Nick Rennard
By Nick Rennard | Content Writing, SEM, Video | May 1, 2017

Whitepaper Best Practices Guide

Hello Fellow Advertisers! Today I will be discussing tips and tricks for writing high quality whitepaper assets to help drive better lead generation for your business. I’ll cover basic whitepaper best practices, appropriate (and inappropriate) times to use white papers, how to tell a story, and also talk about how to identify and handle the different personas of your potential clients. Enjoy!

Whitepaper Best Practices Full Transcript:

Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of my video blog series. I’m your host, Nick Rennard. I’m the head of SEM here at Digital Reach Agency. Today, we are going to be talking about whitepaper best practices. I’m going to give you guys a bit of a guide for that. I want to talk a bit about why this is so important. I come from a PPC background myself, so when I first started out, we are creating campaigns on AdWords or Bing, or other various platforms. Now, a person who is a PPC account tech, one of the issues with evaluating performance on any given account is that there’s a lot of moving parts.

There’s a lot of things going on. One of the most important moving parts in terms of getting people to actually fill out your forms or convert so that you can generate leads is the actual asset that you’re sending people to. Now, this video blog is going to be focusing on whitepapers, although I will talk a little bit about other assets as well. As a PPC tech, you can do a perfect job setting up your AdWords campaigns, or Bing campaigns, or whatever. You can do an absolute perfect job executing every single best practice, and still be wasting money every single day because if you’re sending them to a landing page that looks like it was made in 1996, no one is going to want to buy your products, because it gives off the terrible first impression.

If the landing page can’t convert users, then regardless of how good the targeting is or the ad is, we need to have a good asset to send people to. That’s what we’re going to be reviewing today is some of the best practices for sending people to the right content. I’m going to start off here by going into … I’ll start with our table of contents. I have four slides that I’m going to cover today. The first one is basic best practices. The second one is I’m going to talk about call-to-actions and go into a little bit about other types of assets that you could use aside from just the whitepaper.

I’m going to talk about storytelling within a whitepaper and how that can be effective. Then lastly, I’m going to talk about problem identification, and we’ll go into a little bit about personas of users that are very common in any given industry. Let’s go ahead and start off here with our best practices. We’re talking about whitepapers here. First and foremost, the number one best practice is to keep your form submissions and call-to-actions above the fold. Some people don’t know what that means above the fold. When you land on any given landing page, anything that you can see right when you land on it, that’s considered above the fold.

If you have to scroll down to see it, like, let’s say you have a video or maybe some testimonials that you can scroll down to the middle or the bottom of the page to see, those are going to be considered below the fold. The reason that we keep form submissions above the fold is that any type of conversion, whether you’re trying to get people to call you, or maybe you’re trying to get people to fill out a quote form or something like that, any amount of clicking around or scrolling that a user has to do is going to lower your overall conversion rate. There’s obviously a balance. We don’t want to just shove that form submission right in the face.

It doesn’t mean that having users click around or scroll around a little bit to find what you’re looking for, it’s okay to have a little bit of leniency on that, but for the most part, it should be very, very, very easy for people to find where to convert on your site. If it’s difficult for any new user to find that, then you’re probably doing it wrong. A good way to test this is if you’re unsure whether or not it’s easy for people to find it, just find someone who has never seen your landing page before and doesn’t know anything about your industry or whatever, and just show them the landing page, and see if they can figure it out themselves.

That can be a good way to adjust it. Let’s move on here. Next thing, best practice, you want to have a good lacing of graphics and texts. It actually makes documents much more readable when you keep them in what I call picture formatting. Half of your content should be images or graphics, or graphs, or colors, whatever. The other half should be texts. If you just look at this slide for example, you can see that I have some graphics up here at the top, and I have a picture here. This is probably a little more than 50% on the word side of things or on the text side of things.

We might want to include a little more images or a graph if this is a whitepaper that you were using, but it does make it more readable for the user if you have a 50-50 split between those. If you see yourself just having, I call it, like a book of texts where it’s just like you’re just reading, reading, reading, reading, and there’s no break of an image or something for someone to look at, you’re going to be neglecting those more visually inclined people, and yes, so you always want to have a split between those.

