Thought Leadership Central: How to Write a White Paper

Comprehensive marketing strategies include many different types of optimized content. Sales funnels often begin with social media ads, pay-per-click ads and other types of microcontent. Advertorials — ads disguised as regular articles — drive traffic to landing pages; blog posts do the same thing. Then you have long-form editorials and white papers.

But what are white papers, and why are they important — and are they better than orange papers? We’re kidding about that last part: orange papers aren’t really a thing.

In this post, we’ll talk about why white papers should be part of your SEO strategy. Then, we’ll teach you how to write a white paper. Let’s go.

What is a White Paper?

In a nutshell, white papers are special reports — they’re concise, authoritative guides about complicated topics. They’re meant to inform readers or help readers make decisions, and they provide the publishing organization’s unique viewpoint on the subject at hand.

Generally speaking, white papers are pretty short. Most contemporary white papers are between 3,000 and 5,000 words long — about the length of a regular editorial — with the most important information written on the first page.

“If you don’t get to the point on page one, you can forget about influencing any significant decisions.” ~ John Kilpatrick – Greenfield Advisors

Interestingly, the very first white papers definitely weren’t short. Coined in Britain about a century ago, the term “white paper” first appeared in 1922. The Churchill White Paper incorporated nine documents and a memorandum, so it read more like a book. Its name came, quite simply, from the color of the cover.

One common characteristic of white papers is they’re often packaged as PDFs complete with appealing visuals that help communicate key points. They can serve as powerful lead magnets that many marketers use for mid-funnel conversions.

Why White Papers Matter

Perhaps more than any other type of sales funnel content, white papers present opportunities for thought leadership. If you’ve done your own research, you can use it to prove the points you make; if possible, incorporate other data as well, to showcase widespread support for your idea.

In short, white papers are great mid-funnel content that let you help your customers while demonstrating your brand’s unique authority in your field.

Articles and blog posts live on your site, so they’re readily available to anyone. White papers are a little different: they’re essentially premium content. Most organizations turn them into downloadable PDFs — visitors have to provide email addresses and other information to receive download links.

When they’re put behind a “download wall” like this, white papers make a great email collection tool (AKA lead magnets).

Used as part of your sales funnel, collecting emails from people who download your white papers lets your grow your email list of mid-funnel prospects that you can market to.

In time, you can use that list to create a segmented email marketing campaign — and segmented campaigns generate a great click-through rate. These campaigns can help nudge your leads further down the funnel towards conversions.

White papers take a little more time to research and write than regular articles, so they often cost more per word. And, you’ll likely spend more time designing the final product. Having said that, these multi-purpose documents provide a great return on investment, so they’re worth the extra outlay.

“A good white paper helps decision makers make smarter decisions. A white paper should provide new knowledge and new insights that are not available anywhere else.” ~ Mark Kantrowitz, Savingforcollege.com

How They Help Your Sales Team

Sales people ultimately want to help their leads make the best buying decision to solve the challenges they face. As marketers, creating white papers provides sales people with a powerful resource they can share with their leads to help them learn more about the challenges they face, and hopefully how your solution can help.

That’s called sales enablement and it’s very valuable for your company.

Types of White Paper

White papers are an essential part of any successful sales funnel. There are three main types of sales and marketing-centric white papers:

  • Backgrounder: These documents go behind the scenes to reveal the publishing organization’s methods for success — and they sometimes also include case studies. Background white papers work well in the awareness stage of a sales funnel.
  • Listicles: These white papers share exclusive tips and tricks for business success, or provide readers with a step-by-step list of instructions. Numbered list white papers work well in the interest and evaluation part of a sales funnel.
  • Improved solution: These guides define problems, describe typical solutions and then offer the publishing organization’s innovative new solutions. Improved solution white papers work well in the interest and evaluation part of a sales funnel, and also at the desire and action stages of a sales funnel.

When they’re well written and positioned, all three types of white paper generate leads. Some white papers use the numbered list and the improved solution format to create an all-in-one document.

How to Write a White Paper

“Think about who you’re going to write this document for. Are they physicians, lawyers, marketers, media professionals, artists? Know why they would want to read your white paper.” ~ Julien Raby, ThermoGears

White papers build trust and help to establish your company (or you) as a thought leader. If they find the information in your white paper helpful, people often come back for more. You can use the following formula to write your own white paper:

  1. Think about your narrative arc. Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end — and characters that stay constant throughout — and the same applies to a white paper. Create an outline before you begin.
  2. Perform consumer research. Your white paper has to be compelling — people have to want to read it. Tools like SurveyMonkey can help you create consumer questionnaires to determine whether people find your white paper topic interesting.
  3. Find a content gap. Don’t write about ultra-popular subjects — instead, concentrate on a niche to insert your paper into a content gap.
  4. Define your readership. Are your readers industry professionals or are they regular consumers looking for a quick fix? Use relatable language and stay away from jargon — unless you’re speaking to the tech crowd.
  5. Write a great hook. Draw readers into your guide with a compelling first sentence, and then continue with a well-defined intro. Include a short summary of the paper’s content and tell your audience how they’ll benefit from reading it from start to finish.
  6. Make your paper valuable. Now’s the time to show off your unique insight. When white papers include lots of useful information, they get shared — and your brand gets noticed.
  7. Keep things interesting. Stay away from dry, formal language. Write in a relatable way and include anecdotes if you can.
  8. Wrap things up with a great conclusion. Reiterate some of the topics you covered and end with a call to action.
  9. Check your work. Never, ever upload a white paper — or any other type of content — without proofreading first.

“Make your white paper as appealing as possible with the inclusion of visuals – charts, images and tables that provide proof of your central solution or problem. If you’ve undertaken primary research, these charts and graphs will be your main weaponry to sway your audience.” ~ Collin Matthews, Cookwared

Boost Leads With a White Paper

White papers are an integral part of online success. You can use them to generate leads and position yourself as an industry authority. Three different types of white paper exist: behind-the-scenes documents, listicles and improved solutions — and they work well at various stages of the sales funnel.

If you’re interested in a white paper for your site but don’t have the time (or the inclination) to write one yourself, Crowd Content can help. Our thousands-strong team of dedicated writers create sales funnel and SEO-centric content seven days a week. To find out more, get in touch online or call us on 1-888-983-3103 today.

Eric Hoppe

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Eric has been working in marketing and product management for over a decade with companies in the software, eCommerce and content creation spaces. He’s particularly drawn to both content marketing and SEO and is excited that the two areas are increasingly converging. While he’s pretty serious about marketing, he does love to drop a great dad joke on occasion.

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