Katrina Balmaceda


Content Strategist | With Content

Ebooks started out as electronic versions of printed books. But plenty of free ebooks today are made exclusively for the web. In fact, they’re often created to generate leads online.

Companies create valuable and attractive content in ebook format, put it up on their website, and ‘gate’ it by requiring people to fill out a form in exchange for downloading.

So they’re not technically free—you ‘unlock’ the content by providing information about yourself. This may include your email address, full name, contact number, job title, company name, industry, and location.

Here’s a sample form for an ebook on freelance work, produced by a printing company:

This information is then used by the company to lead you down the marketing and sales funnel.

Since so many companies offer free ebooks online, it’s important to stand out. The major ‘selling’ point of ebooks, of course, is the value of the content they offer. How useful is the ebook to the target audience? Does it offer in-depth content that one can’t typically find in blogs?

But it’s not just about what you say—it’s also about how you say it. And that’s why it’s also important for ebooks to have an attractive, reader-friendly design.

We’ve searched the web for 25 free ebooks that offer both high-value content and good design.


25 free ebooks to get inspired by

Pay Me or Else! by Lior Frenkel

As the title shows, this ebook is pretty upfront about a problem many freelancers face—clients who refuse to pay. Frenkel writes with humor, making it a fun read.

Like Frenkel’s writing style, the ebook’s design is bold and fun. Each chapter’s title page features colorful graphics, while the rest of the book contains plain text laid out with sufficient white space.

Frenkel sprinkles anecdotes throughout the book, either based on his own experience or those of his friends. He provides examples of what not to do (e.g., don’t shame a client online) and what you should definitely do, like create a contract or document clearly stating the scope of your service and terms of payment.

The book ends on a positive note, giving freelancers advice on how to avoid situations where clients refuse to pay. It also offers advice from freelance designers.


10 Essential Pillars of Employee Engagement by Officevibe

This free ebook was written by Jacob Shriar, director of customer happiness at Officevibe. Shriar aims to give HR managers a manual for measuring employee engagement using emotional metrics.

Emotional metrics are much harder to measure than financial metrics, but the former are key to understanding employees’ wellness, happiness, and relationship quality with managers, as well as other work-related aspects.

The ebook design repeatedly uses a calm, light shade of blue. This color is used as a background for chapter title pages, as the font color for headers, as a background for page numbers, and other page elements. In contrast, each emotional metric is represented by a brightly colored icon.

Throughout the ebook, the text is broken up by pull quotes, calling attention to important points. The layout avoids monotony by inserting relevant photos.


Curiosity Got the Cat Promoted by Interana

Interana, a behavioral analytics software company, does a good job of making a highly technical topic interesting. The title itself is enough to intrigue potential readers.

Once you dive in, you’ll be presented with Interana’s argument about why behavioral analytics is essential to a company’s digital transformation. It explains that behavioral analytics is different from data reporting tools like Google Analytics, because the former involves more complex analyses, such as segmenting behaviors and modeling complex behavioral flows.

In one of the ebook’s useful text boxes, Interana provides examples of questions that companies can answer with the right behavioral analytics tools (see above).

At 11 pages, the ebook doesn’t appear lengthy, but the font size is on the small side. Interana makes up for this by providing sufficient white space and providing text boxes and colorful diagrams.


Recurring Revenue: The Secret to Scaling Your Agency by Flywheel

This free ebook provides four tips to scaling an agency business. Since it’s about money, the decision to use different shades of green as the main color element makes sense.

Where necessary, the ebook emphasizes important points by using a bold typeface, adding a pull quote, or using white text on a green background.

For example, it provides a bullet-point list of questions—written with a bold typeface—that agencies should ask when figuring out a pricing model.

In other sections, Flywheel’s ebook offers quick tips for making turnkey websites, reselling hosting, and creating site maintenance plans. They connect to Flywheel’s service offering, which is managed WordPress hosting.


The Building Blocks of Visual Hierarchy by UXPin

UXPin’s ebook is a useful guide to understanding the five most basic elements of visual hierarchy—size, color, layout, spacing, and style.

Each element is explained in clear, friendly language, and accompanied with examples of hierarchy in website design. After each example, the reader gets “quick tips for creating visual hierarchy with style.”

For example, it offers “quick tips for creating visual hierarchy through layout.” These are then briefly explained and supplemented with instructional examples.

