Importance of a Brand Style Guide
First, a note about the role design should play in your content strategy. If ebook creation is (or you plan it to be) a big part of your content strategy, it's wise to first spend some time establishing a consistent brand style guide to which all your marketing content -- not just your ebooks, but also your presentations and other marketing collateral -- adheres. This will give your publications a more professional, branded look which translates to a sense of credibility. Of course, the content itself is a huge contributing factor to the credibility and value of a publication, but even if you have quality content down pat, that doesn't mean people still won't judge an ebook by its cover ;)
When you sit down with your marketing team and designer to decide on your brand style guide, establish rules for such design elements as fonts/sizes, color schemes, charts/graphs, borders for screenshots and images, headers, etc. Creating easy-to-follow guides and templates for your various marketing assets like ebooks, presentations, etc. will make it easy for you and your team to implement a consistent branding style throughout your marketing collateral. HubSpot, for example, has an ebook template created in InDesign to ensure our ebooks have a consistent look no matter who created them.
Now let's dive into the 11 essential design elements you should consider when creating a killer eBook.
11 Essential Elements of Killer Ebook Design
1) An Interesting, Descriptive Title
Your title choice may not exactly be a design element, but choosing a title for any piece of content is definitely an art, and it shouldn't be overlooked. The title is often the first thing someone judges before deciding whether to click on or read your ebook, especially when the content gets shared in social media. Choose a title that is both interesting and descriptive -- that is, it should be indicative of what the reader will learn from reading the ebook.
Unlike blog posts, ebooks are high-commitment pieces of content because of their length, so you need to make sure the value is obvious and up front in a compelling way. For instance, one Innovative Marketing ebook is titled 180 Days to Increased Sales. The title is both descriptive and demonstrates value in itself.
2) A Visual Cover
If we suspect that people will be judging your ebooks by their cover, you'll want to make sure you create covers that are both visually appealing and coincide with your brand style guide. Consider how the visual revolution is playing out with sites like Pinterest cropping up and other social networks like Facebook and Google+ putting more of an emphasis on visual content, and the importance of enticing covers becomes even more evident. Make the title easy to read, include branding elements you decided on in your brand style guide, and feature an image. You'll notice that Innovative Marketing's ebooks, for example, follow the same layout and structure while each featuring a different relevant an interesting image.
3) Skill/Topic/Persona Tags
Depending on your business and industry, you likely have a different buyer personas, whether you segment your target audience by demographics, skill level, topic interest, or something else. So if part of your strategy is to create content that is personalized for or targeted to these different audience segments, one helpful way to organize and differentiate between your content assets is through a tagging system. Incorporate your schema in your ebook design so your readers know which particular ebooks will be of interest to them, and which ebooks won't. You can do this in a number of ways -- through iconography, color schemes, or tags.
4) An Author Page
Another design element you might want to include in your ebooks is an author page, particularly if you have multiple members of your team creating ebooks. For example, if the author of the ebook is an expert on that topic, an author page that highlights the author's bio and relevancy to the topic is a great way to add credibility to the content. On your author page, include a brief bio of the author, a headshot, and if you choose to, a way for readers to get in touch with the author if they have questions, such as an email address, Twitter username, or phone number.
As an added internal benefit, you might find that members of your team are more willing to spend time creating ebook content if they know their efforts will be recognized publicly through an author page.
5) A Table of Contents
A staple for any book, both print or digital, be sure to include a table of contents in every ebook you publish. The table of contents not only gives readers a sense of how the ebook is organized, but it also makes it easy for them to reference individual chapters if they decide only certain ones are relevant to them or if they want to refer back to specific sections later. To make this even more user-friendly for your readers, some programs like Adobe InDesign make it possible for you to hyperlink chapters/sections, creating an interactive table of contents that allows readers to jump to a certain section of the ebook when they click on the corresponding link in the table of contents.
6) Chapter Title Pages
Clearly distinguish one chapter from the next with chapter title pages. This gives readers a clear indication of their progress through the book and helps set the stage for the section they are about to read. It can also serve as a landing page for that interactive table of contents you may have set up in number 5 above.
7) Social Sharing Buttons
We've talked before about the importance of including social sharing buttons in your marketing content. Sure, the landing page that hosts your ebook download is a great place for these buttons, but why not also stamp them onto the pages of your ebooks as well? It makes sense, right? A potential reader might not feel comfortable sharing your ebook before they've read it and know they like the content, but while they're reading it? That's a different story.
Add these buttons to each page of your ebook -- either in the header or the footer -- so readers can easily share the book with their social networks no matter how far through it they've read. Just be sure you're sharing links to the ebook's landing page -- not thank-you page. Innovative Marketing's ebooks, for example, include social sharing buttons for Twitter on each page. For help in creating these social media buttons for your ebooks, check out this handy guide.
8) Visual Elements
There's nothing more overwhelming to a reader than big chunks of copy organized as large blocks of text. Going overboard with text density in an ebook can be a very big deterrent to a reader, especially when they're reading on a screen (think mobile device!).
Break up your "big chunks of copy" and "large blocks of text" with visual elements to emphasize or explain certain points more visually. We're talking anything from headers, bolded text, and bullet points to screenshots, images, charts, and graphs. Furthermore, leverage content visualizations when appropriate to help you explain concepts that are difficult to explain through text and lend themselves to more visual explanations. Be sure to keep your visuals in line with your brand style guide. Translate images, graphs, and charts to conform to your guidelines in terms of style and color scheme.
9) Product/Service Call-Outs
While ebooks can be created to achieve certain goals, the way most marketers use ebooks is to generate new leads at the top of the funnel or convert a lead in the middl of the funnel. Top of the funnel ebook content should be primarily educational -- not product focused -- in nature. That does not mean you can't or shouldn't sneak in a few mentions of your product or service in when appropriate. In fact, when people are just starting to learn about your business in the awareness stage of the sales cycle, they probably know very little about the products and services you offer.
Use educational ebooks as an opportunity to connect your thought leadership with product awareness. One way to do this in your ebook content is with subtle product mentions and call-outs when you mention a problem or need in your ebook that your products or services address. How much of these should you include? The key here is balance. Make sure the educational value of the ebook makes up for your product awareness plugs.
While your ebook is a digital publication, you'll likely be offering it as a downloadable file such as a PDF, and despite what you might think, many of the people who download will actually prefer to print it out and read it on paper rather than on a screen. For this reason, it's important to make sure your ebooks are printer-friendly. For example, avoid designs that leverage double-page, horizontal layouts that don't translate well to print. The best way to know if your design is printer-friendly? Print it yourself!
Furthermore, you'll also want to make sure your ebook file is mobile-friendly. Does your ebook PDF view well on a smartphone and various e-readers/tablets? Test it out!
If you're considering making your ebook available for sale through ebook marketplaces like the Kindle Store, things get a little bit more complicated. You'll need to conform to the specific ebook format of that particular store, and you'll likely need to make changes to the style, design, and file of your ebook. In general, you'll need to modify your ebook to embody a very simple design with few visuals and limited formatting. Publishing services like Lulu.com can make this process more easily manageable.
11) A Final Call-to-Action
The last critical element that should be a part of your ebook design is the call-to-action! After a reader has completed the ebook, what action do you want them to take next? Tell them!
Perhaps you'd like to encourage them to move from the awareness stage of the sales cycle onto the evaluation stage of the sales cycle. In this case, feature a call-to-action for a middle-of-the-funnel stage offer on the last page of your ebook, introducing it to the reader in a way that is relevant and logical.
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