The next thing here, display five to 10 features in bullet point format. The reason in bullet point format is just like what I have here on this slide here, where I just have bullets of the high-level notes. You don’t want to go to in depth. The reason is is that if you have too many words on there, people are just not going to read it, so they’re never going to digest what your product features are. Just keep it simple, anywhere from five to 10 talking about maybe about how our product is better than our competitors because of this reason or maybe easy installation or maybe 24-hour customer support, or anything that you can think of that’s unique to your product and is the reason why they should be buying your product, you’ll want to list those.

It’s generally good to keep those above the fold, because for everything that’s above the fold, we want to keep the submission right there, so it’s easy for them to find. We also want to give them a very basic overview without having to scroll around too much of what the high-level features of your products are. Next here, use high-resolution images and videos. This should be pretty straightforward. Not only is it better for the user. If they see good high-quality, high-resolution images, but it’s also better from an SEO standpoint. You’re going to get dinged on your quality scores if you have crap resolution on your images, so you want to make sure that your content there is good.

I can’t emphasize this enough. First impressions are insanely important. If this is a whitepaper, which means that it’s probably a top of funnel asset, and you’re sending people to a page that has blurry images for the first time that they’re hearing about your product, no way are they going to be or, I mean, they may convert still, but your conversion rate is going to be lower that it would be if you just had a higher quality, more modern looking, techier feel to your images. When you have those low-resolution images, you’re just losing customers. You’re just losing revenues.

Look at your images. Look at your graphics, and update them if you need to. The next thing here, if you have it, include, video content. Video content tends to be effective. I actually recommend that you split test included in the video content on the page. I’d say for the most part that we have more success for pages that have a video, as you’re scrolling down, there’s a video that’s like two minutes about what we do. That does tend to be effective more often than not, but I do advocate split testing it and you can even create goals and analytics to see which people are clicking on your video and actually viewing them.

There’s a lot you can do with that, so I highly recommend considering that. Lastly here, this is just a rule of thumb. I say this to everybody, I always say it lesses more. I’m definitely a minimalist when it comes to stuff like this. You’re trying to quick sell people. This is a person who is at the top of your sales funnel. They just need to know the basics about your product, and you’re just trying to see if it perks their interest. If you write a novel about your product, and go super in depth, you’re going to lose people, so try to keep it simple.

I always say that keep it simple, digestible, and actionable. They should be able to read through your content relatively quickly, because they’re not going to be spending two hours on your whitepaper or on your conversion landing page reading through everything. That’s not the whitepaper is for. The whitepaper should have all of the in-depth content, but the page that they download the white paper from, that should be relatively simple and just be hitting the high-level stuff. Keep it simple. If it’s simple then it’s digestible because they can read through it quickly, and get an idea of what it is.

Then once they understand your product, that’s when it’s actionable because then the first action will be downloading the whitepaper, but then after that, there’s going to be more followup actions to that, which we will actually get into right now. Call-to-actions, now, I want to talk a little bit about nonwhitepaper assets. This video is talking specifically about how to optimize a whitepaper. There is more call-to-actions that you can use besides whitepaper. I just want to talk about why we use whitepapers in the first place. I guess, I should have started the slides with this, but that’s fine.

A whitepaper is what we would consider a non-aggressive call-to-action. We’re not asking people to really go out of their way to download this. We’re just asking them to enter their email, maybe their name, or business size, or something, some relatively simple information just so we can get their name on our list. We’re actually offering them something in return. In the case of a free whitepaper download, we’re offering them free resources to learn more about their products. They have a problem. That’s why they’re coming to our site to find the solution to their problem, and we’re providing them a resource to read more on how to fix that and how our products may be able to help them.

There are other non-aggressive call-to-actions. Honestly, any kind of free resource that you give somebody, sometimes people have free videos that you can download where it’s like a 10-minute video that’s of a one-on-one explainer of everything that you do. That’s essentially the same thing as what a whitepaper is doing. It’s just going more in depth on how your products can help these people. Just going more into the non-aggressive call-to-actions, again, anything that’s just teaching them more about how to solve their problems, that’s what we would consider non-aggressive.

Now, a non-aggressive asset is something that we want to use for anyone who’s at the top of the funnel. What I mean by that is that if someone is seeing your product for the first time, so maybe they just realized that they have a problem, and so they started Googling around, and they clicked on your paid ad, and they came to your whitepaper page, this person isn’t ready to buy today. A lot of people are going to have sales cycles that are like three to six months or longer, and so we’re not trying to get them to buy it right now.

