collapsed within a blog post, and link it to a PDF file that displays a more detailed version of it.

For more great tips on how to improve your blog content, read The Ultimate Guide to Blogging

Author: Chuck Frey

Chuck Frey is the founder and author of the The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the world's leading website covering visual mapping. He also blogs about creativity, productivity and personal development strategies on his personal blog. He has extensive experience in public relations, online marketing, content development and marketing, innovation strategies and creative problem solving techniques. He is an avid photographer.

Other posts by Chuck Frey

  • Max Shayani

    Thank you Chuck for publishing and sharing this information, I find it fascinating because it can be applicable not only in business and marketing but also in all aspects of life. Many times you reach a ‘deadend’ on a subject or a personal project just because you’re looking at it in a ‘textual’ format when using the ‘Mind map’ it gives you the opportunity of ‘seeing’ the context in the big picture and not getting stock with some little detail.

  • http://smartcontentcreators.com/ Brian Kessman

    Great post, Chuck. Thanks for the teriffic level of detail and instruction!

  • Pamela Muldoon

    I love this post, Chuck! Thank you for sharing so much detail. You have triggered some wonderful possibilities for content.

  • Czarina Cleopatra Mendoza

    Awesome post! Thank you for sharing creative use of mind maps! I love #5

  • Andy Thomas

    A heavy dose, unable to understand anything, it would be great if you could divide it into pieces and elaborate each one in detail. Thanks for the information though.

  • Andy C

    I have yet to read the article but have a complaint about an aspect of this blog. I never have and never will sign up for a call to action that pops up before I’ve had a chance to look around. Seems like very poor marketing to me. Actually my least favourite thing that any blog ever does.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Hi Andy — I completely see where you are coming from. I think Joe sums this up well in a recent CMI post: “As much as I loathe pop-ups or pop-overs as a reader, I LOVE them as a content marketer. We use Pippity as our pop-over service, where we offer an eBook on100 Content Marketing Examples. Over 50 percent of our daily sign-ups come from Pippity (Pippity also integrates nicely with WordPress).” (http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2013/03/epic-content-marketing-plan-driving-subscriptions/).

      • Andy C

        Thanks, Michelle. If it works that well, no wonder it is a method used by so many sites! This article looks excellent, by the way, but will require some time in a quiet space for me to fully take in. Clearly some great tips worthy of a second and third read and it’s always good to have articles like this in a resource library for future reference.

  • http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/ Chuck Frey

    Thanks, everyone! I know many people use them to develop content ideas, but I recently realized that no one has really talked about them as a content object in and of themselves. I’m glad to hear so many people find this information useful!

  • Laura

    A million thanks, Chuck! I am a good writer with a broad and deep journalism and marketing background. But I THINK visually. I’ve been using MindMeister to map topics for a text blog with standard graphics, but translation into text takes me too long. You have opened up a whole new way of communicating for me. I’ll subscribe to your blog right now!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dmccafferty Dennis Mccafferty

    Strongly agree that these are useful tools. But beware, as indicated, of mind map overload. Too much will just look like visual clutter to readers and they’ll move on.

  • http://www.propaperswriting.com/urgent-writing-services-online Margar David Profesore

    i like it………..

  • Karren Barlow

    Thanks for the info! I have also recently found a site that teaches How to Make a Mind Map and it is very easy to use! I would definitely recommend checking it out!