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The Secret to a Masterful Table of Contents from Blackbaud’s Frank Barry

The table of contents is a precious piece of real estate in any marketing eBook.

Really, most readers only read the first 4-6 pages then flip through the rest, skimming headers and glancing at graphs and icons, maybe reading 20% of the full text.

But what typically appears on that coveted second- or third-page? An empty lot, some regurgitated chapter titles, and page numbers that people may or may not actually pay attention to.

But it doesn’t need to be a page of wasted space.

The Secret to a Masterful Table of Contents from Blackbaud’s @franswaa

The best eBook writers and designers conceptualize the layout of the table of contents to be compelling, imaginative, and entertaining. They’ve oriented what could be a simple list, into a visual collage that drives user engagement.

And no one does it better than Frank Barry, director of digital marketing, and the folks at Blackbaud. And they’ve proved it in Show the Love: Thoughtful Engagement to Retain Supporters.

Aptly, we’ve named Barry, and the content team at Blackbaud, the Master of the Table of Contents.

How Did Blackbaud Create a Stellar Table of Contents?

Sometimes, great results are unforeseen. And in the case of Blackbaud, they weren’t expecting to be called out for their brilliant table of contents when they set off to create their eBook.

Their table of contents victory was really a result of sticking to their philosophical guns, and disrupting the status quo of design.

“I didn’t have a big table of contents strategy going into it,” Barry said about the final layout of their top-notch table of contents. “We mainly wanted to be sure to keep it very visually interesting.”

And to become visually interesting, these guys didn’t skimp out. Instead they invested thought and money, Barry said. Here’s what he means.

1. Invest in Thought

To make your eBook rock, take time to consider how your audience will interact with each of its pages. The table of contents is an especially important component of the eBook because it sets the stage and tone for the rest of the asset.  By putting yourself in your audience’s shoes, you can more accurately build eBook pages that are not only functional, but anticipate the needs of each of your readers. For instance, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will your readers be online or reading your publication in print?
  • Will your readers be clicking to different sections or reading chapters sequentially?
  • What topics are important for your readers?

How Did Blackbaud Do It?

Barry and his Blackbaud team, for instance, wanted to feature the thought leadership behind several donor retention experts. The influence of the actual donors were an important component of the eBook, so their design team featured photographs of each of the people included in the book, including their titles.

2. Invest in Money

There’s a big difference between eBooks produced by designers and eBooks haphazardly compiled by people who don’t understand Adobe Creative Suite.

It’s wise to invest a little money into the production of a marketing eBook. Why? First, it ensures your eBook is professional and visually appealing for people who stumble upon the asset from the web. The visual component is the magnet that capture’s user’s initial attention. Then, once you’ve got a lead on the hook, a professional eBook design compels and attracts the reader to engage. There are various ways to go about doing this:

How Did Blackbaud Do It?

Blackbaud used an outside graphic designer for Show the Love: Thoughtful Engagement to Retain Supporters, despite the fact that they have several in-house designers. They went this route to keep the eBook unbranded. Unbranded content is a best practice for top of funnel content marketing, where content is supposed to be buyer-centric as opposed to product-centric. The idea is that content serves users; it doesn’t pitch products.

Blackbaud’s rock star content team knows this well. They wanted their eBook to be completely buyer-focused and detached from Blackbaud’s corporate design. Point blank.

Therefore, they went with an outside designer.

Outside designers have the “fresh take,” “freedom,” and “flexibility” to circumvent any corporate style codes and keep the eBook user-centric, Barry said.

It may seem mundane or nuanced, but the table of contents is really not a page that marketers should overlook. It appears so early in an eBook that it has the power to capture—or deter—your reader’s attention. It doesn’t take a lot to deliver a powerful table of contents, but it does take a little investment in thought and money.

In Barry’s practical words of wisdom: “Think about pieces that are going to be really, really useful for your audience. And deliver them in a fun way.”

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