What You Need to Know About White Papers

How to write a white paper

White papers can be an incredible tool for businesses, but if you’re unfamiliar with this form of content marketing, it’s easy to do it wrong. Some businesses misunderstand the medium and use it as a way to push products—a tactic that also can push potential customers away. If you do it right, you can capture new leads and drive sales.

Sound good? Read on to learn what a white paper is and how to create a winning one that brings results rather than boredom.

What is a white paper?

The definition of a white paper can vary by industry, but there are some universal consistencies and best practices. According to Hubspot, “A whitepaper is a persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution.”

This solution is your business’ products or service, but ironically, that isn’t the point. Instead, the idea is to leave readers feeling informed, whether they buy from you or not. Some white papers don’t even plug a specific product or service until the very end of the report.

Here’s an example: Web storage company XtremelO wrote a white paper called “What does better storage performance mean for your business?” The white paper is not about how XtremelO is good for your business—it’s about digital storage as a business problem and how it can be solved. You’re showing readers your brand is an expert on solving this specific problem.

At the end, after educating your readers on how to improve their business or fix a problem, you plug your business (in this case, XtremelO) as an example for this type of solution. Even if the reader doesn’t go on to buy your product, they still came away with helpful information. Another benefit: this shows off your brand as a resource and thought leader.

White papers can take weeks or even months to produce, depending on how much research is needed and how lengthy it is, but these useful reads are usually given away for free since they’re prospecting tools.

Formatting and length best practices

White papers are usually in a PDF file in portrait orientation, and they’re presented much like a professional report with a cover page. (Using a Word document can make you look like an amateur.) Lengthier white papers may have a table of contents or even a references section at the end.

How long should a white paper be? They should generally always be at least few pages long—many experts recommend four to six pages—though they can be 50 pages or longer if the content warrants it. (But really, who has the attention span to read 50 pages? Not most people.) If your white paper is going to be longer than a few pages, aim to break it up with visuals, whether it’s photography or charts and graphs. White papers are usually resource-based and denser than a blog post or even eBook, so don’t be afraid to go into detail—just don’t ramble on unnecessarily, or people will stop reading.

Using a white paper for lead generation

Yes, you can allow prospective customers to simply download a white paper from your website or an email newsletter, and they may purchase your product or contact you in the future. But you can’t track who’s reading it or follow up with them.

A more effective way to make the most of a white paper is to require the reader to submit their contact information before they can download it. One way to do this is to create a landing page that promotes the white paper and asks those interested to submit some basic information before downloading. (Here’s a great example of a white paper landing page from Bazaar Voice).

Requiring users to input a small amount of information before download allows you to capture leads and follow up with those who downloaded it for possible sales opportunities. After all, if they were interested enough to download your brand’s white paper, these warm leads may be receptive to hearing a sales pitch.

 Need help coming up with the perfect white paper topic? Want a white paper that converts for your business? We can help you craft one that delivers results!

Photo courtesy Dan Taylr

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