By Contributing Editor Dianna Huff
White papers are hot. Our research shows that 69% of prospects who download and like your white paper will actively pass it along to their colleagues. 36% of total downloads will be passed on to a supervisor.
The more people who read your white paper, the better your chance of closing a deal. One 2004 study showed that 57% of IT purchase decision makers said a white paper influenced at least one buying decision in the past 12 months.
But, with more than 48,000 white papers being promoted online by business-to-business marketers, you had better make sure your white paper isn’t a dud. To help you get the most bang for your buck, we bring you the soup-to-nuts dos and don’ts that can make or break a white paper campaign. 12 Steps to Develop a Successful White Paper
Step #1. Ask lots of questions BEFORE you start writing
Before you put one word to paper, you really need to nail your objectives:
- Who are your primary and secondary audiences?
- What is your audience’s job title, average age and general disposition?
- What’s your objective – do you want to use the white paper to inform, educate, introduce, differentiate?
- What’s your schedule and timeline?
- What big issues, problems or needs must be addressed?
- Which key players or experts do you need to interview?
- Which key competitors should you analyze?
Also, who will write the white paper? If you don’t have an on-staff copywriter, you should seriously consider outsourcing this task. We love engineers and product managers, really, but they don’t write white papers that get read and handed around virally.
And, finally, don’t try to disguise a brochure or sales sheet as a white paper. Your audience expects a real white paper when they register for your offer. You’ll instantly lose their trust – and a potential sale – by giving them sales literature.
Step # 2. Solve a tactical problem or offer fascinating data
Survey data, research data, how-to papers and educational papers have all proven to be big with prospects.
Survey data: Pick a pain point (something your prospects are worried about) and run a survey with no more than three quantifiable questions. You’ll need about 250 responses to get reliable data. If your own in-house list isn’t enough, consider partnering with an email newsletter or news site in your field.
Research data: If you serve a limited field, such as the Fortune 100 – you may be able to assign a junior-level marketer to simply look into one fact about those companies that’s publicly available and compile the data into a report. The sexiest numbers to look for are problems: Where do processes break down? What doesn’t work? What are common mistakes?
How-to: This type of white paper is always popular and fairly evergreen, which means your library of white papers becomes more valuable over time. Again, limit yourself to a topic that’s very niche. It should *not* be “How to choose a vendor in our field” because that’s obviously a sales pitch.
Educational: If you’re in a rapidly changing or evolving field, ask your sales reps what your prospects are most confused about. You’ll often get an idea for a white paper that’s more like a quick tutorial.
Step #3. Shorter is better
Because no one has time to read anymore, the length of white papers has slipped from a dozen or more pages to seven pages. Some are as short as four pages. The average length, according to our stable of experts, is six to 10 pages.
Instead of cutting back on the interesting factual detail your prospects want, dump the happy talk and introductory fluff. Look at your white paper and think, “What’s the most useful information in this entire thing?” and keep only that.
Step #4. Get a marketing expert to write a compelling title
“The title is the ad for the white paper,” says Michael Stelzner, author of the book “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged” and Founder of WhitePaperSource. “It’s what gets people to download it.” Keep the following in mind when developing your paper’s title:
a. Once again, shorter is better. You have three seconds to capture someone’s attention so get it fast with a shorter title. For example, from our CNET Networks Business research using their Business Technology tool, we discovered that the most-viewed white paper on digital security was named, “The Starter PKI Program,” and the least popular paper was, “An Introduction to Enterprise Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).”
b. Promise a benefit in the title. Samples from KnowledgeStorm’s database include:
- Measuring the Return on HR Technology
- Ten Things You Need to Know About Compliance
- VoIP Basics for IT Technicians
c. Use numbers. According to Stelzner, a title such as “Ten Things You Need to Know about Compliance” conveys to your readers that your paper includes tangible, rapidly digestible facts.
d. Stick with plain English. Don’t use pompous language, i.e.: “Best Practices in Utilization of Value Proposition Theorems”; or made-up terms, i.e.: “Enterprise-Level Supply Formulation Analytics Solution.” This type of language impresses no one, least of all your prospects.
e. Don’t use a clever title. According to CNET Networks Business research, prospects won’t download white papers with titles that include a play on words. Even though some topics scream for a pun, don’t do it. Phishing is a prime example, spawning titles like “Hook, Line and Sinker: Phishing attacks going professional.” Papers with titles like this were complete duds.
f. Write your title last. Professional copywriters use working titles during the writing process. When the project is complete, they’ll double back and work on a compelling title that matches the paper’s content.
Step #5. Format your paper for online scanning *and* offline reading
People scan white papers online to see if the content interests them. To make scanning easy, break long paragraphs into smaller chunks. Use subheads, bullets and diagrams to call attention to important information.
Yes, white papers get passed around via email, but many people print them out for reading on the plane, at home, flight layovers, etc. For offline reading, keep your left margins wider than normal – people like to make notes – and make sure the font is black and large enough to read (especially important if your audience is older.) Don’t let your designer talk you into light gray mousey type that’s virtually invisible when printed. Stick to standard 10-point Arial or 12-point Times New Roman for the copy.
