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10 White Paper Marketing Tips

When done right, nothing pulls in qualified sales leads like a well-targeted offer for a juicy white paper. Offers for white papers and Webinars make up the bulk of ads in Web Digest For Marketers and the solo emails sent once a week to subscribers. I see what pops, and what lays an egg.

Below are best practices gleaned after watching this marketing phenomenon for well over a decade now.

It's not just about clickthroughs. After all, lots of poorly targeted leads will show great numbers but won't result in refined, qualified sales leads. There's a qualitative aspect to this form of marketing that's all important. Many of my advertisers share with me what types of campaigns really tear the roof off while other campaigns result in bubkes.

So here we go...

1. Hot Buttons & Bullets

When advertising your white paper to your house list or in an email newsletter, keep your copy short and to the point.

Use hot-button words like "Download Now" because readers typically like instant gratification.

Use bullet points because:

  • They force brevity
  • They are easier for the reader to scan
  • They break up uninviting paragraphs

2. Long White Papers versus Short White Papers

A recent white paper advertised in Web Digest For Marketers offered more than 80 tips on a particular aspect of Internet marketing. I wondered to myself if that was too long. It was a hit.

The lesson is if you've got lots of good content that will deeply involve the reader, go for it, but it better be really good. Sometimes long white papers can backfire because the reader feels a sense of obligation to read the whole thing.

I recently saw a very short white paper -- no longer than three or four pages. I wondered if that was too short and whether readers would complain. They loved it, because the content was rich, pithy and well-written, and they could get in and out of the subject matter quickly.

3. White Paper Does not Mean Warmed Over Sales Sheet

Nothing alienates a reader more than handing over registration information and then downloading a vacuous three-pager on why the sponsoring company is so wonderful.

I shredded a $5,000 check last year because I refused to let the advertiser promote such a "white paper." This particular advertiser also wanted no fewer than two dozen fields of information before the reader could access the so-called content.

When readers feel ripped off by an offer, they unsubscribe in droves. They also complain loudly and clearly to the publisher.

If you own a list and promote another firm's white paper, read it yourself before accepting the money. Taking the short money can hurt you in the long and short run.

4. White Papers vs. Webinars

I like both for different reasons.

White papers have legs. That is, readers and prospects can pass them along to others inside and outside of the firms in which they work. I sometimes think of them as Trojan horses winding their way around from one decision maker to the next. I wrote a white paper for a client more than five years ago, and I'm still getting feedback on it.

Webinars allow for audience feedback and deliver a live performance, which can have a certain drama to it, especially when there are hundreds of audience members, some of whom ask challenging questions.

5. Focused White Paper Titles

I like long white paper titles because they tend to tell me exactly what to expect when I download and read the contents.

Specificity in a title will also help qualify the resulting sales leads. If you title a white paper "The Importance of Email Marketing," you will probably get all sorts of folks interested in email marketing. But if you're looking specifically for enterprise level prospects, you will want to fashion a title that is of unique interest to large companies, rather than mom and pops.

Let's face it, you will always get unqualified leads from white paper marketing. That's just the cost of business. White papers are usually offered at no cost, and everyone likes something for nothing.

6. Get More Mileage out of Your White Papers

Many advertisers underutilize their white papers and do not get the maximum return on their investment in them.

Resend an offer for that white paper every other month to the same list. Why? Because if you're using paid placement ads in newsletters, you'll reach new subscribers who didn't see it the first time around. These new subscribers are referred to as "hotliners." Hotliners are those who've come onto a list in the past 30 days, and they tend to be very active responders.

Furthermore, there are other subscribers who may or may not have seen your white paper offer previously. In either scenario, they might be ready to act on your offer now, when they weren't before. Sometimes they need to see your offer a few times in a few places before they actually take action.

Common wisdom says that the same offer will draw 50% of the response rate the second time it runs as compared to the first time. That's true if it runs shortly after the first time, which is why I say wait a few weeks or months before running it again. You can also change the subject line of the solo email message or the headline of the ad within the newsletter.

7. Look and Feel

The very name white paper can be a misnomer. It conjures up images of wonky research tomes. In the Internet marketing industry that is sometimes a plus, since our business is so numbers driven.

But there are times when you want to gussy up the pages of your white paper to make it more digestible. Larger fonts, graphics and links are good additions in order to encourage the reader to read your white paper.

Remember too, many people still print out white papers. Tell your graphic artist that when he or she is planning the page layout. The look and feel of a white paper silently transmits your brand image with every page turn, be it a print or electronic page.

8. More Ways to Repurpose Your White Papers

In addition to pulsating your media flights that offer your white paper (see #6), there are other venues you can employ to get your white paper seen. Here are just a few:

  1. White Paper Library Sites: Many industries now have white paper libraries and collect a bounty for each one that is downloaded.
  2. PPC Campaigns: Feature your white paper as an incentive in your paid advertising campaigns.
  3. Cross Promotion: Give responders to one white paper offer the opportunity to download other white papers you have. This can be done on the download site, in a welcome message or within the white paper itself.
  4. White Paper Resource Center: A white paper resource center on your site not only shows off your breadth and depth on a given topic, but also is an excellent search engine optimization tactic.

9. Get a Maven

Spend the money and contract a well-known research firm that has a reputation for putting out high-end research reports. This puts your company's name in the same breath as the respected research firm, which is an excellent branding strategy.

If you don't have the budget to affiliate your white paper with a high-end research firm or graduate school, consider employing the services of a well-respected journalist who is well known in your industry. You'll still get brand recognition, it won't cost you as much, and you will have a well-written white paper you will be proud of.

10. Consider a White Paper Download that Isn't a White Paper

Many tens of thousands of people have downloaded my "Essential Search Engine Marketing Resource Guide." I give it away as a bonus for subscribing to my Web Digest For Marketers email newsletter.

This guide features top PPC and SEO sites. The reviews are short and to the point.

I've seen people download the very same guide two and three times. It just doesn't wear out. In fact, we now update it on a regular basis. And that leads me to my final tip. If you hit on something that works like gangbusters, ride that pony for all it's worth:). LC