We’re just trying to educate them, and so if we try to shove an aggressive call-to-action down their throat, like trial with this now or buy now, they’re just not going to do it. They’re not ready to buy. We need to lube them up a little bit with non-aggressive call-to-actions like a whitepaper before we start getting into aggressive call-to-action. A whitepaper in general, where you should be using it, you should be using it for new user acquisition. You should not be using whitepapers for people that have already been in your sales funnel for five months, because they already know all that stuff. They don’t need to know it anymore.

For someone who’s further down the funnel, like let’s say they’ve been in your sales cycle for a long time, so a good example of a campaign that would be further down the funnel would be like a remarketing campaign. It’s somebody who’s been to your side before. We know that because we cookie them, and we follow them around with our ads. For someone who is further down the funnel, we want to be more aggressive with our call-to-actions, so it’s something like a demo or a trial, or, “Are you ready to buy today,” type asset would be much more appropriate for something like a remarketing campaign, whereas a whitepaper is going to be more effective for somebody who has never heard about you before, and you’re just trying to get them interested in your product or service.

Let’s move on here. Now, I want to talk about storytelling. First and foremost here, this is a term that I made up a while back. Don’t feature vomit. People love to do this in whitepapers. In fact, almost every single whitepaper that if a client hands me the resource, and they’re like, “What do you think about this,” and I look at it, I would say that nine times out of 10, it’s just feature vomiting. They took a piece of paper, and they wrote everything that they could possibly write about what their feature can do. Even a full out of it is not relevant, and it’s just providing solutions. It’s not an effective technique.

I’m going to more into alternatives for feature vomiting, but what I want to talk about now is storytelling, because that’s the slide obviously. Instead of just telling them all other things that your product can do, try to develop a story about how maybe a real client went through the process, or maybe talk about the problem first, and develop a beginning, middle, and end, and tell a story with how your product helps people solve their problems. The first note that I have here is to start with the common problem that many customers have.

If you’re selling a product or service, this is going to be easy to do. Whatever your product does if it’s a software that digests data and helps you analyze it, then your problem would be maybe there are people out there that have a bunch of unorganized data, and they need help organizing it. You can start talking about a customer who has issues like that, or even like literally ask the question. You can ask the question. You can have the headline be, “Do you have problems with data analytics?” That’s addressing the problem just to start off, so we’re getting that on the table. It’s a really good start.

Second note here, address how those problems can be fixed through XYZ methods. If data analysis is your problem, you can talk about the things that you can do to try and organize that. I don’t really have any great examples off the top of my head. I probably should have thought of one before doing this video blog, but that’s all right. We want to come up with ways that this can be fixed, and then following that up, we want to show them how our products can provide these solutions, so like, “Here are the things that we can do to fix those issues, and then here is our software actually in action doing that,” and showing them real examples of how that can happen.

Storytelling is extremely important, and I think it’s one of the things that’s the hardest to do. It’s one of the most overlooked things in a whitepaper. It takes a high level of creativity to be able to develop and tell that story when you’re just selling somebody, but it’s extremely effective because if you can keep them hooked from the first headline that they read, they’re going to want to read through the whole thing, and that’s going to stick in their brain because they’re going to be looking through five or 10 competitors who have very similar products series, but if they remember yours because of the story that you told, even if all that does is just help your brand name stick in their brain, that’s exactly what we want.

We want them to have a good first impression. We want them to remember those, so that way when the remarketing images are rolling around that they look at our ad, they recognize us. Next here, I’m going to recommend that you use real examples. Testimonials are great. Case studies are great. Snapshots are great. I think everyone knows what testimonials and case studies are, but if you haven’t heard of a snapshot before, I have an example of that right here, where it’s almost like telling a story but in a very short format. I would recommend that you keep any snapshots outside.

Keep it off on the side or blow where your story is. Best practice is that snapshots can interrupt the story that you’re telling, but if you include it afterwards or off to the side, then it can help emphasize the story that you are trying to tell in the rest of the content. It gives people real examples of how this product has helped other people, same thing with testimonials and doing case studies is very similar. Then lastly here, I already mentioned this before, but like any story, you need a beginning, and middle, and end, so as you’re trying to write your story, because I know that can be difficult when you write in a whitepaper, try to identify where your beginning, middle, and end are.

