When Mike King published his Noob Guide to Link Building back in early 2012, I’ve been wanting to write this post. He dropped a great little link building tactic…
E-Book and Guest Post (Month Four) – By the time the fourth month rolls around, the key influencers in your space should know about you or your client and what you bring to the table. At this point an e-book is great way to solidify you or your client’s thought leadership. Much like this guide and Oli’s, you will be coupling that e-book with a blog post on an influential site in your space to be sure that it is seen.
The content should have a centralized theme that links back to your business goals, but you want it to be different enough so that your growing audience will want to share all of it.
The post itself was pretty detailed but it would have been mammoth if he’d gone into huge amounts of detail for each point so this isn’t a criticism, today I wanted to really expand on this point and build out a blueprint for anyone looking to leverage an eBook or similar content asset to acquire links. And if we’ve learned anything so far this year – 2013 is going to be THE year for content and determining it’s true value, so this kind of thing is going to become a staple in my opinion to most businesses.
A well written eBook can help you create an extensive link building campaign and generate new business opportunities (creating a bridge between your often siloed online marketing activities) meaning you get maximum value from the investment you make in the content. For the purposes of this exercise, we are NOT really going to be covering developing an eBook for sale because whilst this is a very valid reason to produce an asset like this, we’re more interested for now in how a free eBook can be leveraged for links and business opportunities.
Step 1 – Plan
“Prior planning prevents piss poor performance” – it really is that simple.
Planning an eBook really comes in two stages:
- Brainstorming the ideas
- Plan the structure of the book
You first need to decide what to write about. To jump start your brainstorming session and to amplify your success later down the line. First, pick your target market. This refers not only to the customers you wish to reach with your eBook but also the prospective linkers (since this is a link acquisition exercise as well).
My strong recommendation would be to select a business area with strong growth potential (if your company or client has more than one product or service) and identify key customer groups that the eBook will target and the core target markets that linkers are likely to be from. Possibly the worst thing you can do would be to just think in terms of relevance rather than how you’ll be leveraging it!
For example, if you are in the automobile business you could create something like Save Money by Being Your Own Mechanic and here are a few potential considerations:
- Will customers appreciate this and gain value out of it?
- Who is going to link to this? – you are likely to be tapping into lifestyle websites (male and female), personal finance bloggers who want to help their readers save money and media websites wanted to provide automotive advice to their local readers rather than directly other automobile websites.
- Is there anything similar already published – how can we provide more value making it the one worth linking to?
- Are you doing yourself out of customers? – debatable point here, some feel that “giving the farm away” is a good idea and encourages customers who appreciate the transparency. Others say you’ll do yourself out of paying customers. Your call.
A great eBook idea needs to be:
- Specific. Don’t try to write the definitive guide to your topic: it’s overwhelming for your readers, and it doesn’t leave you much room for your next eBook.
- Useful. If you do consulting or coaching, what problems come up again and again? Do your blog readers always ask for posts dealing with a particular issue?
Next comes the planning of the structure.
Most choose to devise a table of contents to help visualise what will be covered and this is a very good idea. If you are struggling for ideas when it comes to what goes into your eBook, try working up 50+ frequently asked questions, customer concerns and common rebuttals to help push you in the right direction. Doing this should ensure that you create an eBook that is immensely useful to potential customers and ultimately worth linking to by other content creators around the web.
At this stage, it can be useful to look at a tool like Ubersuggest to try and identify long tail phrases that people are actually searching for – this is going to help when it comes to structuring & promotion later on. Also, utilise any of your favourite social monitoring services to try to capture and understand the kinds of things the market is looking for – this will help you uncover fresh search queries to consider. You will also find a familiarity with the market a real advantage so talking to clients (and really getting to know them) will prove valuable.
Step 2 – Write
Now we move on to the really crucial bit and the likelihood is that you have 3 choices here…
- Write it yourself
- Hire someone else to do it
- A mashup of the two
If you are going to write this yourself then I would highly recommend How to write a High-Quality eBook in 30 days, it is focused around creating an eBook for sale but there are a number of productivity hacks and lessons to be learned from the post.
