Content Marketing Formats: Articles versus Ebooks
As a content marketer, one of your biggest jobs is selecting the right topics for your marketing content. Given the need for a constant stream of new content, it’s a task that’s always at the top of your “to do” list. Should you focus on current events in your industry? Maybe some update or detailed information about your product? Is there some company announcement you can share? Or, depending on what your product or service is, maybe something of interest to the community around it or the lifestyle it’s a part of?
On top of this, you also have to consider SEO performance, internal links, key words and a long list of other factors that can influence how well the piece of content achieves its mission of generating traffic, leads or other interest that can then possibly be turned into a conversion.
In short, there are multiple strategic elements that have to be considered before marketing content can truly be optimized and ready to perform.
But one aspect that is frequently overlooked in this process is the format that the content will take. By default, the article format of the kind you would expect to read on a blog is the go-to solution for most content marketing, and for good reason. It’s length is enough to get your point across and not too demanding of the reader’s time. It’s perfectly sufficient for 90% of the content that brands want to share, whatever the subject matter is. What more do you want?
Well, in fact, there are situations where articles are not the best way to go. In this post — our very own article — we’re going to look at the role of ebooks in content marketing and the circumstances when they might be a better option for what you’re trying to do as a marketer.
Things to consider
Let’s start by acknowledging that almost all of your audience will be familiar with the idea of an ebook. Come on, it’s 2019. Even if they haven’t downloaded one before, they’ll understand the concept of what it is and how to get it. You won’t need to explain what this “ebook” thing is all about, so don’t be afraid that you’ll have to educate your audience about some strange new format.
You will, however, have to decide if the risk/reward aspect of ebooks is worth it, something I’ll explain in a minute.
So, with that out of the way, you should think of ebooks as essentially a longer form version of an article that is usually gated via the necessity of providing an email address to get it. This is another aspect of ebooks that your audience will be prepared for — we all know that ebooks are offered in exchange for an email address, not simply posted on the page.
This longer form opens lots of doors for content marketers. With all that extra space, you can take a deeper, more detailed dive into your main subject with plenty of room left over for other things. You can get into specifics and what they mean instead of keeping it general or skipping those details altogether.
There’s plenty of space for adding graphics, charts or other visual elements to not only enhance the look but to include statistics, facts and figures that help to present a more informative take on whatever your subject is. With an ebook, you can bring readers to a level of engagement that is harder with shorter articles.
Plus, on top of this, producing an ebook is a kind of brand building exercise in itself. Customers are impressed by ebooks—good ones, anyway. Offering ebooks is a sign of extra effort put in by the brand and a desire to deliver quality, in-depth content. It tells customers that you want to help educate them about something, not just sell them a product or service. It’s a way to stand out from the crowd and establish yourself as an expert in the field. Want to be seen as a thought leader on a given subject? Publish an ebook about it. Depending on the field you’re in, ebooks might even be an expected part of a professional image.
On the other hand, you need the content to fill all of those pages. It seems like an obvious point but you have to be sure that you have enough information to bridge the gap between an article and an ebook. While there’s no standard minimum for length, if your ebook is too short it will not only just look like a slightly long article, but it’s likely to leave readers confused about why they needed to share an email address to get it.
The value of an ebook should be apparent from the content it delivers and typically that means going way beyond the length of a standard blog post. If your subject isn’t deep or complex enough to provide the material to go that far, it’s best to stick with an article. When you decide to produce an ebook, be sure that the final product will be worthy of the name.
Decisions to make
And now to the risk/reward issue I mentioned earlier. Let’s go backwards and cover the rewards first.
The big selling point of ebooks, from a marketer’s point of view, is their lead generation value. That’s what they’re for, after all. By sharing an email address and downloading your ebook, a prospect is telling you that, to one degree or another, they are interested in what you’re selling.
From there, it’s just a matter of how your company handles the leads you create in an effort to warm them up. You’ve got an email address; you know they’re interested — the rest is up to you.
We can also count the previously mentioned brand-building value and credibility gained through publishing ebooks among the rewards you get, but these rank far behind lead generation.
Now for the risk. It’s quite simple — ebooks are gated material that requires customers to share contact information to get. This can be a big ask in many other contexts apart from marketing content. People often simply don’t want to share their address, no matter what. You have to accept the fact that a substantial portion of the people who would have happily read your article will immediately lose interest when they learn that the same topic is being covered in an ebook that requires an email address for access.
You’ll also find that a good number of the addresses that you do get will be secondary accounts used strictly to download ebooks and avoid the follow-up emails (you’ve done that too, right?). So there’s the irony at the heart of offering an ebook — fewer people will take the necessary steps to get better content than what they get in an article.
Essentially, ebooks get much better quality leads than articles but far less exposure. Take your pick.
Of course, you can take steps to improve your chances of increasing downloads, like creating a dedicated landing page for the ebook that summarizes what readers can expect to find in it and how they can benefit from the information. Still, you have to be prepared for click-through rates that may be substantially less than what you hoped for, but the clicks you do get will be easier to turn into sales.
I hope this gives you something to think about over the course of your upcoming publishing calendar. Ideally, you can be in a position to share both articles and ebooks and see what performs best but there are a lot of variables that can influence what you’re able to create.
Until then, if you keep writing the kind of content that you like to read as a customer yourself your content marketing will eventually find its audience for sure.