barbara bogue
barbara bogue 6 December 2016

What Is an Ebook and Why Should You Care?

For small businesses, especially in B2B, an eBook can be a very effective marketing tool. Wanna know why you should give it a try and how to make it successful?

Content marketing is all the buzz as products and brands wrangle for attention and leads. Among the many marketing formats a content marketer can use is the eBook. If you’re a little new to this content marketing game you might be wondering:

  • What is an eBook exactly?
  • Why should I use it over some other content type?
  • What are some best practices when creating an eBook?

This post will dive into those questions and help you decide if an eBook is right for your marketing efforts and if so, how to make yours successful.

So, What Is an Ebook Exactly?

While strict definitions may vary, for purposes of this blog post, an eBook is an easy-to-read, graphically-enhanced short-form content piece primarily used to educate and promote awareness of a product or service. It has been defined as the “helping” business book that provides insights, education, and information. Some eBooks are content rich and sold for recurring revenue. But in this blog, our eBook is free-of-charge and used as an integrated part of a content marketing strategy.

By definition, an eBook is distributed online and should be optimized for web viewing, linking and sharing. There are various file format options, the most popular of which are epub, pdf and mobi, but we’ll leave that debate for another post. In my experience, the pdf is the most popular format for marketing purposes.

An eBook should not be text-heavy or technical like a white paper or report. Although it could be a condensed, summary version of that same content.

Also, an eBook should not be product collateral that specifically and exclusively addresses a sole product or service brand. But it can be promoted by a specific brand and offer a possible product solution in an indirect or incidental way to solve a user’s problem or pain (more on that later).

To summarize, an eBook:

  1. Is an online booklet approximately 5-25 pages
  2. Is easy-to-read, not text-heavy with graphics
  3. Promotes a solution, position or results (not a product directly)

What Types of Content Works?

The latest marketing studies indicate that eBooks are among the top six tactics used by content marketers, particularly for B2B marketers and small businesses.

Top Six B2B Content Marketers’ Tactics:

Social Media Content   ...83%
Blogs                               ...80%
Email Newsletters        ...77%
In-Person Events          ...68%
EBooks/White Papers ...65%
Video (pre-produced)  ...60%

The top six options among small businesses:

  • eBooks (65%)
  • Webinars/Webcasts (65%)
  • In-person events (62%)
  • Videos (61%)
  • Blogs and Newsletters (tied at 60% each)

As you can see there are lots of marketing tactics out there. Each have a different purpose and can prove useful for different reasons depending on the specific product, service or market. The content marketer’s toolkit consists of the following formats along what we call the Buyer’s Journey.


(Image Source: Hubspot)

EBooks are especially useful for the content marketer in what we call the awareness stage. This is the point where a prospect is researching about a topic or pain-point. He has a problem he is trying to solve and wants to learn more about how to do that. He may not even be aware of your company or product at this point. And he may not even know that a solution exists for his pain.

For this reason, eBooks are effective at positioning your company as thought leaders. The solutions you present can be new; they may demonstrate the latest technology or offer best practices within an industry.

At the same time, the eBook can help to hook your prospect and educate him. An eBook is perfect for whetting the appetite of the reader, setting the stage for them to want to learn more—it’s a powerful lead-generating tool and SEO asset.

Some advantages of an eBook include:

  • Establishes your company as a thought leader
  • Offers a comprehensive way to make a business case
  • Creates a launching pad for more in-depth content
  • Delivers engaging, branded information to your audience
  • Enhances search engine optimization (SEO) because content is searchable
  • Provides user friendly content to a searcher, thus building awareness
  • Encourages the release of lead information for download or to learn more

What Content Do Marketers Say Is Most Effective?

In a blog by Docurated, top content thought leaders were asked what they felt was the single most effective content marketing tactic for B2B companies. A few of their conclusions follow:

UPSANA KAKROO (@upasnakakroo) stated: “Creating long form content (e.g. eBooks/Whitepapers) that can be downloaded in exchange for prospects’ contact details.”

While long-form white papers are useful for highly technical products and buyers, an eBook casts a net to a much wider audience. As mentioned earlier, these documents grab attention and have perceived value to the prospect who is willing to divulge some personal information about themselves (i.e. email, phone, company, etc.) to obtain the asset.

GARY BROOKS (@urjanet) said: “Most effective tactic is to create content to the buying process.”