If you’re struggling with that, just try to structure in that format. It will help you do a better job of telling a story with your whitepaper. Then our last slide here is problem identification. It is so important that you start by identifying the problem for your clients or your potential customers, because people don’t even realize this, but most of the time, people have problems that can be solved by your software, they don’t even know that they’re problems yet. A lot of the times, people don’t necessarily think that they’re …Like, going back to the data analysis example, maybe they don’t think their data is all that unorganized, but in reality, it actually it is.

In a case like that, if we just start talking, if we just feature vomit, this is the reason that feature vomiting doesn’t help is because those people don’t think that that’s a problem yet, but if we bring it out to the surface by asking them a question like, “Are you doing this, or are you not doing that,” because those are behaviors that are typical of somebody who needs your software, then you can bring it to the surface for somebody who doesn’t think that’s … All of a sudden, they think it’s a problem, and then it’s easier to sell them at that point, because they want to take action on that.

Again, we talked about feature vomiting. Do not do it. It is so much more important that you get the potential customer, potential client to realize that they have a problem first before you get into problem solving. Don’t try to problem solve. Try to problem identify. In going along with problem identification, I want to talk a little bit about personas of people that you’re going to run into. Not every client or customer that you’re going to run into as you know is going to be the same person.

Someone of them are going to be super friendly. Some of them are going to be submissive. Some of them are going to be jerks. Some of them are going to be assertive. They’re going to be all over the place. I usually classify them into two different categories, and there’s subscripts to these categories depending on demographics, and stereotypes, and stuff like that, but I like to classify them into the optimists versus the pessimists. Everyone knows what optimism and pessimism are. Pessimists are generally going to think that everything is crappy.

It’s going to be easier to identify problems for those people, because they already think that everything is a problem. The optimist is going to be the other side of the persona where they’re going to think that everything is good, and this solution that they’re looking for is they don’t really need that much. They just need a little help or something, but like otherwise, again, I’m explaining what optimism and pessimism are. We know what that is. What I want to do is I want to recommend that when you create your whitepapers, that you create them based on the personas of your potential clients and customers.

Every industry is going to be a little bit different, and branching them into two categories of optimism and pessimism is a huge generalization. You need to just critically think about your own customer-based, and think about what the best way to sell those types of customers are. That’s going to be dependent on what your product actually is. The best practice here is to have not just one whitepaper asset, because you might have one whitepaper asset that is super negative, and is talking about all the problems that can occur, and bla, bla, bla, bla, bla.

That might tailor very well towards someone who is a pessimist, because they’re like, “Hey, I think like that, and I think all these things too. It totally agree with your content. Let’s definitely download this whitepaper call or whatever the conversion you’re trying to get them to do,” but it might not be effective for somebody who doesn’t think those. They’re problems you might have to take a softer approach to something like that. It’s always good to create multiple assets that address the different personas of the types of clients that you’re dealing with.

Then the second note that I have here is to AB split test your different resources. They’re going to perform differently, I promise you, and some of them might be more effective in one place and less effective in another. That’s something that the only way you can figure that out there is no blog, or guide, or anything out there that’s going to tell you which one is better. The only way to know is to spend some money, and find out, so just AB split test it.

Then my last note here is that fear is your friend in sales. I love fear selling people. Fear selling people is the easiest way to sell people, because all you have to do is put it in their head that there’s a problem, and if they don’t do anything about it that there’s going to be a consequence. An example would be like tree removal service. If you’re trying to pitch tree removal service to somebody, and you say that, “Hey man, this tree is really old and about to fall over. It may fall down on your house and kill your family,” that’s a very extreme example, but all of a sudden the person is like, “Oh crap, I could lose my whole family because of this tree in my backyard that I just haven’t addressed for the past 10 years?”

It’s like, “Yes, that can actually happen.” Your putting that fear into their head, and you’ll realize that in that example, that person might not have even realized to begin with that that tree could actually do that, that it could actually fall over and hurt somebody. People have problems like that all the time that they don’t even recognize, and your job with these whitepapers is to get people to recognize their problems. Then right when they’re at that moment of realizing that they have a problem, and they want to reach out and find solutions, that’s when we want to shove our product in their face.

That’s when we want to pitch them with the demo or a trial, but we have to set them up for that first. That’s why this problem identification is important. That’s why storytelling is important. We need to hook them before we sell them. Anyways, that’s all I have for today. I appreciate you guys watching my video blogs. I hope you found this particular one helpful, and I will see you guys next week in my next video blog.

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