Published by Elizabeth Godfrey , March 7th, 2017
Even if you regularly download and read white papers, chances are you have not considered what makes a document a ‘white paper’ and not an article, technical bulletin or something else. As content marketing pieces, white papers can represent very different styles with some that are much more effective than others.
A good white paper is essentially a hybrid technical (or academic) marketing piece that is intended to educate the target audience. As a marketing piece, it should contain captivating subheadings that make the information simple to skim and lead the audience through the paper to the conclusion. The subheadings should lend to the overall structure of the paper by providing clear signposting that makes the paper easy to navigate and helps establish it as a valuable educational resource.
An Argument for Better Papers
All white papers are persuasive pieces, whether they aim to convince readers of a particular solution to a common industry problem or convey that the newest technology or research innovation offers the answers to their problems. The resolution represents the paper’s conclusion, and ‘soft sell.’ An effective white paper must be written with this intended argument in mind.
The Marketing Component
Unlike brochures and other marketing pieces, white papers should not contain overt selling as the primary goal is to educate readers. The soft sell in the conclusion allows the business or company to provide readers with a chance to learn more about the specific solution. It also typically contains a call to action for next steps. Any marketing in an effective white paper is considered ‘soft’ because it should not alienate readers or detract from the educational aspects of the paper.
Determining Your Audience
Who do you want to reach with your white paper? With the broad goal of a white paper established, one of the first steps for success is to consider who you hope to inform. In selecting your target audience, it is helpful to identify problems or needs your ideal reader may face so you can better map your solution. Targeting a broader audience, such as a specific industry, means a larger reach for your paper. This gives you a bigger impact on brand recognition and helps position your company as an authority on the subject. However, if your solution or goal for the paper is to close sales, you may want a more focused audience. Writing to the executive suite or to those with buying power is more effective in this case as you can specifically address the technical aspects that are most important to the specific group.
Word count ideally stems from the topic itself. In general, the goal is to find something that is Goldilocks approved – not too long, not too short but just right. The most beneficial white papers for readers are those that examine something new and support findings and claims with evidence. While the white paper is more of a hybrid document when executed effectively, it is still a marketing piece. It is therefore essential to remember the overarching goal, whether that is lead generation, closing the sale or establishing thought leadership. Your white paper should move readers through the content toward the bigger picture. To ensure they make it to the paper’s conclusion, however, you need to keep your readers’ interest. Holding an audience is much more difficult when the paper is very long.
Setting the Tone
Unlike a blog, white papers need to maintain a tone that conveys thought leadership and credibility. This does not mean the writing needs to be stuffy. In general, white papers should avoid first and second person language (I, we and you respectively) in order to maintain an appropriate tone. As with all technical writing, the content should strive for accessibility. Even papers that explore more in-depth, technical topics should written clearly and concisely.
To Byline or Not to Byline
Should my white paper list an author? The simple answer to this question is, it depends. Including a byline for a well-known industry expert can absolutely strengthen both the creditability and desirability of a white paper. If your business publishes white papers frequently, this can also help establish your team’s subject matter experts and generate a regular audience, making your paper more likely to be disbursed organically.
On the other side of this, attribution to a person, rather than the company in general, may strengthen the brand of the specific author as much as, or more than, the brand of your company. While not inherently negative, the risk of losing established thought leadership due to turnover is something every company should consider before deciding on attribution.
White papers are not new, but they also aren’t going anywhere. An effective white paper can make all the difference in the continued push to gain new leads and set your brand apart from the competition. They also benefit your company as much as they benefit your audience. White papers are a long-term investment that helps persuade potential customers to choose your company. They also educate your sales reps and give them a valuable tool to close the sale.
Published by Elizabeth Godfrey , August 25th, 2016
Google continues to make updates and improvements to its cross-device conversions metric which was first introduced three years ago. Starting this September, Google will begin including cross-device conversions under the main conversions column automatically. This change moves the information from the “Cross-Device Conversion” column where it has previously existed and removes the option to manually include the metric under “Conversions.”
What it is
Cross-device conversions track the full search to purchase process of online customers, regardless of multiple devices. Online shoppers who are signed into their Google account across devices, like mobile phones, tablets and desktops, can be tracked to show device usage throughout the conversion process. This means clicks on a Google AdWords pay-per-click ad that originate on one internet enabled device are tracked throughout the search and purchase process on any other device.
Cross-device conversions is still relatively new to Google AdWords. Yet a growing reliance on a variety of internet enabled devices makes it more beneficial than ever to track these conversions. Google’s push to increase visibility of cross-device metrics demonstrates the increased need for companies to invest in responsive website design if they have not already done so. According to Google, “61% of internet users and over 80% of online millennials start shopping on one device but continue or finish on a different one.”