“To develop buyer focused content I propose the following steps:

  1. Interview and understand how and why your prospective customers buy.
  2. Develop detailed buyer personas.
  3. Document the phases of the buying process.
  4. Build a content map that aligns pain content with personas.
  5. Know where the content falls within the buying cycle.
  6. Use custom drip campaigns to deliver the right content at the right time.”

STEPHEN WILLIAMS (@allwebcafe) stated: “The answer lies within your story, and telling that story to the right people.”    

Both Gary and Stephen touch upon personas. Personas are nothing more than a “stereotypical” definition of your prospect. These profiles help you remember who you are targeting to make your content as effective as relatable as possible. Remember, every time your customer or prospect sees your content they will be asking themselves “what’s in it for me?”  Tell them. Show them. Delight them with your helpfulness.

And don’t forget the power of a story. The narrative and voice of your eBook is essential to keep the reader’s interest and intrigue. Similar to the storyline, David recommends another essential criterion below…the concept.

DAVID SMITH (@immortologyusa) answered: “There is only one sure-fire marketing tactic I know of…It works every single time (which is not to say it’s easy to execute). It is a great concept.”

What does he mean by concept? As designers and copywriters will tell you the most compelling pieces start with a solid concept. Understanding the user and their pain is not enough. To make the content sing, wrap it into a nice package with a concept, analogy or illustration. This can be a combination of words and images that serve to enhance the main point and guide your reader along the way. It makes your eBook memorable and enjoyable.

How do you recognize a great concept?

David suggests that it will:

  • be impossible to ignore;
  • meaningfully differentiate you from your competitors;
  • crystalize why your product or service is better;
  • interest, entertain, or educate potential customers to where they feel compelled to share or act upon it (and make that action easy).

So You Want to Create an Ebook, Now What?

Now that you know the what and why, let’s cover how to create an eBook that will prove to be effective in your content marketing strategy.  What should your eBook include?

Basic content should encompass:

  • An interesting, well-designed cover
  • An attention-grabbing headline or title
  • A table of contents (depending on the length)
  • Chapter or section pages
  • Content with break-outs and images
  • Some “about” content for your product or company
  • A Call to Action (CTA)

If you plan to write the book yourself, start by keeping your goals in mind. This means defining your persona and pain, and fully researching what the content hook is that will get them to read your eBook.

Next, create an outline and fully research and develop your copy. Since this is an online read, be sure to follow the copy guidelines for online content.

Online copy should be:

  • Relatively short, easy to read sentences
  • Break up blocks of copy with headlines, subheads and lists
  • Follow the rule of 3-5 with lists and bullets
  • Keep your lists phases short or break them into small paragraphs instead

In addition to general online copy rules, don’t forget to follow recommended eBook best practices.

 To make your eBook kick-ass:

  • Be creative, tell a story
  • Educate, don’t sell
  • Limit your content to just 1-3 points per page
  • Consider the flow, keep it interesting
  • Use break-out copy like pull quotes, sidebars, charts, graphics
  • Implement good design with section breaks, headings, page numbers
  • Make it hyperlinked to access resources, cited research, page and section jumps
  • Make it brand appropriate
  • Don’t forget your CTA (call to action) What do you want them to do next?
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread

And, DON’T make these common mistakes:

  • Don’t write about what you don’t know
  • Don’t give them what you think they need; give them what they actually want
  • Don’t be too formal, put yourself in their heads, use an authentic voice
  • Don’t just write, plan first
  • Don’t forget the impact of images and design
  • Don’t give them everything! Save some for what’s next
  • Don’t skimp on the time spent researching your title
  • Don’t stop when you publish, now you’ve got to promote!

Yikes! You’re Not a Designer, You Say?

No worries. These days everyone can be a designer… sort of. There are tons of resources out there for eBook templates if you want to try and do it yourself. Google search to find your own or use one of the existing templates or themes below.  

Here are a few to check out:

Better yet, hire an actual designer. It will be worth your time and money. They can help you develop and create your theme, provide a cohesive, well-deigned look and offer image choices that complement and enhance your copy…without the frustration of doing it yourself. Same is true if you need help with writing. A freelance writer knows the ins and outs of eBooks and may save you some headaches. Better yet, find a vendor who can do both!

You can also learn by example or get inspired by checking out some of the good eBooks out there and emulating them.

These are among my favorites:


Love the Idea but Need Some Help?

If you want to explore contracting the design and/or writing of a customized eBook for your content marketing, I can help. I can write it, design it, produce it and help you promote it. Check out some of my work then let’s chat.

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