I think I mentioned that I don’t really like ebooks the last time I reviewed one. Please incorporate that total hatred by reference here. Nonetheless, I gave that ebook, which was written by a professional colleague, an unreservedly positive review, because I sincerely think it will help many of my readers sell software.
Now I’m in sort of a conundrum — I received a copy of another e-book to review. I respect the author greatly. The other author who I already gave a positive review to praised the e-book lavishly. So what’s my problem?
Well, frankly, I can’t imagine the book being all that useful to you, with the exception of three pages that are absolutely dynamite. (It very well might be useful to some folks who don’t read this blog. Why write a review for them, though?)
The story in 60 seconds: Steph Grenier of LandLordMax wrote an e-book on How To Generate Traffic To Your Website. (I also contributed a chapter to a real on-dead-tree book that Steph is getting published later this year. The project is unrelated.) The e-book includes 136 pages, with quite a few full-page annoted screen captures of Google. We’ll call it about 120 pages of content, in which he covers 11 chapters, from SEO to Blogging to AdWords.
If you do the math there, that is about 11 pages per subject. Now, supposing you were trying to explain blogging in 11 pages or less to someone who had never heard of the concept before, what do you think you could write before running out of space?
Well, maybe a good introduction to blogging for someone who is never heard of it.
And that is, in a nutshell, what about 95% of the e-book is. A good introduction to SEO, AdWords, or blogging, for someone who has never heard of the topic. At all. If you have done any significant reading on the topics, this e-book will not teach you much that you don’t know.
Example excerpt from the chapter on Blogging:
[One reason why to blog is that it] can personalize your business. Instead of being just another faceless website it can give your website a second personality. It can give it that personal touch that people like. A lot of sales are through emotions, and people like to connect with people they like and trust. If you’re honest and real on your blog, and not just writing what you think people want to hear, you’ll create a personal bond with your customers. This will create long term traffic.
That paragraph is true. It is fairly well-written. It just doesn’t teach you anything you don’t already know if you habitually read blogs. If you have ever read a blog post about why to blog, which are legion, you know it already. If you already have a blog, you know this in your bones. This section is also representative of the depth this book goes into on almost all subjects. If you’re a non-technical small business owner who reads email but isn’t quite hip on this whole Internet thing yet, you might well learn quite a bit from this chapter. If you’re running an ISV, this is almost certainly going to be akin to having a computer programmer sit through a middle school Algebra I lecture (“OK, class, I’m going to introduce a deep concept — sometimes, instead of a number, you can do math using a letter! We call this a variable.”)
I’m somewhat interested in SEO and linkbait, as long time readers of this blog know. I really can’t recommend the chapter on SEO that much — if you have read almost anything on the subject you already know everything written here, and the topic selection leaves much to be desired. For example, it covers Keyword Density (a metric which is, frankly, useless because it leads to no actionable insights on how to write your pages) at multi-page length. Meanwhile, it almost ignores methods of getting links. (Which is a shame, because this would have been a great time to mention the next section.)
Three Pages I Really Loved
Pages 52-54 are, far and away, the best part of the book. It provides a case study (incredibly rare in this book — most of it is basic techniques unconnected with any real examples) of how Steph used a free calculator on his website to double his traffic. If this had been written elsewhere in the book, the level of detail would have been something like:
Freebies do attract traffic. Unfortunately it’s not always good traffic, some people will only come for the freebies and leave, but many will also stay and re-visit your website in the future (and possibly tell others about it). If you’re a blogger, they may read your other blog posts, buy your services, etc. If you’re a company they may look through your website for other interesting pages, they may tell others about what they found, etc. Freebies have always been a great way to attract attention and traffic. The key is how well you can convert the traffic coming from the freebies.
(Actually, the chapter on Freebies does start out like that. Nothing you didn’t know already.) But when grounded in the case study, the chapter suddenly becomes much more useful. It examines the calculator from multiple points of view — promoting the freebie (which I’d call linkbait, incidentally, and mention REPEATEDLY in the SEO chapter because I will *guarantee* you this did more good for Steph than all his metatags could ever hope for) with a press release, for example. If the entire book was like these three pages I’d be telling everybody I knew to go out and buy it today, but sadly they are an anomaly.
A Trend I’m Not That Fond Of
One of the reasons I hate e-books is they have a distressing tendency to turn into MLM schemes, with folks writing e-books to promote e-books to… you get the general idea. So when I see affiliate links in an e-book, that generally sends my spidersense tingling. It means that the reader is paying for the privilege of reading an advertisement. Moreover, unlike say an advertisement in your favorite magazine, rather than being adjacent to the content and clearly marked as not influencing the editorial judgement, these these affiliate ads are built into the content. Example:
Today what we’ll attempt to do is give you an overview of the most effective SEO techniques at your disposal. I can’t hope to cover everything SEO related, there’s too much material. Indeed, I’d recommend the SEO Bookby Aaron Wall as further reading. I bought his EBook about 2 years ago and I still continue to personally reference it as a great resource. And as new SEO techniques surface and others expire, Aaron continues to update his EBook.
I broke that link intentionally. Now, SEOBook is a great resource, I’ll agree. I joined Aaron Wall’s (the author’s) training program for $100 a month, and feel I have gotten enough out of it to justify my first month (ask me about the second in another month). But if you had found the chapter on SEO a little lacking in the useful detail department, and clicked on that link to go from the beginners’ class to the intermediate one, you’d have caused Steph to pretty much double his money on selling the book to you.
This troubles me — not because making money on the Internet is a bad thing or anything, but once you start down this road, it becomes difficult for the reader to differentiate between the advice that you’re giving because it is solid advice and the advice you are giving because it offers a solid commission.
Similarly, Bob’s review also uses affiliate links for both Steph’s book and the inline reference to SEOBook. And we’re off to the Internet Marketing races. Instead of focusing on selling products of value to customers, we start down the merry path of cannibalizing members of our community for revenue by selling them on the dream of being a successful uISV. They, in turn, then get to make money by selling the same products to other folks dreaming of being successful uISVs. Who get to sell the same products to others hoping to be uISVs. Instead of being an involved community of software entrepeneurs, it would be a community of MLM hucksterism, which does not bring value to anyone and doesn’t generate any revenue from outside the pyramid.
This concern is why I don’t put affiliate links on my site. Keep in mind that I have the utmost respect for both Steph and Bob, I just think this trend is not in the long-term best interests of this community.
Review In Ten Seconds
Steph Grangier: great guy, successful uISV. This book: not so hot for most uISVs. If you buy it: save time, read and implement pages 52 to 54.