The page shown above is an example of the tip “take advantage of user sight patterns.” The numbers and arrows indicate where the page visitor will likely look first, second, third, and fourth.

UXPin’s point is that you can influence where your readers look first by strategically using basic visual hierarchy elements.


Attention-Driven Design by Oli Gardner

Gardner discusses 23 visual principles for designing landing pages that convert. The co-founder of Unbounce, a software company that produces landing pages for websites, Gardner is an expert on the topic.

Gardner maintains a conversational tone even while positioning himself as an expert on persuasive landing pages.

The ebook is not only attention-driven, but also data-driven, as it provides examples of landing pages that work and don’t work, as well as showing the results of A/B tests (see above).


Content Marketing Survival Guide by Content Marketing Institute

“Navigating social media for content marketing can be a little like entering a dark forest without a map,” writes CMI. The cover imagery reflects this viewpoint, as do the graphics used throughout the e-book, such as a compass and a backpack.

This free ebook discusses 12 social media networks, providing data and examples of how marketers use them to distribute content. For example, it provides a table showing the percentage of marketers who use LinkedIn to share B2B and B2C content, as well as the percentage of those who find it an effective distribution channel.

It then goes on to explain how a certain company—in this case, music business Pandora—uses LinkedIn for content distribution.

It also offers a handy cheat sheet for making a social media content plan—but we’re not going to show it here. You’ll have to download the ebook to see it!


How to Start a Blog by Ogi Djuraskovic, Kristi Hines and the FirstSiteGuide Team

If there’s one word to describe the look of this e-book, it’s fun. From beginning to end, it uses visuals that remind you of light-hearted Pixar films.

Take, for example, this series of footsteps that follow your progress throughout one section of the ebook. The section outlines steps for setting up a blog.

The topics start from the basics, such as setting up a blog on WordPress, to more advanced activities like monetizing a blog.

Apart from giving advice on how to start and succeed at blogging, this free ebook lists tons of tools, from copywriting and publishing to SEO and analytics. For beginner bloggers—especially those who don’t consider themselves ‘techies’—these tools make it so much easier to start and grow a blog.


2016 Trends in Cybersecurity by Microsoft

Blue is widely considered a color of security and trustworthiness, making it a good choice for Microsoft’s ebook on cybersecurity. It uses different shades of blue for its various design and page elements.

The ebook also comes with colored graphs. Important information is displayed in large font sizes, without any other text or images on the page.

Besides presenting graphs, the ebook explains what the data means and why it matters, as you’ll see in the sample page below:

By providing plenty of white space, splitting text with subheadings, and visualizing data, Microsoft shows that an ebook on a highly complex topic can be reader-friendly.


The Freelancer’s Bible by Route 1 Print

What makes this ebook work visually is its clear design theme, which you can see in every single page. Both the text and graphics come in blue and gray. Translucent blue circles and a background pattern of gray zigzag lines are used to highlight titles and images.

It also uses different visualization styles to present freelancing-related statistics.

And, of course, the ebook offers practical help, answering questions like “should I get VAT-registered?”. It also offers tips on things like workflow management, client relationships, how to charge for services, increase revenue, and how to build an online profile.

Anyone thinking of building a freelance career—or just starting to do so—will find this ‘bible’ a valuable resource.


How to Use Content to Excel at Social Selling by the Digital Marketing Institute

The Digital Marketing Institute uses a shade of blue that matches its logo as the main color of this ebook—a classic example of visual branding. The cover uses a yellow background, making the blue stand out even more and catching readers’ attention with contrast and vivid colors.

Full page images break up the text here and there, serving as a background for important quotes.

It also builds the case for content’s usefulness in social selling. It’s a strategy that, according to the book’s statistics, few sales professionals apply. To convince sales professionals, it first provides proof of how content can drive sales conversions, then offers easy to follow steps for content creation, curation, and distribution.


The Sales Handbook by Intercom

The Sales Handbook is a four-part series of ebooks targeting startup SaaS companies. Here are the ebooks in the series:

  1. Developing a Sales Strategy
  2. Growing Your Sales Team
  3. Modern Sales Techniques
  4. Real-Time Sales

As of the time of writing, only the first three ebooks have been released:

Each ebook shares advice from sales and business leaders, including those from venture capital firms and a SaaS training company:

If you look at the examples above, you’ll see that each article focuses on a specific aspect of the sales process. That’s the main strength of this ebook series—the articles are written by people who’ve been there, done that. They’ve experienced the sales process firsthand and can pinpoint problems and solutions for sales teams.

