More and more high tech, software and ASP marketers are adding white papers to their Web sites these days. We asked expert Jay Habegger, CEO of bitpipe, a company that helps IT-related marketers get their white papers syndicated on major IT news Web sites, what makes a white paper into a great online marketing tool. Here, slightly paraphrased, are his top five tips:
1. Content: Computer World, The Tolly Group and IDG did a survey of 2,000 white paper readers to find out what they liked. People uniformly said they want a non-salesy tone, non-marketing speech. Instead readers want in-depth, detailed information that addresses a specific problem. So focus on the meat and the technical content of the subject as opposed to marketing fluff.
2. Length: Anything less than two pages is pretty suspect. You can go from 2-3 pages up to about 50 pages; but, something in the 12-18 page zone works best.
3. Format: HTML is your best option. It requires no downloads, extra tools or weight, and you can get your presentation really sharp looking. PDF is your second choice, while Word documents are way down from that. They are too easily modified and the formatting may not look the same on another computer.
4. Usage: 79% of IT professionals say they research on white papers and case studies before making a critical buying decision. Plus 93% of them pass white papers along to others in their company. (So make sure your site makes it easy for them to do so.)
But there's one big marketing myth. Many marketers assume sales prospects will approach their company before requesting white papers. The fact is 90% of your sales prospects will research and read white papers prior to ever contacting you. In fact they'll eliminate vendors based on white papers (or lack thereof at easy-to-find places online) before they ever approach the then-narrowed field for RFPs.
4. Access at Your Site: Make your white papers as easy as possible to download from your Web site. Simplicity is key. When you make people fill out forms to get white papers, the attrition rate is enormous. Most marketers add these forms because they want to capture sales leads. They don't realize the risk they are taking in dramatically lowering their white paper's distribution rate. If people don't see it, they may never approach you again even if they are perfect prospects for your product!
If you insist on requiring visitors to fill out a registration form, make sure it's created by an expert -- not an in-house techie who just whips up a form for you -- and test it frequently. Many B-to-B sites' registration forms are so poorly engineered that they have a very high failure rate. (In other words, when prospects submit a completed form they get an error message instead of your white paper.) Yes, this is far more common than you'd think!
5. Access Outside Your Site: Don't rely on people stumbling over your white paper when they come to your site. It just doesn't happen often enough. Instead get hotlinks to your white paper at news and informational Web sites that your target audience already visits frequently. Aside from planting stories via online PR, you can buy banners and/or sponsored links to your white paper.
If your product is IT or telecom-related, you might also explore using bitpipe's white paper syndication services. For just $2,600 per paper, bitpipe will make sure your hotlinked title is summarized and included on 34 of the top technology news sites.
Editor's Note: Habegger didn't want to brag, because he believes in not being too salesy. But we felt one thing we learned about bitpipe's services was too important to leave out: an astonishing 60% of visitors viewing bitpipe's white paper abstracts on tech news sites then click through to view the entire white paper. Wow!
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