How to Write, Create / Publish, Market, and Sell an eBook or Information Product Online

SEO Question: I have a little personal side project going -- selling an info product (completely unrelated to SEO; it has to do with _____ and local markets) and I loved the simpleness of your delivery of your ebook. It was straight forward and easy to follow. I want to mimic your process -- I will be using Paypal too.

Any advice or pitfalls you encountered along the way? Techinical or otherwise? Just thought I'd ask someone who has been there before. Maybe save me some time / mistakes.

SEO Answers: There are many ways to go with selling info products. We'll start off with the pieces I think are important and then maybe others will add info at the end.

First you really have to survey the market.

How to survey:

  • Do keyword research, looking at things like Overture price and search volume. Perhaps even set up a test Google AdWords account.

  • If you know the market well what were the major questions you had when you were buying information and products about your market? You can use Google AdWords to collect feedback for what issues are important to others. Tell them you have a nearly completed book that will be for sale soon and that you will give them it free for feedback on what they would like to be in the book. Alex Mendosian calls this concept the Ask Database, although it may be just as easy to set up a form box that sent mail to a Gmail account and use tagging and their email search to sort through the feedback.
  • You can also search industry forums, blogs, and Google Groups to see what common problems and questions people have.
  • Do information products, software, and service products in your market have commonly complained about issues? If so you may want to make that part of your sales angle.

Competitive Analysis:

  • Does the business model and delivery model make sense? Sometimes by changing the format something can become hyper successful or a complete failure.

  • Look at the Clickbank marketplace to look at the sales techniques used by many people pushing affiliate marketing heavily in your vertical, related verticals, or verticals that would appeal to similar audience profiles.
  • Do link analysis on competing sites.
  • If you see one product appear in the regular search results and search ads many times that may be a hard site to compete with.
  • Buy competing products to see their whole sales cycle.
  • Look at high ranking search results for competing products names to see how deep their affiliate network is and if they have any mainstream news coverage. Also look to see what bloggers and forums say about them. How can you appeal to the various potential viral marketers of your product?

For most people it is typically going to be easier to work in an under saturated keyword market than it is to work in a hyper saturated one or create a keyword market from scratch. I did it the stubborn pig headed way and just sorta went after making my own market. It is working great now, but for about a year it was somewhat brutal.

Reacting to survey:

  • If a market is saturated you may not want to enter it or you may want to focus on a niche within that topic.

  • If people seemed to be exceptionally concerned about one issue then that might be a great sub niche to focus on. Especially if that niche seems complex and / or is high margin (or if the niche seems complex to others but is still rather easy to create a fairly automated high value service in).
  • If there is one or few exceptionally common problems with information items in your field you may want to use that as your marketing angle.

What is the goal of Creating Your Information Product:

  • To help people

  • Name recognition
  • Influence
  • Build a targeted audience or subscriber list
  • Direct profit
  • Indirect profit

Some ideas will help in multiple areas, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices in some of the categories to help your end goal along in other categories. Generally though if you can build a large enough targeted audience you can get any or many of the above in most fields.

Writing the Book:

  • Spend a day or a few days creating an outline before you write the book.

  • I used Word and Adobe PDF to make my ebook, although that was like a $600 or $700 spend buying those. If you want to go the cheap route OpenOffice is free. It has a program similar to Microsoft Word and a PDF creator inside of it. I distribute my ebook as a PDF.
  • I revised my book many times so it really is a bit hard for me to even say what the original looked like, but using short text, bulleted lists, and not trying to write at exceptionally advanced levels are good tips to live by if you are writing a how to book.
  • John T Reed wrote a book on how to write how to books. I think his general thesis and content are great, with the exception of his thoughts on online marketing and DRM. I reviewed his book here, and explained why I thought his views on DRM and search engine marketing were not up to par.
  • Do not feel you need to be stuck to a specific format. There are probably other formats that would sell as well or better, and maybe even at higher price points.

Digital Rights Management:

  • Piracy is a form of progressive taxation.

  • Retail only matters if you have reach and people are buying.
  • Time spent creating value is typically time better spent than time spent worrying about value you have yet to create.
  • If you intend to market heavily on affiliate networks like Clickbank and your product is internet marketing related expect lots of fraud if you do not use a DRM system. Since I do not use DRM people who buy my ebook are about 10 times as likely to ask for a refund or reverse charge their credit card if they bought through Clickbank than if they bought through Paypal.
  • If you plan on using Clickbank and are selling an internet marketing related product you may really want to use some DRM stuff so you can pull their right to use your tool or print your book if they ask for a refund. For $197 eBook Pro provides DRM. If you don't want to spend that much money and want to use Paypal as your shopping cart Payloadz is free off the start, and then its price scales up as you use it more.
  • Eventually I expect Google to create a micro payment system which ends up beating out Paypal. Google will become the default amateur video network and then extend the system out to other content formats.
  • If you sell a product and give it away to certain people make sure there is some taxing element to it. For example require some sort of authentication and require their email to match a qualifying website. When I did this it cut down on sleazy requests and associated fraudster hate email by over 90%. It made life way better.
  • Some people also try to buy feedback or require links to their site in exchange for giving their products to charities. I guess on some fronts that may work, but it is probably not something I would feel good doing, though in some markets doing a technique like that could be the difference between a highly profitable business and a venture that provided little to no returns.

