Data visualizations (like charts, graphs, infographics, and more) give businesses a valuable way to communicate important information at a glance, but what if your raw data is text-based? If you want a stunning visualization format to highlight important textual data points, using a word cloud can make dull data sizzle and immediately convey crucial information.

What are Word Clouds?

Word clouds (also known as text clouds or tag clouds) work in a simple way: the more a specific word appears in a source of textual data (such as a speech, blog post, or database), the bigger and bolder it appears in the word cloud.

Here’s an example from USA Today using U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Speech 2012:

Word Clouds & the Value of Simple Visualizations 1

As you can see, words like “American,” “jobs,” “energy” and “every” stand out since they were used more frequently in the original text.

Now, compare that to the 2014 State of the Union address:

Word Clouds & the Value of Simple Visualizations 2

You can easily see the similarities and differences between the two speeches at a glance. “America” and “Americans” are still major words, but “help,” “work,” and “new” are more prominent than in 2012.

Using word clouds isn’t exclusively for creating presidential eye candy. Keep reading to discover how word clouds can benefit your business.

Where Word Clouds Excel for Businesses

In the right setting, word cloud visualizations are a powerful tool. Here are a few instances when word clouds excel:

  • Finding customer pain points — and opportunities to connect. Do you collect feedback from your customers? (You should!) Analyzing your customer feedback can allow you to see what your customers like most about your business and what they like least. Pain points (such as “wait time,” “price,” or “convenience”) are very easy to identify with text clouds.
  • Understanding how your employees feel about your company. Text cloud visualization can turn employee feedback from a pile of information you’ll read through later to an immediately valuable company feedback that positively drives company culture.
  • Identifying new SEO terms to target. In addition to normal keyword research techniques, using a word cloud may make you aware of potential keywords to target that your site content already uses.

When Word Clouds Don’t Work

As mentioned, word clouds aren’t perfect for every situation. You wouldn’t use a pie chart to show company revenue growth over time, and you shouldn’t use word clouds for every application, either. Here’s when you want to avoid using a word cloud.

  • When your data isn’t optimized for context. Simply dumping text into a word cloud generator isn’t going to give you the deep insights you want. Instead, an optimized data set (one handled by an experienced data analysis team) will give you accurate insights.
  • When another visualization method would work better. It’s easy to think “Word Clouds are neat!” and overuse them — even when a different visualization should be used instead. You need to make sure you understand the right use case for a word cloud visualization.

There are many other instances when a different visualization should be used over word clouds. (Feel free to contact one of our data analysts to learn more.) More complex data sets and projects require a team of developers and designers for a complete transformation. In could an infographic or dashboard, but word cloud applications are limited to, well, words.


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How to Make a Word Cloud

As shown by their increasing popularity, making a word cloud for your website or business isn’t difficult, but there are some important considerations that need to be made so your visualization is more than just eye candy.

First, you’ll want to get a valuable, text-based data set. Having an experienced analyst compile this helps to ensure your source data is actually usable.

The next step is to run your data through a word cloud tool. Many businesses like and use Wordle, but there are many others you can try, too (such as Tagxedo and WordItOut). The downside to these free tools is many sites, including Wordle, automatically add all text clouds to their portfolio. This means any site visitor can see it, potentially undermining your marketing efforts. (Check your individual tool’s policies to see if your word cloud will be used in this way.)

Exporting your word cloud from a free tool might take some work. Sometimes, if download as an image or PDF isn’t available, you’ll be forced to take a screenshot – a less-than-elegant solution.

Here’s what to do if you really want your word cloud to be noticed: consider designing your word cloud from scratch!

Does this sound like a lot for you to handle in-house? Not all companies have (or need) an in-house data analyst. Our experienced team at Boost Labs has experience working with enterprise clients such as the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses like individual websites, and everything in-between.

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