Use Ebooks to Boost Your Company’s Profile and Bottom Line

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

LURING CUSTOMERS WITH TASTY BAIT

Perhaps the best reason to create and publish an ebook-especially a gratis digital publication that you promote and offer on your website versus one sold through Amazon, iBooks, or another service-is that it can be used to convert readers into promising sales leads. "Most [free] ebooks require some sort of simple registration to download. If your blog and website have attracted visitors and raised awareness of your brand, then encouraging them to download an ebook can serve as the next step into the very top of the sales funnel," says Brendan Cournoyer, director of content marketing for Brainshark in Waltham, Mass.

Once you have the name, email address, and/or phone number of someone who downloaded your ebook, you can then market to them on a regular basis, says John McDougall, president of the Danvers, Mass.-headquartered McDougall Interactive. Solar recommends using a landing page to attain the contact information for potential leads as well as other relevant information, which can be used to build a database of the type of people who are interested in your content and to ascertain what else they want to know about.

"For each ebook we publish, we first upload it in PDF format to our marketing automation platform and then link it to a landing page with a form on it," explains Solar. "After the form is submitted, the landing page redirects to a different page with the link to the ebook on it. This page is not indexed, meaning that Google does not crawl it, and it will not show up in a search."

Solar says her company implements this strategy for several reasons. One reason is that it allows the company to track exactly how well its content is converting (i.e., if readers actually fill out the form once they get to the initial landing page) and how useful it is to readers.

"We are able to track our content conversion through our marketing automation software, which is able to see how many people arrive at our landing page and provide the data we need via cookie tracking. Then, by dividing that number by the number of visitors that actually fill out the form in order to receive the offer or ebook, you arrive at your conversion rate. The higher the conversion rate (and submission rate, which is the number of people that reconvert on multiple forms), the better idea you can get at how useful your content is to readers," Solar says. "With the information on that form, we can also see who that person is, what position they hold, the size of their company, and how much of our content they are consuming. This allows us to cater our future content to the group of people who most often read our material. We are also able to then give this information to our sales team, allowing for a much warmer phone call instead of calling a prospect completely cold."

THE WRITE STUFF

Producing ebooks isn't just an endeavor for frustrated fiction writers spurned by the Big Five publishers. Specialists in virtually any industry can become ebook authors by diving into topics they are experts on and what their target market wants to know more about. Consider the following examples of professionals and the types of ebooks they can tackle:

  • Executives-Advice on leadership or an inspirational autobiography
  • Marketers-A primer on social media marketing using case studies
  • Analysts-A statistically driven forecast that examines a particular industry
  • Content creators-A top 10 list for better blogging, tweeting, and article writing
  • Programmers/designers-A technical manual for getting the most out of HTML5

Prospective authors should stick with a field they know well and in which they can provide value and insight. However, while it's best to write ebooks based on your expertise, you can leverage that proficiency to position yourself in another field. "For example, a Pilates instructor can use that talent to help people with depression," says BJ Wright, business development manager for ClickBank, who adds that you don't need to be a skilled writer or poet to create an impactful ebook. "It's all about the content and what readers will learn from your message," he says.

Although many companies outsource the composing to ghostwriters or external professionals, it's often best to handle the writing in-house to save money, better control the message, and garner valuable experience. "Writing the ebook yourself gives you practice and establishes you as an individual and your brand all around," Solar says. "The more educated you are in writing these ebooks, the better and more knowledgeable you are going to be about your industry."

CONTENT CONSIDERATIONS

While it's tempting to use an ebook primarily to pitch your business' offerings, avoid this mistake, the experts say. "It is important to use the ebook to inform and educate your audience," Solar says. "This shows that you are willing to spend time doing something for them and gain their trust. Through content and design, you can also entertain and captivate the audience, thus driving them to come back to your website in the future."

Indeed, Thibeault warns that an ebook should never be about your company or the products or services it provides. Instead, it should provide utility and value above and beyond what your enterprise can do for a prospect or a customer. "For instance, I've written two ‘for dummies'-type books about topics of interest to the industry in which our company competes. But neither of these books really talked about my employer, Limelight Networks-they talked instead about challenges organizations face in publishing digital content."

What's more, for most professionals and the companies they represent, an ebook shouldn't be focused on the person writing it. "Ultimately, it's all about the finished product being something of value for your audience," Cournoyer says. "Who actually writes it or how you get there often doesn't matter much. An ebook legitimizes your brand around a certain topic area. If blog posts are a great way to position you as a thought leader and trusted source of information in your field, then creating an actual book on the subject is even better."

Solar concurs. "The idea is to grab readers' attention and teach them something new, which will lead them to want to find out more about you and your company. Construct a content blueprint and craft targeted ebooks about topics that are relevant to your company and your industry," she says. For example, a business that sells gym equipment can publish an ebook about healthy eating, while a dentist can author a digital guide offering oral health and hygiene tips.

"At UrbanBound, a relocation technology company, we recently published an ebook about the commonly forgotten benefits during relocation-and why employers should offer them-titled The Forgotten Benefits. This ebook does not sell UrbanBound, but instead educates our audience on the types of things they should look out for in a relocation," says Solar.

Above all, remember that ebooks need to be easy to read and visually appealing, so make sure you have strong, compelling copy that is organized properly and in a way that flows smoothly for the reader. "Keep the content informational but not heavy," says Solar, who recommends creating an outline that divvies up the ebook efficiently by chapters. "This should be different from the content in a white paper."

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