Beyond the Blog: How to Write a Compelling Whitepaper
by Arina Smith Marketing 05 November 2018
Content marketing is one of the most cost-effective strategies you can use to generate traffic and revenue for practically any business or individual. At the forefront of the content marketing movement is the blog; blogs are easy to set up and manage, and blog articles are short enough that they can be written on a regular basis but long and detailed enough that they yield a substantial impact. For all intents and purposes, blogs are the foundation of content marketing and should serve as the basis for your strategy.
However, relying exclusively on blogs can be limiting. There are many types of content you can write—and to great success—in order to promote your personal or corporate brand. One of the most effective and most approachable is the whitepaper, which comes in many formats but is typically a longer, more detailed version of a blog article.
Typically ranging between 1,200 and 5,000 words, a whitepaper is too long and specific to serve as a traditional article, but too short to be considered an eBook. Depending on how you use them, they can either sharply increase your conversions or build deeper relationships with your most valuable customers.
Why Use a Whitepaper?
Blog articles serve a handful of important functions. First, they serve as the reliable groundwork for your content strategy, because you can publish them regularly on a common feed. Second, they serve as a soft audience extension vehicle, because they can be posted off-site on external blogs and syndicated on social media. Finally, they can be used to deliver soft calls to action to help convert a handful of your readers.
Whitepapers serve complementary functions. Because they’re deeper and juicier than blog articles, they have more intrinsic value and are more attractive, but because they’re longer and bulkier, they’re harder to move. You’ll find it nearly impossible to have a guest blog publish your whitepaper, and few passing social media browsers will have the time or inclination to read the massive document.
Instead, whitepapers are good for forcing conversions—for example, you can tease the value of a white paper with a landing page, but only allow a download of the full version once someone enters their contact information. You can then promote the landing page as a vehicle for conversions, and use the whitepaper as the value in exchange for the personal data.
You can also feature your whitepaper as a separate callout on your website; it serves to showcase your value and, if your whitepaper features original research or new data, will attract new inbound links to your site, thereby increasing your domain authority and search rankings. There is an entire industry built around link building services because links are such a strong factor in the Google ranking algorithm, so be sure you use every opportunity you can to attract links to your website.
Elements of a Successful Whitepaper:
Blog articles often derive power from their headlines, structure, scannability, and visual appeal. Whitepapers, on the other hand, are denser and almost academic in nature. You won’t be breaking down your ideas into short bullet points or paragraph-long sections; instead, you’ll focus on exploring the details of your work.
When putting together your ideas for a whitepaper, remember the following elements of whitepaper success:
- Originality. Your whitepaper needs to bring something new to the table. It can be new research, a new idea, or a new product or service—just make sure it hasn’t been done before.
- Support. You’ll need more supporting evidence for a whitepaper than for a blog. Do your research, publish statistics, and use as much primary and secondary data as possible to drive your points home.
- Value. This should go without saying, but your whitepaper needs to be valuable to your readers. They need to be able to walk away from it with new knowledge or new skills that make their lives better, in one way or another.
- Meat. Whitepapers need to be several thousand words, but that doesn’t mean you can stuff them full of fluff or meander away from your main points. You need a lot of on-point, concise material—and no salesy language.
- Contact. At the end of your whitepaper, leave a page with your contact info. It’s a great way to turn your readers into customers that doesn’t impede on the core content of the whitepaper.
How to Get Started:
It can and should take a long time for you to develop your whitepaper from beginning to end. It might seem intimidating, but if you take it one step at a time, you’ll have no trouble making a quality piece. Your first step is to generate a feasible idea—hold a brainstorming session and list out your possible topics, checking each to determine how it can meet the criteria above.
Then, enter the research phase. Collect all the data you can on every aspect of your topic, and only sketch out an outline once you feel comfortable with the new knowledge. From there, all you have to do is write it!
A Note on Design:
Graphic design isn’t a necessity for your whitepaper; you can lay out your own style in Word or a similar program. However, adding a branded cover, an appealing Table of Contents page, and graphic elements around your graphs and tables can make for a much more compelling piece. Only skip design if you’re gunning for a low budget piece.
Ultimately, your whitepaper will serve as an ideal complementary strategy to your main flow of blog articles. Your blogs will be nimble, steady, reliable, and expendable, while your whitepaper(s) will serve as the heavy-hitting backup. Use each medium to its greatest advantage.