Superficial, run-of-the-mill content is great–if you want to annoy potential customers AND damage your SEO.
Both search engine algorithms and consumers want unique, helpful content that matches their search terms and search intent.
Sadly, many companies don’t want to make the effort to create the kind of content that attracts both human users and search engines.
White papers are one example of valuable, effective content that doesn’t get used nearly enough.
But maybe you’re not convinced that a white paper fits your marketing plan.
How can you be sure?
Let’s go over the key ingredients of an effective white paper, and then consider whether it’s the right type of content for you.
What is a white paper, anyway?
Generally, a white paper is a guide or report that looks at a complex, specific topic. It is authoritative and in-depth, and provides concrete data and analysis. There may be some more subjective opinion and interpretation of the data in there, too.
White papers are NOT:
- Sales pitches. White papers are meant to be informative and helpful, so avoid self-promotion!
- Product guides or user manuals. That type of writing is for after you’ve made a sale.
- For quick, casual readers. White papers are lengthy, in-depth pieces.
- For a general audience. Your white paper should target a very specific audience.
White papers are usually used in B2B marketing, rather than direct-to-consumer marketing. (You can use white papers in B2C marketing, but an ebook with a more casual tone is often a better approach.)
Why would you publish a white paper?
Maybe you have some interesting industry insights to share.
Or you want to help your audience solve a complicated problem.
Or you need a really good way to generate (and qualify) B2B leads.
Those are all great reasons to publish a white paper.
White papers are usually used to:
- Present your organization’s point of view on a particular topic
- Share original research
- Help your audience solve a particular problem
- Persuade your audience (but subtly–remember, this is not a sales brochure!)
- Generate and qualify leads
Although they can be used to persuade the reader to take a particular action, they are not overly urgent, high-pressure, or otherwise “sales-y” in their language. This is not a brochure! You’re using white papers to show your expertise and build trust with your reader. Treating the whole thing like a sales pitch can undermine all your efforts.
What benefits can you expect from a white paper?
- Save time: Those who download and read your white paper are more interested in working with you, so focusing on these leads will save you time by avoiding dead ends.
- More money: Although they are not sales pitches, white papers can help persuade the reader to partner with your company, increasing your sales and company revenue.
- Stronger influence: White papers demonstrate your expertise and can give you authority among customers and peers.
Should your company release a white paper?
White papers are not appropriate for every organization or every audience. It may be a good option if any of these apply to you:
- Your organization sells an expensive, complex product or service that needs a lot of research and consideration before buying.
- Your industry is experiencing major changes that you can help your audience navigate.
- Your audience has a particular, complex problem that you can guide them through.
- You have original research to present and explain to your audience.
Warning: DON’T USE WHITE PAPERS IF
- …You want to release one quickly. White papers are thorough and in-depth, and require weeks or even months of planning, research, writing, editing, and formatting.
- …You don’t have something original to say. White papers are a great way for organizations to offer their take on an issue. Although your white paper can include data from different sources, it won’t work as well if you can’t provide a unique perspective on that data.
- …You just want to close a sale. White papers can help lay the groundwork for a sale, but they belong at the top or middle of the sales funnel; they are not a high-pressure tactic to “close the deal.”
- …You just want to talk about yourself. Audiences read white papers to become more informed about a topic, problem, or trend. Promoting your organization, product, or service throughout the white paper is inappropriate and can damage the trust you’re trying to build. Limit your self-promotion to one paragraph at the very end.
If you have a unique and helpful perspective to share and relevant data to back it up, white papers can be a valuable marketing tool. They require plenty of planning, research, and time, but when they’re done well, white papers can generate leads, demonstrate your expertise, and help your audience make informed decisions.
What should you have in your white paper?
Every white paper looks a little different, but most of them share some common ingredients:
- An executive summary or abstract at the beginning
- Background information on the issue being discussed
- Thorough research and citations (preferably with original research and data)
- Illustrations or graphs, to help illustrate the data and break up the text
- If the paper discusses a problem, it should include a specific solution
- A conclusion that summarizes the major points of the white paper
- A brief, specific call to action at the end
- Your company info (if you use press releases, you can use your boilerplate)
White papers tend to be lengthy, since they go pretty in-depth. They’re often technical and serious, but they don’t always have to be! The person reading it is still a person, after all. If your topic allows, feel free to use a more conversational tone.
That sounds like a lot…
I won’t lie to you–white papers require a decent amount of time and research.
You know the phrase, “Nothing good comes easy?”
That’s true for white papers, too.
But they can deliver numerous benefits that make it worth the effort.
And if you’re not sure you can spare the time for a white paper–if you’re struggling with an understaffed marketing team or have too many projects to handle–there is help available so you can still publish an informative, effective white paper.
Ready to write your next white paper?
I work with marketing teams and professionals to help them create well-researched, approachable content that helps set the stage for higher traffic, leads, and conversions.
Got a project in mind? Tell me about it and get a free quote!