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White papers can have a powerful impact on your potential customers. In fact, research shows that white papers are one of the most preferred types of content that are used to help potential buyers make purchasing decisions. They are also considered one of the most valuable types of content, educating readers on a specific topic, positioning the company or writer as an expert, and priming the reader to take a specific action at the end.
While white papers do require a fair amount of work—far more so than a simple blog post—the payoff at the end can far exceed the time and effort that go into it. In this article, learn the many benefits that can accompany creating a white paper, the steps you can take for finding a topic and how you can create one for yourself. We also include a number of tips to help you write a powerful and engaging white paper.
Image via Demand Gen Report
A white paper is an authoritative or informative guide created by an organization to highlight the features of a product or service. They are often written for us by the sales or marketing team to persuade potential customers to want to learn more about a product, service or technology.
There are a number of benefits to creating a white paper. They include:
Because white papers contain educational content that’s valuable to the end-user, they can have a high conversion rate and be a valuable source of leads. And because they combine education with persuasion, they can be a powerful marketing tool for your company.
White papers can be invaluable for sharing our expertise and positioning yourself as a leader in your niche. Instead of including marketing content with a call to action at the end of the white paper, you could instead include a short description of your company. This can help readers better understand what your company does while positioning you as an expert in the field.
Another benefit to a white paper is using it to grow your email list. You can offer it as a free gift in exchange for an email address if new subscribers sign up for your list. In order to do this, you’ll want to make sure your topic is relevant to your other content and that it’s something that will be of interest to your ideal audience.
White papers allow you to share your original research, thoughts, and ideas in a format that can help elevate your brand. It can also create the opportunity to generate backlinks from other sources, which can benefit the domain authority of your website.
While it may seem obvious, finding a topic that resonates with your ideal target audience is key to getting people to read your content. There are three major factors you should consider for selecting the right topic:
Your white paper must be written with a target audience in mind. For example, are you writing for people who are familiar with your industry or for potential customers who are new to the field? Knowing exactly who you’re writing to will help you understand the reader’s pain points as well as the major questions that they may in regards to your industry. As you evaluate potential topics, look for ones that haven’t been fully examined or those where the information is outdated. Ideally, your topic should be one around which little content has been written, allowing you to fill in the gap.
The white paper should highlight your expertise and be something you are qualified to write about. It should include detailed research with a combination of external informational and internal knowledge. The expertise that the business has should inform the included content and how it’s compiled.
The topic that you select for your white paper should address a specific problem and one that is relevant and timely for your industry. For example, you may focus on changing techniques, new trends, industry comparison, and common dilemmas.
You may even want to ask your audience what they would like to read about in your upcoming white paper. You may get some new ideas to make your topic make relevant ad potentially even create interest in the topic before you’ve written in.
Here and the steps you can use to create an impactful white paper for your business.
In order to write a white paper that will be useful for your audience, it must be comprehensively researched. Gather information from industry resources, online references, and your own internal company documents. White papers are data-focused, which means your paper should offer in-depth research on your topic. For any information you include that isn’t public knowledge, be sure to cite your sources. While there aren’t any defined rules, it’s generally a good idea to include citations for your research as much as possible, as it can help to increase the reader’s confidence.
A mind map can be beneficial for helping you keep track of ideas and sources, cataloging and connecting the different pieces you want to include in your white paper in one visual overview.
White papers usually follow a standard document format. You should use an easy-to-read font, such as Arial or Times New Roman, in a size between 10 and 12 points. There should also be a one-inch margin on all sides of the document.
The content is often similar to other business reports. However, unlike many other types of reports, the conclusion for white papers comes at the end.
While defining your audience is an important step to take while you’re selecting the topic for your white paper, it’s important to go deeper with this and think of the different kinds of people who will be reading the white paper. For example, decide whether your audience will be industry professionals who are familiar with the subject and the industry-specific jargon or someone new who’s less familiar with a topic. Being able to answer these questions will help you understand the voice you should use as well as the level of research you should perform.
This information will also help you ensure that the right people find your white paper, as you can identify the keywords that people are searching for to find content like yours. Depending on whether you gate your content, you may want to include those specific keywords throughout the white paper. Understanding what keywords readers are searching for can also help you when you’re creating the outline, as you will have a better idea of what information they’re trying to locate.
A strong title can have a powerful impact on whether someone is drawn to read your white paper. The title should be concise but also self-explanatory enough to tell readers what they can expect when they open the document.
When you’re considering what the title—and the topic—for your white paper should be, think about what your readers want to read about. Choose a title that you know will be enticing to them. The phrase white paper doesn’t need to be in the title at all, although, depending on your audience, you may want to include it. Some audiences are drawn to documents with “white paper” in the title because of the authoritative indicator, while others may be scared off because of the term.
White papers can be easily 10 pages long, which is why an outline is instrumental. Organize the outline so it is in line with your goals. The paper, ultimately, should grab the readers’ attention, deliver the maximum amount of value, and encourage them to take further action. Think of the flow of the document as if you’re building an argument to make a case before presenting your solution. The outline should flow in a logical order as you build your case, offering in-depth research and evidence about the problem, the background, and finally the solution.
