Marketing Best Practices

5 Things You Need To Know Before You Write Another eBook

Matt Wellschlager By Matt Wellschlager February 11, 2015

In the world of B2B marketing, inbound marketing, brand storytelling, and marketing at large, there is perhaps no greater mystery than what happens after someone gets your ebook.  After all, you’re thinking about the conversion, and you put a lot of hard work into creating the content, so you’re SURE people are going to be happy they filled out that annoying form just to get it.  But are they?

When you construct a marketing plan and base it on a prior marketing strategy that worked, what data are you using to drive that decision?  On some level, particularly around what kind of content you should re-use or do more of, you’ll no doubt look to the marketing ebooks, whitepapers, thought leadership, or other premium content that had the most form fills and conversions.  But just because you convinced people to fill in their info, doesn’t mean they were glad they did, or that they got the value you promised from that marketing ebook.

We thought it was time to look under the hood and find out what people really do with ebooks.  How long do they look at one?  Who makes it to the last page?  Do people watch the embedded videos?

We decided to look at three ebooks – two we created ourselves over a year ago and one we did jointly with Contently.  Collectively, they represent over 10,000 visitors so it feels like a decent starting point from which to begin benchmarking this kind of thing.

The three pieces we looked at (they’re usually gated but we’ve opened them just for you) are 13 Tips for Interactive Storytelling, Content Marketing on a Shoestring, and our joint piece with Contently, How to Build a Brand Newsroom.

A quick view on interactions, so we have a sense of sample size:

1) 13 Tips for Interactive Storytelling (14 pages):  2,103 visitors, 2,835 opens
2) Content Marketing on a Shoestring (16 pages): 2,453 visitors, 3,120 Opens
3) Contently: Build a Brand Newsroom (10 pages): 7,030 visitors, 8,938 Opens

All three pieces come in between the 5:30 and 7 minute mark.  Overall, this shows that people are willing to invest more than they would in the usual blog post or content piece, which makes sense.  But it gives us a sense of HOW long – I had no idea if this was 3 minutes or 10.  Now we know it’s somewhere around that 6 minute mark. Obviously, content drives engagement – the shortest piece, Contently, at 10 pages, had the longest engagement at 6:52.

Minutes Per Piece

Time Spent Per Piece

Rate of Decay (how many people make it to the end)

Visitors Per Page of eBook

The above garners some interesting questions and insights.  Starting with 100% participation on page 1, who makes it to the end?  First – our general assumption that people really dig into that content we created is not necessarily true.  There is a clear decline in participation as the book lingers on.

The second insight is that this varies a great deal based on content (duh!  But if you don’t know what content is keeping them, how can you optimize future offers?).  The Rate of Decay, which I’m going to calculate like CAGR to analyze drop-off over time (as defined in pages), varies a good bit:

1) 13 Tips: -5.25%
2) Shoestring: -6.99%
3) Contently: -7.24%

These may seem like subtle differences, but this is decline at each page.  Two 10-page pieces with 1000 visitors each will yield dramatically different engagement based on this rate.  The piece with 7% decay will have 520 people who make it to the end, the piece with 5% decay will have 630.  If 30% people convert on the last page of an ebook (as we found with the Contently piece), you’re losing 33 potential leads!  Same logic applies to longer pieces – you’re losing people at each page.  This is obviously not just about additional offers.  You’ve created that ebook because you believe in inbound and you want people to LOVE your content.  You’ve put the most amazing insightful graph and write-up on page 12, but half the people are never going to see it!

The third, and perhaps the most important insight, is that the biggest drop occurs between the first and second page.  The most consistent fact between these three ebooks is that roughly 15% of people drop off after the first page.  That’s right – 15% of your “converted” prospects don’t make it to the second page.  No wonder they don’t respond to future touches, they don’t remember the first one.

Time Spent per Page

What can we learn here?  First off the spikes remind us of what we probably know about the web but forget with ebooks.  People abandon their engagement and go and do something else.  This is most likely on the final page, where you see the spikes for the respective ebooks.  But it’s interesting that it happens on the first page as well.  Not as dramatically, but knowing that page 1 was just a title page, these extending 1-2 minute average times tell us that people got there and then went off to do something else.  There’s clearly an opportunity to do more on page 1 to keep them engaged besides just showing them the title.  Likewise, when they come back to the last page they abandoned an hour ago, or a day ago to close the window out, have a compelling message there – it’s going to get seen more than once.