You could always hire someone to write it but it is probably best to ensure that you are actively involved either in the structuring or the editing because (particularly if you are a small business) you will want to place your stamp on the asset to ensure it is in line with the brand values and matches the voice and culture of your business. That might sound like something that should only concern large organisations but it is painfully obvious when a piece of content has been produced by someone with little knowledge of an industry or put together in a style which just doesn’t match anything else that the business puts out there.
That’s not to say handing this off to your agency or a trusted freelancer isn’t a good idea, but just make sure they understand your vision and what you are about.
Arguably the most efficient way to do this is to have help in the process, outsource or delegate the bits that are time consuming and aren’t crucial for you to be involved in. This is something that I am doing a lot more in my writing (for long blog posts at least) because it helps me produce content quicker whilst ensuring it’s an exact fit for our voice as a business and syncs with my usual style of writing.
You could devise the structure, have someone research the various topic areas and bring together resources on the topic, have another individual write up these individual sections into more structured notes before you dive in and add your own experience, expertise and anecdotes. Additionally you could then have a third person acting as a proofreader and editor.
Step 3 – Design & Format
If you’ve got a graphic designer on your payroll then great, you’re all set. If you don’t then you could hire an inexpensive one online or you could take matters into your own hands and use the variety of free tools out there to help make your eBook look stunning.
Free tools you might like
Companies that offer eBook design
- Aesthetically pleasing front cover
- Properly structured table of contents with deeplinks to the different sections of the documents
- A well-designed author page that conveys your credentials and authority
- Think about the filetype – ePub and PDF reign supreme followed in third place by .azw (for Kindle). Getting the filetype wrong could be condemning your eBook to obscurity
Step 4 – Launch & Promote
“The most important thing is that you have an overall plan. Any one of the strategies will likely not give you the results you want. And trying to do all of them will only exhaust you and still yield few results is you are just shooting everywhere without a clear target.
Then craft an overall plan that meets them where they are. Once you make the plan – stick to it! Sustained, ongoing, strategic effort is what will really help you break through.”
Create a landing page
Having a well thought out landing page to promote your eBook (and to allow people to download it) is absolutely paramount to the success of your eBook initiative. This page will form the main focus of the rest of the campaign.
Make sure the page has a good title and the URL is well-considered reflecting your target keywords. Ensure there is a solid heading and introductory paragraph that give an overview about the information your eBook offers – perhaps going into more detail, for example presenting the table of contents in text format. Look back to your initial planning when you identified some long tail keyword phrases that people were searching for, to enhance the visibility of the page you might want to highlight some of the questions that are answered in the eBook.
If applicable to your promotional plan, you might be using your eBook as bait for email subscribers (see step 6) – think carefully how you can deliver value and make that page worthy of being linked to if you are planning on pushing the really good stuff behind a subscriber wall. There’s nothing wrong with using guides as email list bait per se but balancing up what you want to achieve here is critical.
Execute a guest blogging campaign
I’ve talked fairly extensively about using guest blogging as a link building and marketing strategy – this tactic particularly lends itself to promoting an eBook because you have a ready-made set of topic ideas to pitch. Each chapter or section gives you a guest post that could be extracted. Obviously you don’t want to give the whole book away but giving people a flavour of what you are talking about is definitely the route to high-conversion guest blogging.
To use our theoretical example from earlier in this guide – “Being your own mechanic” – you could pull together a guest post on how expensive it is to run a car and highlight some of the jobs that you could easily do yourself at home and save money. Another option might be to look specifically at tyres and maximising your investment in those 4 wheels. These kinds of highly-targeted topics can be incredibly enticing to a reader and can kickstart downloads of your eBook – not to mention you’ll be scoring a valuable, relevant link.
Pick up the easy links
Much the same as with producing infographics and securing links from worthwhile galleries, the same low hanging fruit exists in the world of eBooks. Some worthwhile sites to submit to…
- Online Computer Books
- The Online Books Page
- AskSam Ebooks
- Baen Free Library
- Free ebooks.info
- Know Free
- Spot Bit
- World Public Library
- Project Gutenberg
These sites can help to drive traffic and will help support your goal of acquiring links – even if they aren’t the most valuable around. Not all of the above sites will be relevant to pick carefully to ensure the site and your eBook are a good fit for eachother.
If you have really gone to town with the eBook then it might even be appropriate to look into distribution on Amazon via Createspace.
You might even consider going all guerilla and distributing via BitTorrent as seen here.
