5 reasons to ditch the PDF eBook from your content marketing

The PDF eBook has been a staple of content marketing for a very long time, and for good reason too.

It’s a great lead or subscriber magnet to offer people, and when done right it can significantly increase the amount of leads you generate and help build your all important email list.

So when I sat down to plan out our latest guide on How to get Better Marketing Results with Beautiful Design, my natural inclination was to create a PDF eBook that would live behind a landing page with a lead capture form.

The medium wasn’t even part of my planning to be brutally honest. I started mapping out the usual things like goals, target audience, and promotional channels and didn’t even give a second thought to the format the content would take.

It wasn’t until one of the members of our design team put forward the idea of doing a microsite that I really took a second to assess why I went straight for the PDF.

And to be perfectly honest, with the exception of “That’s just how it’s always done”, I couldn’t think of any reason why creating a PDF would be beneficial over doing a microsite.

So instead of creating a traditional PDF eBook and putting it behind a landing page with a form, we decided to make our content piece a website, and here are 5 reasons you should consider doing so as well:

1. More exposure through search engines

Although a typical eBook landing page can be indexed by search engines and drive some traffic, most I’ve seen only contain a few hundred words and would be lucky to rank for the main title of the eBook.

By creating a website on the other hand, we’re able to attract a whole new set of visitors from search engines that we never would have reached through our planned promotional campaigns.

Speaking specifically of our latest guide on How to Get Better Marketing Results with Beautiful Design, there are over 5000 words across 13 pages targeted at terms like ‘How to create desire for your product’ and ‘beautiful stock photography websites’. All that extra content on a website for Google to index means the big G will drive traffic for us long after our promotional campaigns come to an end.

In fact, although this guide has only just been launched, Campaign Monitor has been publishing guides to email marketing for years and placing them on the web as opposed to in PDF’s. Looking at the numbers, those guides generate us around 50,000 visitors each month despite not being actively promoted. Can you guess where majority of that traffic comes from? Search engines.

Now I understand the counter argument to this might be that people are able to find and access the content without hitting a landing page and submitting their email address, but if you had written the content as a PDF these people likely wouldn’t have found the content anyway. I’d rather have a few extra people find, read and be influenced by the content without giving me their email address then have these people not find it at all.

2. Access to a larger audience using responsive design

I love my iPhone 5 to bits, but have you ever tried to read a PDF on such a small screen size? It’s not a pleasant experience. Most PDF’s are designed for viewing on a desktop or even on paper, and on a small device like an iPhone you need to zoom right in for the text to be large enough to read. Then, because it isn’t responsive, you have to scroll side to side as you read each line. It isn’t fun.

With a website on the other hand, you can employ some basic responsive design techniques and suddenly your content is a pleasure to read on any device.

I know I personally do most of my reading on the train during my morning commute, and by making your content piece a responsive website, your readers can consume your content on whatever device and in whatever location suits them.

3. Better Analytics & Reporting Capabilities

By simply installing the Google Analytics tracking code on your content website, you can get a wealth of information about how people interact with and consume your content.

Instead of just being able to track visits to the landing page & total downloads, you can see a whole host of other information such as:

  • How many people actually read the content piece vs just downloading it
  • How many pages people read
  • Where they dropoff in the content piece
  • How long they spend reading it
  • What devices they are reading it on
  • Whether they shared the content or not
  • What network they shared the content over

Better still, you can break all this information down by a variety of factors to get deep insights into how people are engaging with your content.

So you could compare whether people arriving from Twitter spend more time reading the content than those from Facebook? Or whether people coming from email share the content more than those from search? Or whether Americans read more pages than Australians do?

This is important because a download isn’t the whole story. A person who reads the whole content piece then shares it over Facebook & Twitter is a much more engaged & higher-value reader than someone who just downloaded it but never actually got around to reading it, and you can’t know that with a PDF.

4. Faster to produce

As any content marketer would know, creating great long-form content is a lengthy process and is often approached using a waterfall methodology. Writers do the research and writing, editors proof and edit the copy, and then the whole thing goes over to design & development to design the PDF, build the landing pages and hook it all up to your email marketing tool.