Using Paypal:
You can use Payloadz to set up an affiliate program and to create temporary URLs which only make your download page available to individuals for a limited period of time.

If you are selling an information product and have no digital rights management make sure you encrypt your Paypal button so your order return location is not in the page content. When you create a payment button you also want to click the add more options button in Paypal and set your successful payment URL and cancel payment URL. If you do not set the cancel payment URL I believe visitors hitting the cancel button will be forwarded to your thank you page.

Business Models:
Typically most information products are used to up sell services or make up sells via affiliate links. Some ebooks, like the version of 33 Days to Online Profits I read, seem like they were primarily created to recommend as many affiliate programs as possible.

Do you want to go with a low price point (maybe even free) and try to raise your status, build an audience, and monetize that growing audience by sending them affiliate product offers or high end service offers?

Do you want to go with a high price point? If you go with a higher price point that will filter out many bad leads, but you sacrifice distribution with price. If you go with a higher price point it is recommended that you do not use affiliate links in your work or some will question the motive of your recommendations and why your price point is so high.

One Book or Many?
Many people selling ebooks and information products make far greater income than I do because they create products that rarely need updated, are hyper targeted, and sorta set and forget them after initially creating the sites.

Some people then push those sites via affiliates while others use AdWords and the like.

After you perfect the sales process with one or two it should be easy to churn out dozens more books and sites on other niche topics. If they each make around $1,000 or $2,000 a month you are making a great income.

It took me a while to start earning decent money, so it may take a few months before sales start rolling in. Make sure you are not duplicating errors in the sales process from site #1 on sites #2-12.

Give yourself time to learn from feedback from the early channels before duplicating those problems across a half dozen or dozen channels.

Marketing Your e book:
I started with absolutely zero authority or credibility, so you may not need to do all these steps, but here are the things I did.

  • Participate in communities discussing your topic. People who chat about your topic can also recommend your stuff. It is also where people as questions about your topic. If you are new to the market you can also learn a boatload of information by actively participating in topical forums. Forums can also create friendships that may last longer than your career does.

  • Write articles. I started writing articles about 4 months before I started selling my ebook. Whenever I wrote an article and syndicated it I noticed my phone started ringing and money flowed into the bank account. Cool for me. I really should get back to writing more articles!
  • Try to win the trust of influential voices in your industry. See if you can write an article for their site or if they would be willing to read a free review copy of your book.
  • If you ever get any publicity make sure you leverage it. If one of your articles is a hit, while you are popular for 15 seconds ensure the effect is lasting by trying to push other citations or ideas through. For example, while your site is hot and your name is in the news maybe that is a good time to request links from great resource sites or try to do a few link exchanges with sites you like. Of course with asking for links tact is important.
  • Write a topical blog. If people read your stuff daily then they can get to feel that they know and trust you. It also makes it easier to market your site in search results if your site is more than a one page sales letter. Conversation is easy to cite. I predict that many people will use a format similar to to sell information products.
  • Writing short witty posts that invoke laughter or other emotions is great, but if you want to convert new people in your industry into buying customers writing at a lower level and doing in depth posts probably works far better than the abstract funny high level stuff. It also helps build a large keyword rich database of pages that will rank for lots of random queries related to your field and target audience.
  • As an example of the above, my mother thinks we write Threadwatch in some sort of code. That site is not published in a format that is good for selling to people new to the SEO market. The content on this site probably does a better job of selling market entry products.
  • People love pictures of people and testimonials.
  • Sometimes the people who recommend your site and give you your authority are not the same people who buy your products. Make sure they have the opportunity to review your product.
  • Sometimes the concepts, ideas, and content which make people authoritative are different than what they make most of their money from. Think horizontally. Are there any vertical databases or viral ideas you could create to help market your brand or site?
  • Make it easy for people to do what you want them to do. For a while I advertised my ebook on the sidebar of my site. The day I moved it to the content area my income tripled.

If you put serious effort into your brand do not let your name and work be bundled with others without looking hard and long at the potential side effects. I totally screwed this tip up. I wrote a mini version of my ebook for someone else so they could bundle it with their software.

They did things like market their other free guide they wrote using the colors from my site. They also wrote my ebook sales price as the suggested value of my throw in book I gave them the rights to. I got dozens of support requests from their customers and some of them said that they would have bought my book long ago but they thought they already got it. Most people probably do not send me those sort of emails, and I probably threw away about 20 to 30% of my potential income with that one time fee partnership.

Another time I sold rights to a few thousand of my ebooks to a SEO related company so they could give it as a gift to their clients at Christmas. It was a nice cash bonus for me, but that also led to others giving away my ebook and business model without asking me. So even if a deal is a great deal there might be some unexpected side effects.

Joint Ventures:
I believe it is typically worth avoiding most joint ventures.

If you are not serious about being successful there is no point wasting someone elses time and envoking potential lawsuits. If you are serious about doing well most of the time the other person will undervalue what you can do.