From a visual perspective, notice how each ebook in the series chooses a single solid color for its cover page background, and uses it throughout the book as a page border and a font color for titles.

When necessary, it visualizes data, too. And we all know sales people love their charts.


Data-Driven Marketing by Clearbit

At 294 pages, this ebook is massive. It’s also pretty straightforward, delivering information, instruction, and examples.

The ebook owes its length to the spectrum of topics it covers, which includes PR, SEO, marketing analytics, drip email sequences, and even customer onboarding. Here’s the table of contents.

For this ebook, Clearbit worked with influencers—a marketing tactic in itself. The chapters are written by people in the B2B marketers, analysts, customer success leads, entrepreneurs, and SaaS experts.

The ebook’s design reflects its writing style—straightforward, no frills. Aside from chapter title pages, the text is presented in a simple black typeface.

That said, graphs and screenshots do break up the text. Once in a while, a subtle, very light blue box draws the eye to important sections, such as data relevant to case studies discussed in the chapter.


GDPR for Beginners by Contractbook and Core Risk Consulting

This is certainly a timely topic, as anyone who uses data of people in the European Union needs to learn how to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. That includes marketers who rely on customer data, cookies, and behavioral analytics.

While this free ebook uses cartoonish graphics, it also uses a corporate shade of blue—thus balancing playfulness with the seriousness of legal issues.

And since it’s written for beginners, it adopts a friendly, conversational tone, even while explaining legalese. Marketers who use customer data will learn about the type of documents they need to submit, agreements with data processors, and citizens’ privacy rights under the GDPR.


Secret Sauce by LinkedIn

In this free ebook, LinkedIn takes its ‘secret sauce’ metaphor literally by displaying bottles, chilis (blue, like the brand’s logo, of course), and flame. This ebook is all about how they ‘turn up the heat’ on their marketing campaigns—and how you can do the same.

The cooking imagery is repeated in every chapter, together with a slate gray background.

Images, diagrams, and screenshots are shown in almost every page, enriching the ebook with relevant examples for marketers to emulate.

And of course, it’s a great peek into the strategies of the LinkedIn marketing team. You’ll learn about the different placements LinkedIn uses for ad and marketing content, their marketing objectives, how they do A/B testing, and even how they label their campaigns.

The LinkedIn team is generous in sharing examples of their campaigns. The page above, for example, shows A/B tests that they’ve run, and describes the results.


How to Generate Leads with Infographics by Piktochart and HubSpot

This ebook’s one of our own. You’ll notice that our layout consistently includes an image that takes up half of almost every page. Since this ebook has a landscape orientation, this design decision makes each page look like a double-page spread.

The icons throughout the book use a consistent style, while blue-green color is used repeatedly.

All in all, the ebook offers 11 tactics for optimizing your infographics and using them to generate leads. After all, even the most well-written, well-designed infographic is useless if the right target audience doesn’t see it.


Sprout Social Index 2018

Like a few others on this list, this is more of a report than an ebook. However, it’s a content marketing asset offered by a company to generate leads—just like all the ebooks mentioned here.

Sprout Social offers a colorful and comprehensive report on how marketers should redefine their social strategies this year. With useful data and beautiful visualizations, this ebook is highly quotable and shareable. It’s based on the insights of more than 2,000 marketers, cross-referenced against consumers’ social media preferences and behaviors.

Marketers and designers can learn a thing or two from how Sprout Social repeats the same set of analogous colors and use quirky, interesting data visualizations instead of typical, old-school graphs.


The Top 20 Reasons Why Startups Fail by CB Insights

With cartoonish graphics, CB Insights manages to make such a grim topic look cute.

Each of the 20 reasons why startups fail is presented the same way—with a drawing, a brief explanation, and a quote from a founder:

CBI arrived at this list by analyzing 101 startup failure post-mortems. It was a great decision to include quotes from startup founders, as these allow readers to learn more about their experiences and their reflections after the failure.


Learning and Earning by The Economist

This special report follows The Economist magazine’s layout, which means it uses a small font size and is text heavy. It does have its visual strengths, though.

