iStock_000015472610SmallI was speaking to a client the other day who joked, “E-books are the new white papers.” He was kidding, of course. He knows all too well there are significant differences between e-books and white papers, and even e-books and free reports.
That being said, there’s no ignoring e-books. They are all the rage these days, especially in lead-generation where they are working particularly well.
So how do you write one of these things?
The first step is to come up with a topic. People read e-books offered by companies because they want a quick education on something specific. They want to learn how to solve a problem, complete a task, make the right decision, deal with a difficult situation, improve sales performance, reduce costs, and so forth.
And your topic needs to reflect that expectation.
When I’m working with a client on an e-book, the first question I ask is, “What’s the most pressing problem your prospects have that your product or service can solve – or at least make better?” That typically leads to some focused brainstorming and then, finally, a topic.
Your best topic – if you’re fortunate enough to come up with several – is one that involves a problem, need, goal or want that is a high priority for your prospects. You want the e-book to be content a prospect will eagerly fill out a landing page form to get his hands on.
For example, a complaint I hear from clients who write their own marketing copy is that the process is slow and painful. As one client put it, “It’s like a visit to the dentist. It’s agony and it seems to take forever.” So I’m planning an e-book on how to write copy super fast and actually enjoy the process.
Once you’ve chosen a topic the next step, of course, is writing the e-book. If you’re accustomed to crafting white papers and special reports, here are some differences you need to know.

  • Get to the point quickly. You don’t need an executive summary as you would in a white paper. Simply state the problem or goal and then jump right into explaining “How to.”
  • Add visuals. Charts, pictures, illustrations, and infographics help readers – especially today’s busy business reader (and I’m one of them) — absorb information more quickly.
  • Use examples, scenario and stories. They bring the facts to life, and make the information – and your company – linger longer in the prospect’s mind.
  • Break it down. Create tips, step-by-steps, formulas, instructions, and takeaways that make it easier for the reader to implement the information.
  • Focus on how-to, not why-to. You might need to explain “why” in a white paper to build your case for a particular technology or methodology, but in an e-book, the reader just wants to know “how”. Another way to look at it: white papers are about strategy; e-books are concerned with implementation.

To enhance conversion rates – in other words, to get prospects to call or email with an interest in your product or service – I recommend adding a “pitch page”. This is a separate page, usually the last in the e-book, that describes your company.
Now a lot of companies get lazy here and simply insert a boilerplate blurb – similar to what you’d see at the end of a press release. What a waste! You can do so much more with this page. I suggest creating a special offer and including that as part of an inviting call-to-action. Also, include a client testimonial or two. The idea, of course, is to get the prospect motivated to take a clear next step.
For a client recently, I beefed up the pitch page on two e-books they were using for lead-generation, and increased their conversions by 62%. Clearly, this page is important!
So those are some basics on writing a lead-gen e-book for your company or client. If you have tips to share, please let me know. (I may be writing an e-book on the topic!)