If you’re a content marketer, ebooks are a hot commodity. Their potential for high-conversion rates makes them valuable assets for lead generation, but starting one can seem overwhelming. If you’re planning an e-book for your next content marketing campaign, here are tips on the what, why, and how of ebook writing.
What is an Ebook?
First, let’s define what an ebook IS NOT. These days, marketers use the term ebook very loosely, which is unfortunate because it devalues the true nature and value of the ebook as a well-written, substantive educational document. It’s not a short-lived blog post, an opinion piece, or an ad. While ebooks may resemble white papers, they are distinct differences. Ebooks are usually shorter (a minimum of 3-5 pages), have quick takeaways, and feature visual pizazz. They read more like a user-friendly book, rather than a hard-nosed report.
Now, let’s define what an ebook IS. An ebook is a branded, long-form content asset that should reflect your expertise on a topic and provide solid value for the reader. Ebooks are a favorite asset for content marketers because they typically generate highly qualified leads—especially those in the mid to late stage of the marketing funnel. Further, ebooks have legs. Often published in PDF form, they are easily sharable, increasing the likelihood of introducing other prospects to your brand.
Identify your audience to determine your topic.
Pick a Topic – Step 1: Identify a narrowly defined audience.
When planning an ebook, it makes no sense to choose a topic before selecting a narrowly defined audience. For example, you might be targeting a senior-level decision-maker in the financial software sector, with ompany revenues of $50-100 million.
Once you have determined who you are writing for, your task is to identify a very specific question they want the answer to—written at the right knowledge level, using language that is accessible to them, and creating a tone that suits both them and your brand.
If you don’t already have a buyer persona for your target audience, here’s how to create a buyer persona, along with an easy-to-follow template.
Pick a Topic – Step 2: Leverage your expertise.
When planning an ebook, remember that you want to be perceived as authoritative, plus you want to be original. Pick a topic that matches your area of expertise, preferably a subject that is not already well-covered, or one where you can provide a unique viewpoint. If you’re stuck, you can get ideas from industry websites, articles from expert bloggers, your own high-performing blogs, and your sales team. You can also type a relevant keyword or phrase into a search engine and see what comes up on the results pages. Your topic should be narrowly defined, with one core idea that is supported by all the other elements.
Do the research to support your topic with hard facts.
An ebook is not a blog article, an editorial, or a promotional piece. It doesn’t have to be stuffy, but you need to provide reliable facts that your audience can trust. People are counting on you to be clear and correct, so this is no time to cut corners.
It’s important to use recent, verifiable data from well-known sources (making sure to cite the source). If you get facts from a second-hand article (“According to Study X…”), go back to the original source to verify the statistic. The author of the article you are reading may not have bothered. As you’re gathering facts, stay focused, and don’t go down the rabbit hole to explore tangents.
Writing your ebook using a planning process.
- Write the title: The title has to get attention—without too much hype. It should also clearly and honestly state what the ebook is about. Your title is the core topic upon which every element in the ebook is based. You can brainstorm titles at any point during the creation process.
- Primary subheads: Your main subtopics should be directly related to the core topic so that you deliver what the reader expects. The subheads form the framework of your ebook’s story, similar to chapters in a printed book. Put them in a sensible, logical order.
- Secondary subheads: Each secondary subhead supports the primary subhead it’s under. Be careful that the secondary subheads directly relate to that section or the reader will become confused. Again, put these subheads in a logical order. Plow ahead to the next steps before filling in all the sections.
- Transitions: Transitions from one section to the next enhance the overall flow, adding to the reader’s comprehension. Write smooth transitions from subhead to subhead. If the transition is extremely hard to write, it may be that something is out of place and you need to reorder your sections.
- Initial research: Steps 1-4 above represent the ebook’s outline, which is your point of departure. Now you have a clear picture, or a roadmap–but haven’t yet written the full-blown content. This is a good time to do your initial research, selecting evidence that your premises are correct (and sometimes finding out that your argument is flawed and requires rethinking). Your findings may also provide interesting insights that shift your perspective.
- Filling It Out: This is where you put your head down and fill in all the elements of your outline, making smart use of your research points. You’ll be doing multiple drafts, so don’t get too hung up on specific words the first time around—you’ll have a chance in subsequent revisions. Continue to check that the ebook has good flow and sufficient real-world data.
- Formatting: Big blocks of copy are hard to read and understand. This is one reason to break the ebook into subheads. Aim for short paragraphs and easy-to-read sentences. Also add eye-candy, such as bullet points and lists, images, pull-quotes, and other ways to draw interest and rest the reader’s eyes.
- Interactivity: While an ebook isn’t necessarily interactive, it’s good to go that route for several reasons. First, digital navigation, bookmarks, and hyperlinks make it easier for readers to find the specific information they need without endless scrolling. It also makes it possible for search engines to index the content.
- SEO: I always say that you should write for people first, not search engines. Nonetheless, SEO is necessary for getting found online, increasing traffic, and generating leads. I’ll leave the topic of SEO for another time. I just wanted to point out that I don’t focus on SEO until the end.
- Edit: Here, you want to be merciless. Cut out all the fat—it’s not a contest to see how long your ebook can be. It’s more important to be concise to make it worth the reader’s time.
- Proofing: I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Too many typos, grammar problems, and awkward sentences can blow it. Poor proofing can lead to your company looking unprofessional and prone to making mistakes. Grammar checkers are good, but they don’t catch everything. Make sure to scour your ebook for typos, with several people reviewing it if possible before publication.
As in all content, readability is a primary consideration. Learn the 5 Most Important Rules for Readability.
Build your pipeline with high-quality ebooks
Ebooks aren’t the easiest type of content to write and produce, but they are one of the best ways to get high quality leads into the sales pipeline. Baking ebooks into your content marketing strategy is a smart move. When planning your ebook, ensure that you have expertise in the topic, B2B writing talent, and top-notch creative skills. Boston-based Westebbe Marketing has the experience to make sure your ebook meets your audience’s needs. Contact Boston-based Westebbe Marketing.
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