Free ebooks were once all the rage. Everyone had one they were giving away in change for signing up for a mailing list, and whenever a new free ebook was released, it seemed like the web went wild.
Then everyone realized just how much email junk they signed up to get.
Today, many content creators and businesses online are still doing free ebooks, but the popularity has died down a bit. People are more guarded about giving away their email addresses. An ebook being free isn’t good enough. It has to be something they really want.
So how do you do that? Of course, the first step is making the ebook look and sound great. You need that initial group of people who want to download it so they’ll read it and, if they like it, tell others to download it as well. Your cover art, title, and landing page description matter. But beyond that, it’s really the content of the ebook that matters most. That’s the only way people will actually promote it, creating that ripple effect and leading to large sign-up numbers.
A few months ago here at NMX, we released The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Blog, Podcast, and Videos with Pinterest, and it was wildly successful, even as our first attempt at releasing a free ebook. We now have thousands of new newsletter subscribers, and the feedback on the ebook has been awesome. In the coming months, you’ll want to step tuned, because we have more awesome free ebooks coming down the pipeline. Here are the five steps I personally use to make sure that all of our free ebooks have content that people actually want:
Step One: Choose a fresh topic.
Your ebook about how “content is king” might be great, but to most people, that topic is overdone. We’ve heard it before, and even before giving your ebook a chance, we make the snap judgement that we’re not going to learn anything new. Your sales copy has to be killer for me to give up my email address for a been-there-done-that topic. Why make it an uphill battle? Instead, choose a topic that is fresh, original, and exciting to people. When we released our Pinterest ebook last spring, there were very few other ebooks out there about this topic, and certainly even fewer that were free. Pinterest was certainly a trendy topic, and by jumping on this trend before it was overplayed, we were able to catch the attention of others.
Step Two: Fill your ebook with stats and studies.
Adding your opinion to an ebook is great, but avoid writing a really long blog post. That’s what I see all too often, and it’s not a good way to go about presenting information. An ebook needs to have more meat. You need to back up what you’re saying with stats and studies whenever possible. Don’t just tell me the steps on how you think something should be done. Show me the data that proves your technique works. Your ebook has more weight if you can show me people who confirm what you’re saying as true.
Step Three: Include real-world examples and case studies.
To go along with stats and studies, you need to include some real-life examples and, if possible, case studies relating to your topic. This adds even more relevance to your content and sets it apart from what others are doing. If you’re talking about how a technique is better than the rest, I want to see how real people or companies are using this technique successfully.
Step Four: Complement your content with good formatting and amazing images.
Most free ebooks out there are sorely lacking when it comes to the visuals, which always amazes me. Why spend so much time writing really great content and then not package it neatly? You don’t have to be an awesome graphic designer to put out a clean, visually-appealing product. When you give me a wall of text with no images at all, no headers, no bullet points, etc. it just looks sloppy, and that makes me judge the value of your content before I even read it. If you really are technically challenged, hiring a graphic artist to help with ebook formatting doesn’t have to be expensive, so definitely look into that option.
I also recommend adding some professionally-produced images like infographics. As you include case studies and step-by-step instructions, you should take screenshots to enhance your tips, but you should also include good images to go with any stats you present. Again, hiring a graphic designer is an option, but even if this isn’t in your budget, you can find lots of inforgraphics available online. Nine times out of ten (in my experience), if you ask the owner if you can include the infographic with a link for credit in your free ebook, they will say yes.
Step Five: Remove the fluff.
Ebooks that are filled with fluff are a real pet peeve of mine. I know it sounds more impressive to give away a free 50-page ebook, but if the useful information within that ebook could have been presented in 30 pages, give me just those 30 pages. I don’t want filler material. It makes your book seem a lot less valuable than it really is when I have to skim through lots of filler text to find the actual nuggets of good information. Whenever possible, invest in a good editor who isn’t afraid to use her red pen to cross out anything unnecessary. If you can’t afford an editor, write your ebook and then challenge yourself to cut it down by 1/3. When you attempt to get it under a certain lower word count rather than reaching a certain higher word count, your writing will be much tighter.
You may be asking, “If I’m going to follow these five steps and boosting my ebook content, why would I give the final product away for free? This is an ebook I could sell.” You’re absolutely right – the above steps do lead to an ebook so good you can sell. And that’s the point. You want your free ebook to be so good that people are wondering why you’re not selling it. That’s the difference between an ebook that people ignore and one they can’t wait to share with their friends and family. If it’s not good enough to sell, you shouldn’t be giving it away for free either.