Lab report: E-books for SEO

There’s a lot of talk about using e-books for online marketing. It’s widely claimed that e-books will do the following things:

  • Drive traffic to your site.
  • Add value for your visitors.
  • Serve as linkbait.
  • Encourage people to subscribe or in other ways to share their information with you.
  • Provide passive income for your website.

How realistic is this for the average person, and how can it best be accomplished?

We made an e-book for our lab site, so I can report on the experience for you.

Our e-book is an 8 page reproducible unit on data analysis for middle school, though it’s adaptable to upper elementary or to high school. We decided that this was a useful item for our visitors on the basis of all sorts of data, and we had the expertise to write it ourselves. The content is good, up to date, and not readily available elsewhere. I think this is the essential first step. You have to have something worthwhile to offer to people if you expect to produce value for your website with it.

I’ve written several e-books for various clients, so I can tell you with confidence that you can hire people to do this for you.

We have the expertise to write it, but not the artistic ability to make it look really cool, so we hired a designer to do that for us. I’ve seen plenty of e-books put together with the clip art that came with the author’s computer; if the content is useful, I tolerate that, but it’s definitely not as good. I was fortunate enough to win a credit at oDesk and was able to hire the excellent Jay Jaro, who has done a lot of the graphic design for our lab site. Since I hired him through oDesk, I was also able to peek over his virtual shoulder in a way that I don’t get to do with graphic designers who live down the street from me. I don’t interfere with creative work, but seeing what’s going on allows me to get edits in quickly. Also, Jay and I have worked on this type of project together before for clients, so we communicate well on them. The other members of the company assisted with proofreading and judgment calls, as well as some logistical things. We were able to do the whole thing in less than a week.

Creating the e-book might take you much longer, depending on the size of the project, or you might just hire it all out and it’ll be ready when you need it. Since we’re a content firm, we were able to do the creative bit easily enough, and our cost was not high. The time we spent on this rather than paying work, the cost of Jay’s time (we can’t expect always to win that), and the cost of stock illustrations at iStockphoto were the expenses. We planned ahead to make future projects of this kind economical by thinking in terms of a template from the beginning. This will extend the value of our initial efforts.

I’m going to have to say that making an e-book, if you care about the quality, is definitely an investment, either in time or in money, and probably in both.

After that, we came to the part that was new to us: figuring out how to deliver the e-book to our readers. We decided to e-mail the file directly to our current subscribers, and are currently engaging in some trial and error to automate delivery to new subscribers. I’ll keep you updated on that in case you’re considering it yourself, and I’d love to hear from those of you who’ve had success with it.

Our conclusion: assuming either that you have creative and tech skills on hand or that you’re willing to hire people who have those skills, it seems to us that creating an e-book is in fact a practical undertaking. I’ll come back later and tell you whether or not it had the listed effects.


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