One is the cover page, which uses an interesting caricature and shades close to the primary colors of blue, yellow, and red. The same graphic style and color schemes are used on the next page.

As the article continues, it expands on the color palette, adding hues like neon pink and green. The visuals increasingly adopt a finely spray-painted look.

And this being The Economist, you can expect a well-researched, in-depth discussion on how technology has influenced the connection between education and employment. It offers anecdotes, research data, and the magazine’s signature wit.


The Next 600 Million by Adyen

Not every space needs to be filled—and Adyen gets that.

This ebook comes with plenty of white space, complemented by vividly colored photographs. The style is minimalist and uses only two font colors.

Adyen’s ebook discusses key payment methods in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore. Discussing different countries, rather than simply talking about the region as a whole, is a good move. After all, Southeast Asia is diverse—so any payments company that seeks to attract the region’s shoppers needs to understand each country’s practices.


Secret Blogging Formula by MeetEdgar

If you look at MeetEdgar’s homepage, you’d describe its vibe as playful. On the website banner, an animated crocheted octopus (yes, really) moves closer towards you as watch. This reflects the company’s logo, which is that of an octopus.

MeetEdgar’s ebook design is similarly fun, using shades of blue and purple and featuring drawings throughout.

The ebook focuses on one topic—blogging—and avoids trying to accomplish too much. Instead of covering a wide array of topics, it dives into the basics that beginner bloggers need to know about—how to brainstorm posts, write them, and promote them.

So despite the fancy design, this ebook manages to keep things niche and simple.


The Event Organizer’s Ultimate Guide to Productivity by Eventbrite and Asana

According to Forbes, ‘event coordinator’ was the fifth most stressful job of 2017. If that describes your job, you may find this ebook useful. Eventbrite and Asana promise to help you gain more control over your to-do list and improve your time management.

Thankfully, the ebook has a cheerful design—so you can maybe take your mind off the pressure for a while.

Featuring bright cyan and lots of white space, the layout is easy on the eyes. To top it off, the ebook provides a “getting things done” workflow for event organizers.


Demystifying Social ROI by Hootsuite

For marketers trying to understand how to measure social ROI, Hootsuite’s ebook is a good place to start. It identifies relevant metrics and steps for measurement.

The ebook uses gray as a versatile background color that helps emphasize the vibrance of other hues. The high contrast between a dark gray background and bright cyan font makes the text more readable, too.

Elsewhere, yellow and blue are used to accent the text, while images break the monotony of layouts.


FB Ads Cost 2017 Benchmarks by AdEspresso

AdEspresso’s ebook is full of charts comparing the cost of Facebook ads in 20 countries. So if you advertise to customers in those places, you’ll find each chart useful for benchmarking your Facebook ads cost.

Given the amount of attention and analysis that each page requires from readers, AdEspresso keeps the design simple, removing visual clutter and distractions. It sticks with two colors—blue and green—and uses varying shades when necessary.


Digital Marketing for Beginners by Moo and HubSpot

With a mostly pastel palette and a geometrical theme, this is one good-looking e-book. It uses a landscape orientation to make the most out of the geometric shapes that serve as either backgrounds or borders.

Moo and HubSpot’s ebook design also respects white space. At the same time, it adds charm by placing simple icons above pull quotes.

And of course, being targeted to beginners, it keeps the writing simple. It offers simple steps for getting started with different aspects of digital marketing, such as doing competitor research.


Make your own ebook

As you’ve seen from the examples above, ebooks come in different shapes and lengths. Some offer a comprehensive discussion of a topic, while others focus on a niche subject. Some like to add color and whimsy on every page, while others use minimal embellishments.

If you’re trying to make your own ebooks, here are some ebook templates to get you started. Each comes with different sections, such as a table of contents, introduction, tips (do’s and dont’s), case studies, and your value proposition. All templates are easy to edit and customize.

Check out which ebook template suits your content, objective, and industry.

01. Use this pastel-themed ebook template to create a charming design

ebook template

02. Use this ebook template for a ‘chill’ theme—think travel hacks
ebook template

03. Use this ebook template for an understated, cozy feel
ebook template

04. Use this ebook template for a business-like approach
ebook template

 

05. Use this ebook template to evoke a laid-back, creative vibe

ebook template

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