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Join us (the gals at nonfik) as we try to read every free business ebook that has ever been published. We'll choose our favorite ebook for each topic and keep a running list of free ebook best practices. All to help you answer one question:
What makes a good free ebook?

free ebook best practices
what makes a good free ebook?

All the key insights you need to make a free guide that will not only add value, but also delight your readers

focus on readability, not beauty
survey reports
sample size doesn't matter as much as you might think
an always up-to-date list of books that use "the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place"


Free ebook best practices: Titles
direct, descriptive, delightful: choosing an ebook title that drives downloads

tl;dr: The title of your free marketing ebook should accomplish several things, in this order:

- Briefly explain the contents or purpose – when in doubt, an on-the-nose ebook title beats vague or misleading
- Pitch the book without anyone needing to even crack it open – specifically, you should be speaking your target audience’s language
- If you’ve got room left over, try to keep things catchy, interesting, and/or memorable

the free ebook title to beat
a sizzling hot guide to cold sales emails

see the ebook →

How to create an effective ebook title

Marketing your free B2B ebook starts with the cover. We’re talkin’ titles. Your target demographic is probably looking for answers or instruction. So to market to them, your title should either explain one of the big takeaways of the book or distill it down into the basic goal or concept.

like this →

Long titles are common for B2B marketing ebooks because keeping it short and sweet is actually more difficult. It’s not easy trying to be cutesy while also hitting those keywords. The danger is that your title can drag on for too long. That’s when you’ll really have to get creative to keep things interesting.

a rare example of pithy

a mouthful but easy on the ears

If you’ve already come up with a straightforward version of the title, there should be time enough to rework it and add in the wonder. Ideally, your title sticks with the audience; intrigues and impresses them enough that they’ll download your free guide over a competitor’s. Leveraging language is the trick here.

- Try punchy word choice (throw in a strong verb, maybe an unexpected noun or adjective).
- Add some alliteration or a pun.
- Choose words that either match up in length or play off of each other to create a pleasant rhythm.

And when in doubt, there’s always the old "short title paired with longer subtitle" trick that almost every vertical uses at some point:

customer support



free growth & marketing ebook best practices
don't show us examples; tell us your advice
the free Growth guide to beat
sherlock's Product-Qualified Leads: The What, the Why, the How

When it comes to growth and marketing ebooks, "show, don't tell" isn't the way to go. You should be using every opportunity to tell your audience something pointedly valuable, whether that's in your direct copy, an SME soundbite, or some sort of cute fun fact section. Not showing them out-of-reach goals that maybe they can strive for. And not sharing one-off examples that are basically impossible to iterate from.

see the ebook →

the free marketing guide to beat
How to Build a Custom Content Marketing Strategy by Airtable

Do your ebook case studies include an angle on "How They Did It?" The only relevant parts of a success story are what your readers can take away and apply in their own business. And quotes from professional marketers, while appreciated, need to offer more than a pretty sounding soundbite.

Airtable's guide to content strategy is actually weaker for the inclusion of multiple studies, but still so valuable outside of them that we have to give it a nod.

get the mostly good stuff →

free guide best practices: language choice
it's OK to strive for OK writing
tl;dr: an average ebook is still miles ahead of a bad one

- One of the only copy sins you can really commit is sloppiness: confusing language, verbose sentences, and unedited passages won't cut it for a B2B audience
- Carefullycrafted language can really elevate ebook copy if you execute well and with purpose — but it takes a steady, patient hand. A dry, well-written piece with stylistic flair peppered in usually makes more sense

how to write a b2b marketing ebook well

Your marketing ebook's main goal: inform. A secondary goal: keep your audience reading. All other language choices are secondary to these goals, which is a pretty low bar to clear. Just write to be understood and easily read.

Basically, do you have writing that never gets in its own way? So as long as you haven't tossed a word salad and just slapped "free guide" on it, you're probably doing all right. But we've looked through our ebook troves and put together a quality-of-writing spectrum you can use as a yardstick.

straightforward and readworthy

see how pandadoc did it →

Most of this ebook is written simply. Clean, valuable copy that just works. But one place where they splurge on language is the intro. It opens with a dash of personality, and, by the end, leaves you with the feeling that what you're about to read is legit. Even though this tone doesn't really carry through the rest of the book, you've already been hooked by the intro.

turn-a-phrase that made us smile

"During any given quota, we can be found tossing and turning over our quotas and commissions. But buried deep down in our sales psyche is a frustrating objection we experience way too often."

questionable but worthwhile

see callhippo's ebook →

With strange phrasing and a handful of grammatical faux pas (plus misspelling "hola" as "Holla!"), this sales ebook undermines itself. Even so, it generally holds its value. From a reader standpoint, it isn't poorly written — still easy to get through, simple to understand, and flows nicely. But little language errors are distracting and, when they add up, may call your authority into question. Never give your audience a reason to ask, "Did they copy edit this? Did they outsource it?"

lines that made us cringe

- "That's why it's important to conduct that call with good etiquettes."
- "Your business partners may perceive you as rude or unprofessional which is un-intended."
- "Keep in mind these things."