Write an abstract to give the reader an overview of the main points you plan to cover in the paper. It assures your readers that the document is relevant to their needs before they begin reading. It’s generally a good idea to write the abstract after you have completed your outline, so you already know the main points you will be covering in the white paper. You may even want to move this step to the end and write your abstract after the entire document is complete.
Your white paper should include a problem statement, where you specify the issue that the document addresses. You should place the problem into a context that the reader will easily understand.
This section will provide any background information the audience needs to fully understand the problem and grasp the solution. The background information you include may be technical and detailed or it could be broad and high level depending on the complexity and technical nature of the problem and how knowledgeable your audience is.
In this section, you present a solution to the problem you led with at the beginning of the white paper. The evidence and expertise presented before this point should argue in favor of this solution and make it readily apparent why your solution is the best option.
Your conclusion should summarize the major findings you discussed throughout your white paper. You’ll also want to include any recommendations based on the solution you offered.
If you’re using your white paper to sell readers on your product or service, make sure that you mention it at the end of the paper. While you don’t want to use the body of the white paper to promote a product or service, you should naturally incorporate it into the conclusion as you summarize the paper.
At the end of the document, you should include all of the sources that you used when writing the white paper. As mentioned already, it can increase the reader’s confidence in the validity of your research. It also gives them the information they need if they want to do further research.
While writing a white paper requires significant time and research, it can be well worth the effort to stand out as an expert in your industry. Here are some useful tips to help as you work through the writing process.
White papers are different from blog posts. While blogs can be fairly short and informal, your white paper should use a business writing style and be descriptive. You should have done enough research and covered the topic in such detail that it will take ten pages or more to build your case and make your point.
In order to ensure your readers move beyond the first page, it’s important to catch their attention right from the beginning with a great introduction. Pique their interest by telling them what they’re going to accomplish by reading the paper.
After you have created a detailed outline of the points you want to make and the order you want to make them in, just start writing. With the outline still fresh in your mind, the words will be more likely to flow easily. Don’t worry about editing until after you have completed your first draft. You can go back at a later time and work on the flow of the white paper and add in more statistics and research. Focus on writing first and editing later.
Wait several days after you have completed the white paper before going back and seeing what changes you can make to improve upon it. It’s a good idea to read it aloud, as well, to increase the likelihood of catching grammatical mistakes or run-on sentences. You should also strongly consider sharing it with a colleague, or multiple, and asking them to proofread the paper. This can increase the likelihood of catching mistakes that you may have overlooked.
The body of your white paper should present unbiased, educational information that will help your readers, not try to persuade them. You should leave the sales pitch to the end of the white paper in your conclusion where you invite the readers to take some type of action.
White papers should be well-researched. While conducting extensive original research may be outside of your budget, you will need unique content with significant research for the best results. And though aggregating statistics and searching through scholarly articles online can take time, it will also help establish your content as an authoritative source.
While the written content of your white paper is definitely what matters the most, it’s also important to consider the design. Graphic artists help the most important points stand out and can include videos, charts, images, and infographics to support your writing and help the reader better understand what they’re reading.
While white papers should be factual and informative, they should also tell a story. Problem-solution white papers and research findings all have stories to tell, and a reader is far more likely to read an entire white paper from start to finish if there is some kind of narrative to keep them engaged. Set up the problem, elaborate on your solution, and include a success story to make your content more story-like.
More than 50% of internet traffic is now mobile and companies have adapted to this trend by creating a responsive design. In the past, websites simply scaled to the size of the user’s screen while still retaining the layout. The problem was that, on a mobile device, pages became unreadable and difficult, if not impossible, to navigate.
With responsive design, though, the elements on a page were rearranged, resized, or even hidden from view in response to the change in screen size. When a user lands on a web page using a mobile device, font sizes increase, buttons become larger and the entire page adjusts to become mobile-friendly.
That said, while responsive design is common for web pages, companies who produce white papers and other digital assets have often failed to adapt, and many still offer eBooks and white papers in PDF format. PDFs can be unreadable on smaller screens, requiring excessive zooming and panning to read, creating a difficult experience for readers. Create a positive experience for readers by putting your white paper on a hidden page on your site that has a responsive design. You can also offer it as a PDF download for desktop users.
The only way you’ll know if your white paper is having the impact you want is if you take the time to measure the results. Some metrics you may want to monitor are
You should also monitor the amount of traffic that visits the page where they can access the white paper, as this can give you valuable information about your traffic or the paper itself. For example, if you see that you have high traffic to the page but very few people are opting in to read the white paper, you know that either the wrong type of audience is landing on the page or they simply aren’t interested in the topic or title that you’re covering. This is why it’s so important to spend time in the planning stage prior to writing.
If you’re looking to generate credibility for your business and establish authority as an expert, then a white paper is a great way to go. You’re sharing information that adds value to your reader’s life, presenting your research and evidence in a way that makes an argument for your perfect solution, and encouraging the readers to take an action. This type of content is also one of the most preferred types of content used by decision-makers when making buying decisions, which means your white paper could become a powerful tool for your sales department.
All you need to do is spend the time identifying the ideal topic for your audience, ensuring the research and paper are well-planned and that the white paper flows in a way that piques your reader’s interest. Ultimately, the goal is to turn your readers into loyal customers for your business. The steps and tips listed above can go a long way toward helping you create a powerful, engaging white paper that will accomplish all of these things and more for your business.
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