Content Marketing ROI: Do eBooks and White Papers Generate More Leads Than Blogs? A Data-Driven Answer

Content Marketing ROI - Do eBooks and White Papers Generate More Leads Than Blogs? A Data-Driven Answer

There are so many content marketing formats that it can be hard to decide which to focus on. White papers, ebooks, slideshares, blogs, infographics, curated content, videos, etc. They all have their merits but don’t come at the same cost. On one hand you have long form, epic content that can take days/weeks to produce. On the other you have short form content such as blog posts or curated content for which production cost can be a few hours or even a few minutes.

If you have limited resources, you’re unlikely to be good at covering all these formats and many content marketing experts like Joe Pulizzi recommend focusing on one or a few formats that work best for you.

Looking at ROI is a great way to decide on which format to focus. With lead generation being the main measure of returns for B2B marketers, we’ve heard various arguments on the topic can be summarized as follows:

  • Long form content is more costly, but generates more leads per piece of content since it can be gated and has a longer lasting impact.
  • Short form content is more ephemeral but generates leads on an ongoing basis.

So the question is: is it better to generate a few leads every day through a dynamic blog or to generate a massive amount of leads every month or quarter through a solid white paper or ebook?

Over the last 12 months, we produced both long form content (3 white papers and 1 eBook) and short form content (hundreds of blog posts and curated content posts). We’ve then looked at our own ROI on the above content and wanted to share our own particular answer to this question with the hope it can help other marketers make smarter decisions.

Typical costs of various content marketing formats

Based on the above, here’s the cost side of the ROI equation:

Volume

Cost per piece in hours

Total cost in hours

White papers

3

120

360

eBook

1

180

180

Blog posts

121

4

484

Curated content posts

798

0.33

263

We also produced videos and slideshares and decided not to include them in this study because although they definitely had a role in our content strategy and indirectly contributed to generating leads, there was no easy way to measure their ROI.

Note that we didn’t outsource content so our costs are entirely in hours and not in dollars. We also lowered our content costs by applying the following lean content best practices:

  • We developed a guest contributor program on our blog which typically reduces our average cost per blog post while also enriching it with different perspectives.

  • We repurposed a number of our best blog posts as content for the eBook which otherwise would have taken much longer.

  • We also had influencers contribute to the eBook (and to some of our blog posts as well).

  • We use content curation to publish a significant number of our blog posts typically much faster than an original blog post we would create.

To understand the formats we’re using and what costs are implied, here’s how we define the various formats:

Blog posts: our blog posts are typically 500-1500 word pieces and focus on giving actionable recommendations to our readers. They usually require some research work which consists of curating experience from other marketers’ or influencers’ insights or collecting data to support our points.

Curated content posts: on top of publishing to our blog, we also manage several Scoop.it pages using our own platform. We publish curated content on topics such as Content Marketing, SEO, Social Media Publishing and Demand Generation. We don’t simply aggregate stories we find interesting; we also add our own insights to them to give context to our audience. Our insights are typically 100-200 words so much shorter than our blog posts but we also regularly turn a curated piece of content into a full blown post by adding a longer insight of 500 words or more.

White papers: in case you haven’t noticed yet, we’re very data-driven at Scoop.it. To produce our 3 white papers, we surveyed SMBs business owners and marketers by either tapping in our user base (we’re lucky to have more than 1.5 million users of the Scoop.it free version) or using services such as Ask Your Target Market to reach out beyond our own user base. Doing so provided a lot of interesting data that we then enriched with our own analysis, graphs and design work to end up with a typical white paper of a dozen pages. To see examples, you can find our white papers in our resource center.

eBook: our one eBook so far, ROI or RIP-The Lean Content Marketing Handbook for SMBs, was an ambitious project: after 2 years of running our Lean Content meetups and having dozens of online discussions with marketers and influencers in our space, we wanted to create a complete guide on this topic with all the great learnings this community had brought us. Counting 88 pages, it’s probably bigger than most eBooks marketers typically publish but it probably cost the same as we were able to repurpose a lot of content and also were lucky to have 15 of the best content marketing experts contribute and help (thanks, friends!).

 

Here’s a graph that summarizes the split between the long form and short form content creation costs:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.56.15 PM.png

So even if long form content is hard and costly to produce, over the year we logically spent more time publishing blog posts and curated content.

 

How do the various content marketing formats generate leads?

Before going into the numbers, I feel it’s important to explain how these various formats contribute to generate leads.