too unpolished to pass

you can do better, glassbox →

Whether this analytics guide has valuable info or not, it doesn't change the fact that it's a pain to read. Sentences are wordy and awkward. It often feels like talking in circles instead of writing for clarity. And passive voice? Rookie mistake. Sure, it's all workable — but why do readers have to put in the effort? If your ebook sounds like this, it needs an edit that's a little more intense than spit-shine polish.

lines that had us raising an eyebrow

- "This playbook will focus on analyzing data to unlock insights that will add real value to the user's digital journey. It is supported by guides..."
- "Generating actionable insights is a process intended to drive value."
- "Receiving an experience optimized for each device they use."

stylistic greatness

gusto, we're in love →

On the other end of the spectrum, this handbook is a tour de force of unique language. Gusto begins establishing a voice as early as the table of contents. And by the time the first page ends, they've already fully set the tone and pulled you in to what's essentially a branded reading experience. It works in this case because form follows function. Gusto is setting an example, illustrating in real-time some of their lessons about engaging the audience.

the most delightful lines

- "Why hello there! Welcome to employee handbook land - the trusty legend you and your team need to find your merry little way."
- "Plus, we even turned this entire thing on its head. Comics, checklists, and other surprises will add some much-needed spice to this whole handbook shebang....Now, what are you waiting for? Find a comfy chair, cuddle up with this guide, and get your handbook on."

free guide best practices: ebook length
what's the point, not the page count
tl;dr: what first impression does the length of your ebook give readers?

- Less than 20 pages will feel like a short ebook
- 30 to 60 pages is the usual length many ebooks fall into
- 80 pages and above gets into long ebook territory but it's not atypical
- At 150+ pages your ebook may induce some sticker shock. It better pull its weight

So how long should your B2B marketing ebook be?

There's no real "correct" length or word count. You need enough pages to get all your information across, and you should stop when everything's covered. The broader the subject, the longer your ebook can be without feeling watered down.

We've found there is a sweet spot. But it varies from book to book. It doesn't matter if an ebook is 250 pages long if every section feels necessary to the narrative arc, so to speak. At the very least, make the information so well-written and valuable that we can overlook some clearly self-promotional interludes.

airtable got away with it →

tiny but mighty

Likewise, you can pull off short and sweet by picking a narrow topic and spending each moment of that ebook digging into it thoroughly. We'll come away feeling well-versed in half the time. But when a brief ebook stuffs its page count with multiple, un-actionable case studies or tangential topics, it's obvious. And a drag.

see how docusign did it →

embrace white space

Keep formatting in mind. At any length, you want a book that's easy to read. Which means you should never cram as many words as possible on every page just to keep page count down. Your actual word count isn't changing — just word density!

the king of acceptable white space →

a text vs. graphic balancing act

Including data and infographics? (Or good old-fashioned illustrations?) They take up a lot of room. Go into the creation process cognizant of, and committed to, the bump in ebook length. Embrace it and work around it.

gusto did it right →

free SALES ebook best practices
action over theory

Between prospecting, outbound, internal meetings, pipeline management, and actual selling, it's no secret that salespeople are doers more than anything else. And there's nothing doers hate more than long-winded ramblings they have trouble actioning on.

That's why SaaS sales guides excel when they include concrete instructions and examples with scripts (along with brief thoughts on why the philosophy is the right one).

Our advice to anyone writing a Sales ebook: Pick just one problem and solve it from start to finish as comprehensively as you can. Bonus points for referencing data and your own experiences.

one-problem wonder →

the free sales guide to beat's SaaS Sales for Startup Founders

We know: pretty broad topic. This SaaS sales guide delivers on it by being nearly 200 pages but surprisingly easy to read and always actionable, with short chapters divided up by problems-to-be-solved. Straight how-to knowledge is peppered with guided questions that work because they're so timely, just one step within a larger sales framework.

see the book →

free ebook best practices: design
focus on readability, not beauty

Free ebooks don't have to be beautiful, but they have to be well-designed. That means, when given the choice between "this looks cool" and "this is easy to read," you need to always choose the latter. Otherwise, the only thought you'll be a leader of is, Oof — what a headache.

salmon text is a bad idea →

the free ebook design to beat
growbots' the art of customer acquisition

We could go on about the high-contrast colors and multiple heading levels, but what really takes this ebook's design to a higher level is the cheat sheet at the end. It's a clickable, scannable index-meets-outline that gives you all the key points in way fewer pages.

see the book →

free SURVEY REPORT best practices
sample size doesn't matter as much as you might think

There is obviously a minimum bar to hit (5 people does not a data report make), but even 50 survey respondents can be enough if you ask more in-depth questions and position the answers as actionable insights.

case in point →

the free survey report you have to beat
productboard's 2020 product excellence report

The sample size is sub 1k, but the slick graphics and actionable insights more than make up for it. You'll leave this survey report feeling like you read a comprehensive how-to guide backed by data.

see the report →

Nonfik rant
our least favorite ebook quote
"the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place"

Said by George Bernard Shaw. Circa a long time ago.

In case you wanted to know who this genius businessman was, I looked him up for you. He was a playwright. A Marxist playwright. Estimated net worth? $1-$5 million.

I don't know if this quote is some B2B SaaS copywriter's secret signature or if this man's plays are poised for a comeback, but please consider this my official petition to put a moratorium on this quote that sounds good but doesn't work in as many contexts as you think.

In fact, here's an always-updated list of the free business books we've encountered that use this quote.