Step #6. Write the summary/abstract for search engines and prospects
If you use a syndication site (or your own landing page) you’ll need to develop a summary or abstract of your paper. "If the title is the ad for your white paper, the summary is the closer,” Stelzner says. “Be sure to give the reader a compelling reason to read the paper. Tell readers what's in it for them”
The abstract page is often indexed by search engines, so you’ll want to optimize your abstract/summary with the right keywords. Readers also are looking at your paper and your competition’s paper, so it pays to keep the following in mind to increase clickthroughs:
- Keep technical jargon to a minimum.
- Address who the reader is; i.e., CFOs of large retail establishments.
- Talk about key problems and/or pain points.
- Eliminate all sales copy about the product or your company.
- Introduce the solution but don’t give away the store.
- Say what the white paper will offer the reader; i.e., “This white paper will address the challenges of banking IT security managers.”
- Use a keyword tool like Wordtracker or Trellian to see which keywords are used in searches. Use two or three in your abstract to help with search engine optimization.
- If you can, test your title and abstract separately. Use a tool like Survey Monkey and send the title and abstract to your ideal readers and ask them what they think.
Step #7. Keep registration form questions to a minimum
All our experts said the more questions you ask on the registration form, the fewer downloads you’ll get. When asked if they could recommend specific questions to ask, a few said they have tested their registration forms so much they wouldn’t change anything.
Typical questions include: name, company, title, mailing address, email, country, phone, fax and Web site.
Step #8. Place your paper with syndication sites
When a prospect is a registered member, each time they download a white paper, the form is automatically pre-populated with their contact data. This speeds up the registration process and ensures that you get more accurate lead information.
However, if the form isn’t pre-populated, our research indicates only 6%-11% of prospects will actually fill it out (or use a bogus name like Mickey Mouse).
According to research from John Connell, Marketing Programs Manager for IT Business Edge, pre-populated forms increase downloads by as much as 80%.
When IndustryWeek launched its white paper section a few years ago, they went live without a registration form in front of white papers – allowing users to download any white paper without providing one piece of information about themselves. Once that introductory period was over, the publication put up registration forms and found that downloads immediately dropped 90%.
“The registration barrier definitely keeps people from downloading,” says Michael Madej, General Manager eMedia Sales & Marketing for IndustryWeek. “We recommend that sponsors ask no more than two or three additional registration questions beyond standard contact info – and if they can get away with asking zero or one, even better.”
Step #9. Orchestrate your listing dates
For syndication sites with extensive networks, ask to be spotlighted on the most available sites. It pays to orchestrate the dates when your paper will appear so you’re promoted on as many sites as possible at the same time (even if it means not being on all the exact sites you wanted).
Why? The more downloads you can get all at once, the greater the likelihood your title will make the top 50 list that week. Once you’re in the top 50, it snowballs – other partner sites notice you, making it easier to sustain your ranking.
Step #10. Turn white papers into podcasts
According to KnowledgeStorm research, 41% of survey respondents from their registered user base of business and technology professionals (3,900 respondents) have downloaded podcasts at least a few times. Of those who have downloaded podcasts, 65% indicated they have used them for business and personal reasons.
The key finding for white paper marketers? A whopping 60% said white papers and analyst reports would be more interesting as podcasts.
Ask your syndication vendor if they can repurpose your white paper content into a podcast. Most vendors can also repurpose your content into webcasts (which you can then sponsor) or they can take an existing webcast and turn it into a white paper.
Step #11. Promote your white paper
a. Enewsletters. Popular enewsletters are generally sold out up to a year in advance, so it pays to contract for media buys far in advance of when you actually have a paper to promote. Text newsletters let you develop a text ad that looks like editorial. HTML newsletters are good, too, but test ad types to see what pulls best.
“We've found that a well-written white paper offer will drive clickthrough rates on newsletter ads sky high – often three to five times higher than the clickthrough rate for an offer without a white paper,” says IndustryWeek’s Madej.
b. Pay per click. Yes, you can promote your ad via search engine PPC ads. Again, do your keyword research and test copy to see which words get the best response.
c. SEO-PR. Once your white paper is complete, send out a keyword-optimized press release announcing its availability and where prospects can find it. Remember, pompous, jargon-laded releases and white papers don’t impress journalists – who want a topic that sounds compelling, fun and useful.
d. Email reporters a note about your paper. Send a personal text-only message with a link to the paper. Make sure the link is to a page that doesn’t require reporters to register for your white paper (they won’t).
Unless you’ve checked with a reporter in the past, don’t include attachments. If the reporter does accept attachments, send a PDF, *not* a Word doc – docs are infamous for carrying viruses.
e. Exclusives. Yes, offering an exclusive is a great way to get better coverage and to build a strong relationship with an influential journalist. They look good and feel good when they can proclaim a story as an "exclusive.”
