Increase your blog readership by offering free ebooks

ebookThe single most successful technique I have used to increase my blog’s readership is the creation and free distribution of relevant ebooks.

By writing and offering ebooks for free distribution, you offer potential visitors a great incentive to visit (or subscribe to) your blog. What’s more, ebooks have the potential to become viral marketing tools, enhancing visibility of your site and your status as an “expert” in your field.

In this post, I hope to explain why you should consider writing an ebook to offer for free to your readers, along with details of how to create this publication with little (or no) expense.

Why offer an ebook for free?

Let’s be honest here: in the current financial climate, most people would prefer something for free, than something for which they have to pay.

While you could easily write an ebook for readers to purchase (to potentially increase your earnings in the short term), this may not actually increase the number of people who visit your site (which potentially creates increased earnings over the longer term).

By offering your ebook for free (while licensing appropriately), you offer the means for readers to recommend your ebook (and your site) to others. Ebooks can become viral: they can be forwarded by email, recommended as downloads from other sites and also by word of mouth. Provided you include a link to your website in the ebook and the suggestion that firther information on this subject may be found in your blog posts, you can ensure that your free ebooks become effective marketing tools which attract new readers, subscribers and possibly referrals for any paid services you offer.

How ebooks can increase readership

There are two principal ways in which free ebooks can be used to increase readership of your blog:

  1. To raise awareness of your blog
  2. To encourage people to subscribe to your blog

If you offer a free ebook through your site which anyone can download (and distribute) you create a means for your ebook to raise awareness of your blog and subject matter. Those who enjoy your ebook may write about this on their own sites (with a link to your blog);  recommend it to friends; forward to colleagues by email… By increasing the chances of people reading your publication, you increase the chances of these people discovering your site.

Offering a free ebook for subscribers can increase the number of people who sign up for updates of your posts. If your ebook proves valuable, other bloggers may write about your ebook while subscribers can recommend their subscription (and free gift) to their friends.

What to write about?

An ebook used to promote your blog should be relevant to your blog’s target audience. Focus on a subject specific to your blog’s niche to provide value for your ebook’s potential readers, while enticing them to visit your blog in the future for more information.

For example, if your blog offers advice on parenting why not write a short ebook describing ten useful parenting skills, or ideas for entertaining the kids in the holidays? Foodies could offer an ebook of selected recipes, while web designers could offer a breakdown of the skills used in creating a live site.

An ebook (especially a free publication) need not be exhaustive or take months to write. Here are some examples of ideas you could use to create an ebook this weekend:

  • Collect your 10 most popular posts and repackage with a little extra commentary
  • Expand on the concept of your most popular blog post
  • Create a directory of resources which are useful for your target audience
  • Write an FAQ to answer popular questions from readers of your site

How to create your ebook

The most popular format to distribute ebooks is PDF (portable document format). PDF files can be opened using Adobe Acrobat (or any other PDF reader), and are easily distributed online.

You could initially write your ebook using your favorite word processing program (such as MS Word), then convert this to PDF format.

However, most free PDF converters are limited. You may be restricted by file size, or any links included in your PDF may remain inactive. While Adobe Acrobat is an excellent program for creating PDF files, it is incredibly expensive to buy (particularly if you don’t plan to use this often).

My personal recommendation is to download Open Office: a free, open source office suite. Contained in this suite is Open Office Writer: a fully comprehensive word processor which includes the option to convert your document to PDF at the click of a button. When converting to PDF, there are a multitude of options available; all links remain intact, and you can create a table of contents for your document to ensure a professional appearance.

If you would sincerely prefer to convert your rich text documents rather than use Open Office, you may like to try Adobe’s Create PDF service (for up to 5 small documents) or Primo PDF, which is a down-loadable program to convert documents offline.

Include links to your blog!

In order to use your ebook as a means of promoting your blog, you need to reference your blog and encourage readers of the ebook to visit your site too!

The ideal means of promoting your blog through your ebook is to include a link to your blog on every page, such as the header or footer.

It is also advisable to include an “about” section, either before the main content of your ebook or right at the end. Your “about” section should include some information about you as the author, as well as information about your blog and a link to yoru home page/relevant further reading.

Without links to your blog, your ebook will not become a useful promotional tool for your site!

License your ebook

When offering free ebooks for readers to download, it is advisable to license your ebook to prevent others claiming this as their own work, or distributing in a manner with which you are not comfortable.

The best means of licensing free content is to use a Creative Commons license. The most basic Creative Commons license ensures attribution of the original author. You can also specify whether your documents can be used commercially, have derivative works created from them and the jurisdiction to which the license pertains.

Distributing your ebook

Once you have written your ebook, you need to think about how this should be distributed.

The first step is to upload your ebook to a web hosting service. If you already pay for web hosting, you can simply upload this along with your regular files. Alternatively, try Scribd (which has proved among the most popular hosting sites for ebooks and other publications) or Cnet’s Download.com.

Next, work out how you would like your ebook to be distributed.

If you want your ebook to become a viral marketing tool then offer the ebook for anyone to download. Create a landing page/announcement post on your blog with specifics about your ebook and of course the download link. Ask readers to download and offer their opinions on your ebook; to distribute or recommend it to their peers. Include a link to the download/landing page in your email signature, forum signatures and anywhere else online where your ebook could be publicized.

If you want to increase subscribers as a result of distributing your ebook,  offer the download link through the footer of your RSS feed. Both WordPress and Blogger offer the means to add content to the footer of your blog feed. Alternatively, create a Feedflare to use with Feedburner which includes the link to your free ebook.

Be sure to publicise your ebooks!

Once you have written your ebook, uploaded to your host and enabled a means for download, be sure to let everyone know about it! Tell your readers, email other bloggers who may be interested to learn of your ebook and add a banner to your blog’s sidebar which links to the download location or landing page.

Final thoughts

Offering ebooks for free to existing or potential readers offers extra value: a means of discovering information relevant to your niche offline, which can be distributed or referred to with ease. In distributing your own ebooks, you are providing a gift to your readers and an expression of expertise in the subject you write about. While the benefits may not be instantaneous, the long term effects of increased readership are more likely to outlive any short-term earnings for having offered the same ebook for a price!

I hope this post has offered useful information for the creation and distribution of your own ebooks to increase readership for your blogs. Please feel free to offer your own thoughts and opinions by leaving your comments below.

Image credit: lin_til, via Flickr Creative Commons
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Disclosure: In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that the site owner is benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website. This is not to say that is the case with all content, as all publications on the site are original and written to provide value and references to our audience.

10 Comments

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