Ebooks are extremely valuable and effective tools for marketers – especially B2B marketers. They position your brand as a thought leader and allow audiences to engage with your products and offerings through different lenses. They’re also useful transactional tools that can be used to collect quality leads to market to at a later date.
It’s true that when ebooks are executed poorly they can be relatively fruitless. In May, Jay Acunzo demonstrated how if ebooks don’t save their audience time or money, they underperform for lead generation vs. other content marketing tactics. Perhaps this is a reason why they are currently less popular among B2B marketers than other long-form content. Success with ebooks for lead generation requires proper strategy, design, distribution and tracking.
At Visually, some of the best sales-qualified leads and largest opportunities come from our ebook content – and using the following techniques, we’ve increased that figure by over 400% since July.
Strategy: What you should think about before creating your ebook
Begin with careful and thoughtful planning before moving on to create and publish an ebook. Stand out by developing content that is different yet applicable to your industry and to your business.
There are 6 major things to keep in mind:
- Make it available for free. You’re not in the business of selling ebooks (unless you are). You’re out to sell your own product. So if possible, don’t make the audience pay with money to learn about it. Instead, collect other information that will be more valuable to you as a content marketer, like an email address so that you can segment groups of readers who have read your ebook and target them later.
- Choose a straightforward topic. Even if your topic isn’t straightforward, take a simple spin on it and make it as accessible as possible. Create something you believe a lot of people will appreciate and learn from, not something that’s too obscure.
- Time it well. Pay attention to your industry and see what is happening. What are people talking about? We released our micro-content ebook, for instance, just as the trend of creating content for social channels was gaining momentum and not long after Gary Vaynerchuk dedicated a whole chapter to it in “Jab, Jab, Right Hook.”
- Create something new. It’s likely that someone will have written on your topic before – acknowledge that and build on it. Do your research, see what’s out there, and make sure you do it better or differently in some way. In the case of our micro-content ebook, we were sure to provide plenty of examples since we saw they were relatively scarce in a lot of existing pieces.
- Educate first, sell second. Inform your users about the space as a whole and enable them to explore what else is in it. Don’t be afraid to talk about the benefits of other products you don’t sell. The best customers have done their due diligence. Build trust with your audience, then introduce your value proposition.
- Provide examples to support your argument. Ebooks are useful for lead generation when they’re practical and not entirely theoretical. Remember, the goal is to save your audience time and money. Inspire them to action.
Design: “You need to sell it”
Like anything else, ebooks have unique constraints when it comes to design. Recognize these constraints up front in order to maximize the ebook’s potential and keep it engaging.
7 Tips for ebook design:
- People will judge it by its cover. So don’t leave the cover as an afterthought. Make it compelling and relevant. It doesn’t have to be too complex, either, and it doesn’t have to give anything away. The ebooks we’ve produced both for our clients and for ourselves have all had relatively simple covers, but they were alluring nonetheless, and they fit the brand. You need to sell it. Your audience needs to be able to decide quickly that it’s something they want, something that could potentially help them. Take a look at our latest cover, in Visually pink and blue:
- Make it skimmable. Ebooks are not meant to be read cover to cover. Your audience wants to focus on the sub-topics that interest them – let them. Make it easy for them to find the parts they’re looking for by adding bullet points or thumbnail images in the margins or in an interactive table of contents. Our micro-content ebook is split up into bolded sentences and headlines to help people segment and pinpoint information:
- Kill your darlings. The age-old advice applies. Recognize when text is necessary and be ruthless with eliminating it. Your audience is not going to know what you cut out and whatever remains will be much stronger (because they’ll actually read it!).
- Replace text with visuals. People are attracted to visual content and the more you have, the more time they’ll spend with your ebook. It will be easier for them to skim this way, too.
- Don’t underestimate what you can do. The ebook must evolve with its medium. Stay up to date and take advantage of technology. An ebook is is not just an image of a book online – it can be, but it can also be more. Include trackable hyperlinks by using bit.ly or UTM parameters so you can see how engaged your audience is with material and direct them elsewhere based on that information.