White papers generate leads by being gated: the data we collect is unique and exclusive as a result of our own surveys and research work. So we feel it’s solid enough to be behind a landing page that asks for user contact information.

eBook: same idea, our eBook is behind a gated landing page that requires information before you can download it. Again, the rationale here is that this piece of content represents a comprehensive and solid amount of collective work that justifies being gated.

Blog posts are of course not gated but we continuously optimize our blog for conversion by placing call-to-actions to various landing pages. Note that these CTAs are mostly around offering a demo of our product which is an important point I’ll come back to in the following section.

Curated content posts generate leads in the same way as we use custom templates on our Scoop.it topic pages to generate leads. We also use our WordPress integration to turn some of this curated content into blog posts which generate leads as explained above.

So all leads are not created equal.

Longer form content are typically top-of-the-funnel leads and people filling out our contact forms did not express yet a concrete interest in one of our products. On the other hand, most of our blog and curated content readers don’t give us any of their contact details but when they do it’s because they clicked on one of our CTAs and requested a demo of our product. It’s only a few % in the best case but they’re bottom-of-the-funnel leads with a concrete interest.

Before we can generate leads, we need to generate traffic. Here’s how long form and short form of content contributed traffic to our various lead-collecting landing pages:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.56.55 PM.png

Which Content Marketing format generates the most leads (and qualified leads)?

All leads are not equal, so we typically make a split between leads and qualified leads.

Qualified leads are leads that ended up having a demo with our business team. We typically nurture our leads through content by sending them our weekly email newsletter and also some specific pieces of content depending on the questions they’ve asked or the interest they’ve expressed.

Here’s the split of leads generated between long form and short form content:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.58.03 PM.png

 

Compared to the traffic it generated, long form content generates of course a lot more leads as it’s gated behind a form. But as leads are not qualified leads, it’s interesting to look at the qualified lead split (lead that converted into a demo):

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.58.40 PM.png

 

Because leads from the blog and Scoop.it topic pages didn’t have to give their email address to read the content, only readers with an interest in our products became leads. They were lower in the funnel and became qualified leads faster as they wanted a demo.

And to conclude, let’s have a look at the ROI by comparing the number of qualified leads generated by unit of cost (hour in our case) of producing content:

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.59.51 PM.png

 

The ROI of short form content – in our case – is about 3x the ROI of long form content.

 

All in all… Should you focus on short form or long form content?

The above case study is of course one example that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. Nevertheless these results highlight the following key factors to be considered when making a decision:

  • What is your priority in the coming months: top of the funnel generation or activation and nurturing of existing leads?

  • Long form content can be gated but it needs to be solid and unique. Blog posts are easier to get started for a lot of marketers.

  • For most marketers where finding even 4 hours to create a blog post is difficult, content curation provides a much easier way to maintain a content hub, which – in our case – is the most efficient at generating leads.

  • Keeping track of your time when producing content is important: approximations are ok, having measures will help you experiment and learn from them.

  • Measuring results is critical: make sure you use analytics that help you connect content traffic and leads.

The other thing to bare in mind is not to choose by deciding to make long form content only by repurposing short form content – or vice versa. By turning blog posts into an eBook – as we did – or by splitting a massive rock of content – as Jason Miller puts it – into smaller pieces, you can not entirely have the best of both worlds but you can lower your overall costs and be a lean content marketer.

We’d love to hear from your own experience: which content marketing format has generated the most leads for you? Tell us in the comments.

If you want to get 30 effective techniques to master content marketing along with valuable insights from 10+ influencers like Mark Schaefer, Rebecca Lieb, Lee Odden, Jason Miller or Ian Cleary, download our free eBook now!

roi-or-rip-cta-blog-scoop-it

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About the Author

Guillaume Decugis
Co-Founder & CEO @Scoopit. Entrepreneur (Musiwave, Goojet). Engineer-turned-marketer. Skier. Rock singer. http://scoop.it/u/gdecugis
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    i agree that for particular topics there people wants in details so they want a pdf and full document to download and read it while resting even though i also do it..wordpresskb

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  • Fanka Spilkova

    I think that blogs generate more leads because they are open to more readers and the message of a blog gets to people faster. http://www.freedomforfannie.com/

  • Valentine Day

    As seen from the graphs short forms like blog posts perform better in terms of leads than long forms such as e-books. You nailed it right! http://www.seo-world.biz/

  • Vanessa6910

    No doubt the qualified leads are generated by blog posts instead of ebooks. Great statistics that I totally agree with: http://www.makeseriousmoneyonlinev.com/

  • Vanessa6910

    You definitely have a point! http://www.happyhalloween2015funnyimages.com/

  • Vanessa6910

    I would personally go for blogs as I find them more amusing than ebooks. http://tastymir.com/

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