This requires some careful thought, research and attention but if you think back to your target link market (right back at step 1) you should have some insights into the kind of blogger that is interested in linking to you. Executing a proactive outreach campaign to promote your eBook to the right kinds of people is a surefire way of reaching your goal (see next point).
Who to outreach to?
- Bloggers – I wholeheartedly endorse Link Prospector from Citation Labs.
- Influencers – Followerwonk works a charm
- Media contacts – look for contact details on the sites themselves or try an industry directory like Journalisted.
How to do it
As I’ve outlined before previously…
Keep it simple and focused on your message. In my experience mentioning anything about a link in the subject line is likely to get your message auto-filtered into spam or manually deleted by the recipient.
Try Copyblogger’s Email Marketing Essentials for more tips on writing great subject lines.
We simply cover the 3W’s
- Who am I
- Why am I sending this email to you
- What do I want
You now have a few sentences to really drive home the conversion, explain in a little more detail the context of your email, what inspired you to contact this particular prospect.
Highlight some of their work that you like or respect (be genuine) and draw similarities between the stuff that matters to them and the particular graphic you are promoting.
Finish with a strong call to action making it clear what you want the prospect to do next. For example including a link to tweet the graphic if you are reaching out to a social influencer, linking to the page with the graphic and encouraging the embed and so on.
You can in most cases create an email template and customise according to your link prospecting notes in a way which personalises the email whilst ensuring there is a possibility of some scale.
The goal of the initial seeding
Maneuvering it to the position where the eBook can passively attract links based on being present at the moment theoretically when other content creators are most likely to link to you. The idea with your eBook (and that enticing landing page) should be that the blogger/influencer/journalist/content creator researching the topic was sufficiently interested to stumble across your site, download the book, find the bit they wanted and cite you as the expert with a link back to the landing page.
Step 5 – Leverage across the business
Some of you will have noticed that we have begun more proactively gathering emails, this is powered by PAR created by Shoemoney and his team. It’s an enterprise-level email marketing solution and we are utilising it to acquire and develop our audience here on the blog – we’re just getting started but I am excited and from what I’ve seen so far of the software.
When we put out our free link building and content production eBooks late last year, I’ll be the first to admit that we weren’t incredibly smart in the way that we leveraged them. So as to say, I wasn’t really leveraging them at all, just giving them away for free. I don’t think people saw the value because there was no need for them to even enter their email address, they could just hit download and get access right away. They’d given nothing in exchange so that impacted on their perception of the value.
You could argue that adding the extra step and leveraging the content for email subscribers actually increases the number of links secured since people assume it to be more valuable than easily accessible content and therefore they are more willing to link. I’ll have an answer to that in a few months when we’ve fully setup PAR and I can compare the number of links acquired before the need to subscribe with an email address .vs. content being freely accessible.
What’s the point of this story? Well, we could have been leveraging the existing eBook assets we had, not just to acquire new links, but as a means of developing our base of subscribers. Ultimately, an eBook is probably going to be one of your larger investments in content so make sure you are getting the most out of it.
Real-Life Examples: eBooks as link building devices…
- Kelvin Newman’s free eBook on Link Building titled Clockwork Pirate (did I mention that Kelvin is the organiser of BrightonSEO where I am leading an advanced link building workshop in April? Well I am, and you should get a ticket!) – Approximately 330 external links.
- Moneysavingexpert.com’s Guide to Mortgages – approximately 2,500 external links.
- The Iron Samurai’s 7 Deadly Sins of Olympic Weightlifting – approximately 50 external links.
- Sage’s Guide to Starting Your Business – approximately 12 external links.
I wanted to pick a few example eBooks from a couple of common industries (SEO, personal finance, fitness, small business) and look at the differences in success that companies have seen.
Although Moneysavingexpert.com probably has the greatest brand recognition (or at least equal Sage in their respective fields), the difference in links acquired with a sample eBook is quite astonishing. You could attribute this to all manner of things but arguably given that both topics are relatively popular (starting a business and buying a house), I feel that a major contributing factor could be how well laid out the landing page for the MSE Mortgage Guide is, the page in itself is worthy of being linked to because it gives readers a really clear idea of what they can expect (and linkers an idea of where they are sending their audience).
What have your experiences been with eBooks and using them as a link building and marketing method? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.