If you are not well recognized as a trustworthy expert then the other person is also likey going to undervalue what you can do. If you are already well known then you have to ask yourself what value the other person adds that you can't buy for a one time fee instead of giving up liquidity or creating recurring expenses.

Worse yet, if you are in a category largely dependant on thin margins and the other person does next to no ongoing work and gets a cut that cut might turn shift your business away from profitable venture into the waste of time category, and a bad partnership may even take away your motivation to create and succeed.

Tracking Content Theft:
If you are pushing your name and your brand really hard I do not think you need to spend much time tracking potential content theft and distribution. If you are opinionated and publish frequently most of the market will know who you are. If others start to publish your works one of your kind readers will likely tell you about it.

If you go more of the one page salesletter site route you may want to use Copyscape, subscribe to search results related to your product, or some other method to look out for content theft.

Product Naming:
This is not something I would call myself an expert at, but my short list of criteria in things I would look for in the name of something I was going to work exceptionally hard at would be:

  • something I thought I could eventually rank for (ie: if there is a huge open source software project with the same name you probably are not going to be able to outrank them)

  • something that is short
  • something that is memorable
  • something I can get the .com domain name for if possible
  • There are arguements for and against using your keywords in your domain and product name. I don't want to go too deep into that idea because that could be a long post on its own. It is something that should be considered though.

Sales Letter Writing:
Read lots of other sales letters in your field. The sales letters at sites like Marketing are wrote to convert. Make sure you also pay attention to the tone and voice of your sales message...make it match the rest of your site if you have a content site pushing your information product.

Leveraging Affiliates:
Not something I am good at because I have not done it much yet.

It is important in many markets, especially in categories like internet marketing or if you have the one page salesletter type of site.

Sometimes it helps to be able to give them something that they can give away which is a product of some value that really pushes the value of your product you are selling.

Your price point matters as well. If your price point is too low you can't give affiliates much for their efforts.

I also set my minimum payout to be at the 2 sales level to prevent self sale discounts.

Things I could do far better:
I am good at finding and creating value but am not the best at maximizing value returned for value created. For a long time I sold my ebook for half its current price. I also do not charge recurring fees yet for updates and some of my friends have told me that is a large error.

Affiliate marketing - as noted above.

Write and syndicate more articles - as noted above.

Email marketing and list building - I really do not do it much...and that is a huge error.

Business - in spite of getting inqueries from companies worth billions (and once even hundreds of billions) of dollars I do not leverage my mindshare well enough and work with some large companies. Business in general is not me deal at this point, and I am not sure if it will ever be, for a variety of reasons.

Sales vs the Knowledge Curve:
The demand curve for search marketing is based on what was effective a while ago.

Here is a perfect example: It is well noted that keyword density is typically not that important compared to other things in the grand scheme of SEO. Yet when I recently added many tools to my SEO tool list the only tool someone requested to buy was a keyword density analysis tool, which is probably one of the least valuable tools on the page. (I later made it open source so I gave it to him free).

If I sold any of the following I would make far greater income than I do with less effort, but I probably would not be creating more value for others than I currently do:

  • links from high PageRank pages

  • link spam software
  • link exchange software
  • reciprocal link software
  • subscription based link network access

By the time the mass market really understands the quality links and trust concepts search may move on to being more focused on user data.

In some fields it makes sense to try to be on the cutting edge, but often sitting back a bit and profiting from the lack of knowledge in the mass market will provide far greater profit.

Published: January 29, 2006 by Aaron Wall in Q & A


January 29, 2006 - 8:22pm

One of your key points sums up my increase in successes with my websites:

Time spent creating value is typically time better spent than time spent worrying about value you have yet to create.

January 29, 2006 - 8:25pm

Oh... and about the "recurring fee" for a book...

I don't think as a customer I would buy into something like that. The concept of a recurring fee for a book is a bit over the top. I think a much better system would be to offer update pricing for existing customers on a non-recurring basis.

January 29, 2006 - 10:30pm

You really lay it all out there. You definitely deserve every dollar you make from the content you create. With the amount of QUALITY SEO & Online Business Building information you distribute for free on your blog, your accolades and income are well deserved. The 'been there and made that mistake' honesty is invaluable. I hope your readers recognize that. Have you ever thought of founding an SEO or Online Marketing University?

January 30, 2006 - 9:09am


I have taught a class at one, but I am in no way qualified to be a teacher and hate the idea of me having any official criteria or whatever.

>update pricing for existing customers on a non-recurring basis

Some do that but I have also seen the other model work exceptionally well too. I get lots of requests to do monthy competitive analysis of different industries, or distill the months news into a separate 10 page report.

In other words lots of people told me they wanted to pay me recurring fees for some ideas similar to a monthly book update. Also others do sell monthly reports and then only update their books like once or twice a year, which is a hell of a lot easier to do than updating it every month or two.

s.giri prasad
September 23, 2006 - 10:05am

til now i dont know about the e-book.i wish to know about the e-book.can you guide me.

March 19, 2006 - 6:41am

It would help to point out that the page on your site that you "donated" is a salesletter with an affiliate link in it, wouldn't it Vicki?

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