When it’s a website though, you can create content in a much more agile methodology. As long as you knuckle out the structure first, design and development teams can be designing the website and building the theme on a CMS like WordPress, while the writers are still working on the copy. Once the copy is written, it can just be dropped into the CMS and suddenly it’s all there, beautifully formatted and ready to go.

If you need to change or add some content, there’s no need to waste time re-designing entire sections of a PDF either. Simply login to the CMS, make the change and you’re done.

5. A better user experience

The nature of a PDF also puts a lot of unnecessary constraints on your content. PDF’s are inherently boring documents, with basic text and static images on a page. The experience is also very monotonous, with most people reading in a linear fashion that is dictated your chosen page order rather than the needs and interests of the reader.

With a website however, you can add an almost endless amount of interactivity to your content piece which can really take your audience engagement to a new level, including:

  • VideosAccording to studies, when we are listening to someone speak our brain patterns start to couple with the speakers, mirroring each other in a way that increases our understanding of the message being communicated. By going beyond the static image and text of a PDF and incorporating video in your content website, you can communicate your key messages and learning in a much more effective, engaging manner.
  • Galleries – With a website, there’s no need to make your audience squint to see screenshots and images. You can use simple gallery plugins to show images full-screen when clicked and allow people to browse through and share your visual content.
  • Customisable navigation – PDF’s are inherently read in a linear fashion, with readers going page by page in a flow dictated by your chosen page order. However, sometimes people want to be able to choose their own path, reading only certain sections or perhaps diving deeper into particular areas they have a stronger interest in. With a content microsite, you can increase your readers engagement by enabling people to customise their experience with your content.

Some final words

Although it took a designer to snap me out of my complacency, developing our latest guide as a website rather than a PDF has been a great experience. It has significantly reduced both the time and stress involved in creating the guide, and we’re getting a much better, more measurable result out of it.

If you can’t quite ditch the PDF just yet, then perhaps take a hybrid approach. Tools like PDFmyURL can turn your content microsite into a PDF, and you can offer it for download to those who still love the feeling of a good old fashioned PDF eBook.

For those of you ready to embrace the future of content marketing, get yourself a WordPress install and make your next long-form content piece a microsite.

Aaron Beashel

Just two loves: marketing & surfing. When I'm not in the ocean, you'll find me helping B2B SaaS companies acquire and retain customers.


  • Liam Gooding

    14.10.2014 at 03:09 Reply

    Hi Aaron,

    Great post and very interesting tactic.

    I’m curious – have you done any measurement to compare how many opt-ins you’ve had from people browsing the microsite? And also, how many signups had a touchpoint on the microsite? (i.e. they browsed the site and came back at a later date to signup to Campaign Monitor, from cookie tracking)?

    I think while the openness of the content is great, and the increased eyeballs from Google seem great in principle, as a data-driven marketer you must be curious as to which method has the best impact on the bottom line?

    100 people signing up as customers is far better than 50,000 people browsing the content – but never signing up…? I recently did a typical “gated” content piece and was considering opening up a followup course which is why this post caught my eye 🙂

    p.s. the guide looks awesome 🙂

  • Aaron Beashel

    23.10.2014 at 14:51 Reply

    Hey Liam

    Thanks so much for taking your time to leave your thoughts and it’s a great point you make.

    The whole issue of gating content is a really interesting one, mainly because it’s so hard to prove which way is best. On one hand, gating content does directly generate leads which you can build relationships and convert into customers in a measurable way.

    On the other hand however, the broader exposure of not gating your content could result in just as many customers over time… It’s just much harder to measure the direct impact (particular in an A/B test scenario, which tends to have a limited time span).

    A key point to mention here is that i’m not necessarily saying you shouldn’t gate your content. I’m more arguing that instead of putting a PDF behind the gate, you should put a content website.

    You can still drive all the traffic from your email campaigns, advertisements, social posts, etc to a landing page that captures email addresses, but by making the actual content piece a website as opposed to a PDF you also pick up people from search who – although they not give their email on the landing page – are additional visitors you wouldn’t have had if you made it a unsearchable PDF.

    Does that make sense?


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