Sometimes, when you’re looking for content, you don’t want a snack but you’re not looking for a three-course meal either. Instead, like Goldilocks, you want a piece of content that’s sized just right.
One shining example of mid-size content is the ebook. We don’t mean full-length novels that you download to your Kindle for long plane rides and days at the beach. Rather, the most effective content marketing ebooks tackle a defined topic in a way that’s engaging, visually appealing, and actionable.
Not only do ebooks help you give your audience useful information, but they also help you to gather information on the people at the top of the funnel that you’d like to convert. By coupling a fresh new ebook with a landing page for lead generation, you can learn more about the demographics of your readership, learn about their pain points, and find new ways to deliver the right content and information to help pull them down the funnel.
Build your best ebook yet with attention to these best practices.
1: Conquer molehills, not mountains.
Although some ebooks attempt to do the impossible and tackle huge topics, the best target a very specific topic and audience. For example, a recent ebook from Convince and Convert – “How to Produce a Podcast in 15 Steps” – does exactly that and no more.
Notice that the ebook doesn’t outline every question you should be asking interviewees, or make recommendations on what type of microphone you should try. Instead, the ebook takes you through the essentials to create a form of content that both gets to the point and appeals to a broad base.
2: Break it up.
Save the sweeping narratives for the novel you’re writing in your off hours. The best ebooks get right to the point and use a thoughtfully-designed layout to help their readers absorb the information.
Start by dividing information into digestible parts that build a compelling case for whatever it is you’re trying to explain. Some do this with thoughtful design in PDF-form, while others prefer a platform like SlideShare that allows you to take advantage of the physical separation between slides.
For example, our recent ebook about (surprise!) How to Create Compelling Ebooks (That People Will Actually Want to Read!) makes use of lists, varying text sizes, visual aids, and paragraph placement to keep the reader engaged and help them absorb the information.
3: Use compelling visuals.
Tell a story through images and illustrations that are consistent with your brand mission as well as the goals of your ebook. For example, Chapter 2 of Moz’s ebook, “SEO: The Free Beginner’s Guide,” combines beautiful layout with an illustration of the evolution of online search patterns in the style of the familiar evolutionary chart you’d find in most high school biology classes.
It’s a clever twist on a familiar theme that underscores the page text, which surveys the three primary ways people use search engines to find the information they need.
4: Short, but not too short.
If you’ve read this far, you might be thinking, “wow, ebooks sound like bundled social media content. It’s short, sweet and to the point.” And though it’s true that, generally speaking, shorter sells your main points most clearly, shorter isn’t always better. It really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and how it ties into your overall brand.
Sometimes, to provide valuable information to your audience, you need to really dive into the story. Consider MarketingSherpa, which is well known for in-depth analysis of content initiatives and step-by-step guides to content marketing. Their recent ebook, “MarketingSherpa Awards 2016”, spotlights the awards and outlines the finalists and award-winners in considerable detail. Take, for example, their eight-page review of Optum Health’s coordinated content efforts, which generated 9 million impressions. By diving into the story, MarketingSherpa gives the reader all the information they need to emulate their process in a way that would be impossible with a high-level condensed version. In some cases, the ebook is a great space to delve into a topic in greater detail than a blog post or a social media post.
5: Bring it home with a CTA.
Don’t leave your readers hanging! Every ebook has a denouement that ties up loose ends and provides the reader with marching orders. Perhaps it’s as simple as sharing a list of next steps, like Marketo’s list of questions to consider when crafting content marketing assets, pulled from the ebook “Unsolved Mysteries: Tracking Your Content Marketing ROI”.
Or, maybe your goal is to encourage readers to register for your upcoming conference, sign up for a newsletter, or follow you on social media. Whatever the case, a successful ebook not only informs but also inspires people to take action. Make sure you conclude your ebook with actionable tips and a call to action.
Now you’re ready to grab your digital quill and get writing!
Nate Birt is a multimedia journalist, social media enthusiast and copy editor with experience at a variety of print and digital publications, and a Contributing Editor to the Visual.ly Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @natebirt.