The other potential insight is that dwell time is a better indicator of drop off than page progress.  If we look at the Rate of Decay as a function of time rather than page progress, it tells a very different story.  In order to control for the abandonment on the last page which extends the time, I’ve extracted that from the results to provide a cleaner sample.

Rate of Decay for Page Rate

You can see from the above that it’s a very different story.  The Contently piece holds people’s attention the longest.  Almost 60% of folks stay engaged up until the 10-minute mark.  We also note that it takes about 10-11 minutes to get through an ebook if you’re going to engage with it.  That seems as true with a 10 page piece as it is with the 16 page piece.   Likewise we find the time based rate of decay is a whole different story:

1) 13 Tips: -7%
2) Shoestring: -9%
3) Contently: -6%

So even though Contently saw a greater decline between pages, on a per minutes basis, it retained people’s attention much longer than any other piece, and kept 60% of the audience up through the ten minute mark.

Social Sharing

Social Shares Per Piece

This shouldn’t surprise anyone – but clicks on Social Share buttons in the pieces varied dramatically based on how prevalently they were featured.  The % of people sharing was 16X higher in 13 tips than in the Shoestring piece.

Outbound Links

This piece of intel I found pretty compelling and interesting. When creating great content there’s always a smidge of marketer’s guilt – you don’t want to pitch too hard within a piece that’s aimed to add value.  That said, you’d hate to miss an opportunity to convert.  So here’s what’s interesting:

13 Tips:
1) 119 clicks (5.3%) back to the company site
2) 123 clicks (5.2%) to the Request a Demo page

1) 1101 total outbound clicks (this piece was full of examples from Red Bull to CMI and others)
2) The free editorial calendar from fetched 352 clicks (13% click through)
3) 89 clicks (3.6%) went back to the main homepage
4) 42 (1.8%) clicked on the demo CTA

1) 1393 total outbound clicks
2) 429 clicks (5.9%) to the Contently blog
3) 403 clicks (5.6%) to
4) 263 clicks (4.9%) requested a Ceros demo

This bit of insight on the Contently piece is particularly interesting.  Remember when we talked about the Rate of Decay?  While the conversion looks modest as a % of the total, remember that only 46% of the visitors made it to the last page.  That’s 3,238.  And 1,095 people clicked on the CTA on the last page.  That’s just shy of 1 in 3 – that’s huge!  The numbers aren’t too different on the other two pieces.  If you’re not putting a CTA on the last page of your ebooks, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

What about Mobile vs. Desktop and Browser based data?  On all three books the results were roughly the same:

1) Roughly 90% of views were from the desktop (10% of 10,000 visitors is not insignificant though – make sure your ebooks look nice on mobile!)

2) And Browser interactions were roughly the same:

-50% on Chrome
-Safari, Firefox coming in around 15% mark
-IE ranging anywhere from 6-14%

So what should you be doing to optimize your ebooks?

1) Include the next logical CTA – just because they gave you their info to get to the piece, doesn’t mean they’re done learning.  Include a CTA at the end, and ideally in a few spots – remember people drop off with each subsequent page.  If you wait until the end, you’re missing the opportunity to accelerate the sales cycle.

2) Make the content shareable – the easier you make it to share, the more of your readers will share it, and that’s good for more engagement.

3) Create links to additional content.  The rules you know from blogging don’t stop once they convert.  The more opportunities you create to keep them engaged with related articles, templates, tools, etc, the more they’ll interact with your brand and content – and that’s always good for business.

4) Make sure your content is mobile friendly.  10% is not insignificant, and depending on which channels you’re using to distribute (like Twitter), this number could trend a lot higher.  Make sure those prospects will be able to engage with what you’re giving them.

5) Start measuring interactions with your ebooks!  PDF’s are a black hole when it comes to insight into what people are doing.  There are tools like Ceros, that will enable you to deliver a digital, responsive experience that you can track (and you can build them with the same resources you use to make those boring PDFs).

Hope this helps – happy ebook creating!

increase brand engagement ebook

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