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Writing Better White Papers

Updated on January 5, 2014

Text Sells

However you bring people into your landing pages or web site; in the end, it is the text they read that will make them want to take the next step towards becoming a customer.
Creating that text isn’t just a matter of writing it! Well crafted marketing copy must achieve several things:

  • Capture the visitors attention within those critical few seconds before they browse away to another web site
  • Keep the attention of the visitor long enough to get your key messages across
  • Prove an understanding of the needs that brought the visitor to the web page
  • Develop the key product messages around meeting that need
  • Create a desire to know more about what is on offer
  • Deliver a strong call-to-action to get the visitor to do something that results in further engagement

White Paper Flow

AIDA in Action
AIDA in Action

Overly technical White Papers

Many technical people say that not all copy has to be written like this; they write white papers to deliver information that people in the market for their products will find interesting. Most white papers don’t get read. Not just don’t get read right to the end, but don’t get read past the first couple of paragraphs. Why? Mostly because they are not written for the reader, they are written as an outpouring of knowledge by the writer. The only people who do read them are the ones the writer cajoles into proof reading them before publication. Of course, the people chosen as proof readers usually have less technical knowledge than the writer and don’t feel comfortable suggesting significant changes.

So we have a situation where most white papers are exuded by the company subject matter expert and make it, mostly unchallenged, onto the company web site where they get a reasonable number of downloads but we never know if they are driving any business because there is no call-to-action in the white paper that would have sent people to a specific URL where they could be counted.

This is not a snipe at subject matter experts, this author has held that title in several companies and knows the process from having perpetuated it more than once. You also can’t blame marketing, they are usually so grateful to get the output from the SME that they would never do anything to upset that person, by, say, suggesting a few edits that might taint the copy with a little commercialization. Been there too!

Better White Papers Through Understanding

It can all be fixed. Make sure everyone involved in the process knows that they are working for a company that sells stuff, to make a profit, to pay salaries and that everything that is done has to be, at least in part, smoothing the way towards that goal.

The white paper doesn’t have to close with a link that says – ‘now click here to go buy the product.’ There should however be something in there that asks the reader to do something, even if it’s to go to another URL to get more information, something that can be measured so that someone, somewhere can measure the effectiveness of having a subject matter expert spend several days creating the paper in the first place instead of being out talking to customers (for example).

The title of the paper and maybe a brief summary will get people to download the paper in the first place
That very first paragraph has to nail your intended reader and get them sufficiently interested to read on
Develop the text to deliver what you promised in the title and first paragraph and do whatever it is you planned the paper to achieve. It could be selling your company as subject matter experts or proving that your solution is the best one to solve the problem the prospective customer has.
Never finish a paper without getting them to do something. In a long paper you might put trial call to actions throughout the paper. That's a good way of getting feedback on which areas of the paper garner the most interest.
Summary route to a great white paper


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