- Take risks. Experiment with different layouts and customization. In our new video ebook, we opted for a landscape layout, which allowed us to incorporate plenty of visuals that were necessary for the topic. In a small business guidebook project we made in partnership with Twitter, the team set up an interactive flow-chart for people to click through to access the information they needed depending on interest and experience level. Your answer on page one determines the information you access in the guide:
- Treat it like a web product. Most people will read your ebook on screen, so choose the most accessible file formats for the web and mobile devices. Be sure to test your ebook on different devices – does it look good on a tablet? In grayscale?
Distribution: Your ebook is nothing if no one reads it
Distribution strategies for ebooks will vary depending on your subject matter. Still, there are some basic best-practices to keep in mind when it comes to getting the word out:
- Whet the palate of your audience with a back-cover synopsis of a blog post or with visual micro-content. People are much more likely to read something short than they are to download your ebook without knowing anything about it. So let them know something and make them want to read more. Micro-content can also help drive social sharing. At Visually we’ve had success using .gifs to promote some of our longer content – not only ebooks. Here’s one we did for a presentation:
- Leverage your relationships and partnerships. Ask any content partners if your ebook is something they can promote through their social channels, newsletters, or blogs. Reach out to relevant publications and see if they’ll help you share it – it will be worth it. We’ve generated a number of leads from our micro-content ebook via an article in Forbes Entrepreneurs. Tweet at influencers who have written about similar topics. Ask your friends in the industry to help you promote it. It’s OK to wait until your ebook is complete, but it can also be useful to contact people prior to its release. Send them an early copy and ask for their input. If they’ve contributed in some way up front they’ll be more interested in helping you distribute it later. Make your ebook a currency for your audience.
- Invest in smart paid promotion. Every industry has relevant trades and paid channels. CMI and Marketing Profs are great for marketers. LinkedIn lets you target profiles with specific titles, as well. It can be extremely valuable to pay for paid placement or ads on these sites to ensure your ebook reaches the right niche audiences.
- Send it to your existing prospects. At Visually, we have a “book club” email to keep our users engaged and up to date. Here’s a peek at our latest:
- Make it discoverable from many points of entry. Try searching on Quora, subreddits, or inbound.org for discussions around your ebook’s subject matter, and leave a link. At Visually, we’ve used Uberflip for hosting a lot of our content. We’ve also used Slideshare and DoxIQ. This way we’re sure to capture the emails of those viewing or downloading our content. Another way to make your ebook discoverable is to add banners on your homepage. Split test what works. At Visually, we noticed our highest conversion rate came from an exit popup.
- Set a link in your company’s signature. Your company’s employees can be a promotional resource. WiseStamp is a good tool for this.
Analytics: Track everything and pay attention to the results
There is a plethora of software available to help measure the success of an ebook at each stage of your unique marketing funnel, whether it’s for lead capture or for engagement with the content itself.
Bizible, for instance, will help you see not only which leads converted because of an ebook download, but also which users have engaged with other pages that promote it. You’re able to view referrer pages for each user session as well, and information about existing contacts and opportunities.
At Visually we use DoxIQ not only to host our ebooks but also for more advanced insights about user engagement. Like Slideshare and Uberflip, it can be set up to capture emails before allowing a user to view or download the ebook, which can be extremely valuable as people are apt to send the link around to their contacts and teams. It captures referral information and can display your ebooks on your subdomain so you do not lose your own tracking. It also scores user emails based on their interactions with different pages of the ebook itself and it can be set up to pass that information through to your existing databases. This can help you prioritize contacts for outbound sales or other marketing campaigns, as well as gain insights on what’s effective within your content for future ebooks or current distribution strategies.
DoxIQ can also integrate with Olark Chat, which for us has helped bring in over 25% of our opportunity amount in recent months – and the messaging can be customized per page. That way Olark can be optimized for each stage of the funnel; it can work as an information hotline for prospects reading your ebook, while on product pages it can still be set up for direct lead capture or sales.
No matter what you use, it’s crucial to share all tracking insights with your team and take real action based on that to improve your ebook marketing initiatives. Score your prospects differently in your marketing automation software based on how they’re interacting with your ebooks. Notice which referral pages are driving the ebook downloads and leverage that. See which parts of the ebook worked and which didn’t, and take note for future (or current!) designs – with DoxIQ, you can update versions of your ebook and still keep the same link. Your data will be as specific as your ebook – and as your business – but it’s worth very little if you don’t use it to improve.
Larissa is a marketplace analyst at Visually. You can follow her on Twitter @rissyrussell.