If it's really hot, bloggers and other reporters will pick it up and link back to the original story, so you'll get more coverage from the exclusive than you expected.
Give the reporter a time limit on exclusivity – seven days to three months depending on their publishing calendar – so you have the option to take it elsewhere if the item doesn't get the attention you think it deserves.
Step #12. Lead Follow-Up
Great! You followed our advice, and now the leads are rolling in. Don’t do what many companies do and throw them over the wall at sales. Most salespeople will ignore white paper leads unless they’ve been fully qualified. Instead, try the following strategies:
a. Telemarketing. According to Michael A. Brown, a B-to-B phone marketing expert, the phone is a great way to connect with prospects. He advises marketers to ask open-ended questions, such as:
"Ms. IT Director, tell me what prompted you to download our white paper at this particular time” or “Of all the white papers available on the topic of IT security, what got you to download ours?” These types of questions then lead you into a dialogue with your prospect.
b. Webcast invitation. Remember, you’re trying to move your prospect along the sales cycle – and this person may be in the research phase, not the buying phase. Help prospects learn more about your products and services by inviting them to a free webinar or webcast.
c. Additional content. Do you have an enewsletter, an analyst report or other white papers that your prospect might find interesting? Offer these in follow-up emails or telemarketing calls.Eight Additional Tips Regarding PDF Files and Download Pages
#1. Always include a live contact for people to contact if the PDF "isn't working.” For example, executives at very large companies may not be able to download a PDF due to firewalls.
#2. Make the file as small as possible. Colorful cover art and logos on every page can turn a short PDF into a big file that's harder for people on slow connections to download. Put your PDF on a diet.
#3. Put your company contact information on every page as part of the standard header or footer. Don't assume they'll skim to the first or last page to contact you.
#4. Make sure hotlinks are easy to hand-type in. Many prospects and reporters will print out a white paper to read offline. If your hotlink is an underlined word, or a long scary set of figures, you won't get the clicks you were counting on.
#5. Consider including your complete library on your PDF download page after prospects have registered to access one white paper. You may as well impress them with everything you've got. They may want to browse.
#6. To take advantage of the viral aspect, add a "tell a colleague about this free resource library" form on the top or far right of the download page. This especially helps marketers selling to committees.
#7. Don't assume that just because a registrant gave you their email address to see a white paper, it means you can add them to your list and send them broadcasts. You must ask for permission to send different types of email by putting checkboxes on the form as well.
IT Business Edge’s Connell provided us with the six most common mistakes he sees when marketers syndicate white papers. We added two more.
Mistake #1. Bait/promotion disconnect
Marketers will offer a white paper (bait) but the registration form is instead a call-to-action for a “no obligation assessment.” It should be obvious – bait-and-switch tactics will instantly lose your prospects’ trust in your company.
Mistake #2. Registration question/demo target disconnect
Not many senior-level IT people will know “how many servers per cluster they’re interested in load balancing” so don’t waste their time asking this type of technical question on the registration form.
Mistake #3. Asking two questions instead of one
Every question you add to a registration form decreases downloads. Whenever possible, condense questions.
Question #1: “Are you planning a business intelligence initiative?”
Question #2: “In what timeframe?”
“In what timeframe are you planning a business intelligence initiative?
Mistake #4. Asking for a sales call
This is a huge no-no. Don’t ask prospects if someone can contact them regarding an appointment or to learn more about your company. Trust us, they don’t want to see you.
Mistake #5. Asking questions that have obvious answers
If you’re using a syndication site, you know where your leads are coming from, so it’s pretty dumb to ask, “How did you hear about us?”
Mistake #6. Asking questions the syndication vendor has already asked
All the syndication sites have their own registration forms that ask for job title or function and company size. This means you don’t need to ask this information yourself. (Before you develop your qualifying questions, go through the registration process and note which questions are on the form.)
Mistake #7. Using brand names in titles
Unless you’re a mega-huge software company with an upcoming release, don’t use your brand name in your white paper title. According to our research, unknown company names in titles suppress response – a lot.
A white paper without a brand name in the title will get 1,000 or more downloads while its branded cousin gets maybe a dozen.
Mistake #8. Not keeping your white paper “evergreen”
Prospects aren’t ready to buy on your promotional schedule based on when you happen to pop out a new white paper. Instead, they’re ready to buy, well, when they’re ready to buy. At that time they’ll go on an educational white paper binge, searching archives on many Web sites – especially handy news sites with extensive archives from multiple vendors.
The key here is “archive.” It pays to:
- Archive your white papers on your site and syndication sites.
- Keep your paper “evergreen” by refreshing content on a regular basis.
Part II, coming next week, lists the major syndication companies and their offerings.Useful links related to this article (in alpha order)
Creative samples of white papers and a white paper podcast:
More white paper samples from KnowledgeStorm:http://www.knowledgestorm.com/main/MarketingSherpa/index.jsp
Bank Info Security:
CNET Networks Business:
Find White Papers:
IT Business Edge:
Michael A. Brown:
Web Buyers Guide:
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