Why it matters
Marketers know the importance of mobile readiness and tracking. Moving cross-device conversion to the main tab makes it easier to find this information and continue, or start, tracking these conversions. Setting up attribution allows you to actually give credit to mobile users for conversions that previously defaulted as desktop users. This provides a more accurate picture of mobile conversions and, ultimately, the ROI for responsive website designs.
Published by Elizabeth Godfrey , May 26th, 2016
The best content comes from the meticulous selection of words. As word counts dwindle on web pages and promotional materials, it becomes increasingly important to deliver information that captivates. As William Zinsser said in On Writing Well, “words are the only tools you’ve got.” That’s not to say design is unimportant. Visual interest sparks your audience’s attention – words ignite action.
It seems almost impossible to write something new when every third product online claims similar ‘uniquely innovative world-class discoveries’ beyond every click. There’s nothing wrong with a sprinkling of industry buzz words as long as you communicate what differentiates you from everyone else. There are, however, words that clutter and weaken your writing.
Terms to Limit
Really. There’s almost always a better word to communicate when something is really great (superior, wonderful, extraordinary, etc.) and in doing so you eliminate unnecessary words.
I think / I feel / I believe. Many times phrases like these come from insecurity or trying to avoid definitive statements. When your reader identifies hesitation there’s almost no chance of actually persuading them your thought, feeling, or belief is accurate.
Just. If you can remove “just” and retain your intended meaning, do so.
Actually. Like the opinion based phrases above, “actually” is commonly used as a filler word that tries to establish some level of credibility, but usually has the opposite effect. Using “actually” seems more like a signal of ignorance than truth.
These words (or phrases) are probably no surprise. Most lists that identify weak words or terms to avoid in your writing will have these listed somewhere. Does that mean they should vanish entirely? Absolutely not. These terms can still be valuable tools when used sparingly and in the right situations. “Just,” for example, can be useful in informal communications like emails to show you are ‘just checking in’ and not trying to be pushy.
Additional Tips for Better Writing
Crisp words can add flavor to your writing, as long as you understand usage. Do not expect to find and replace all your buzz words or weak terms with the first synonym that presents itself and solve all problems. The goal is to curate your content through mindful selections.
- Clear, concise writing goes a long way. If you can eliminate words without losing meaning you absolutely should.
- Watch adjective placement – related words should stay together.
- Vary your sentence structure and your word choices. When in doubt, read your sentences out loud. Repeated words will sound off so you’ll know where a change is needed.
- Good writing comes from rewriting.
Published by Bill White , August 21st, 2015
The first time I sat at the controls of a helicopter the pilot said “This is like a bumblebee; it’s not supposed to fly but it does.” The first time I sat at the controls of an airplane my pilot friend pushed the throttle forward and said “Don’t be afraid of it; it wants to fly”. And it did.
The difference, I learned, was one of inherent stability. Properly designed, the airplane wants to fly. The helicopter does not. It has no inherent stability. You have to create it by managing collective and cyclic pitch, rotor speed and rudder controls.
This obtuse comparison is a perfect metaphor for managing the new algorithmic mysteries of search engine optimization to optimize page rankings and intelligent content enriched by metadata. A few years ago, if you wrote the copy and it was well done, readable and accurate, it would be understood. Inherent stability.
This is no longer good enough. Content marketing, according to industry expert Ann Rockley, “. . . is structurally rich, semantically aware and . . . automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable”.
As marketing people, we depend on the internet and digital marketing platforms to distribute our content as far and as high as it can go. Amid a crowded landscape, everyone has a message. The push to the top is brutal. Today, brute force and big bucks are no longer keys to success when it comes to showing up on search engines. We have to finesse our way into the equation using a combination of tools all related to content.
No matter what you call this new discipline – content optimization, intelligent content, whatever – there are good ways and useless ways to approach the balancing act. The good ways involve managing analytics, processing feedback, adjusting what we say on a website or in social media, and watching the impact of our changes as they propagate throughout cyberspace.
The days of writing good content and letting it fly are over. Good content doesn’t want to fly; it has to be flown, and the only inherent stability we can count on is the stability we create with hands-on control. Without expertise and a keen understanding of algorithms, traveling through the digital world can be a white knuckle experience.
Don’t try this at home. Find someone you can trust, work with them and enjoy the ride. Click here for more on Intelligent Content. To discuss how we can assist with the challenges you're facing with content optimization contact Jane Cirigliano or Bill White at 800-606-1610.
Published by Bill White , April 17th, 2015
Feeding the New Beast
There are few things more angst-ridden than sitting in front of a blank screen eager for words. Not so long ago we called this blank page “The Beast”. No more.
The real Beast is something we can’t see. It’s an ambiguous, amorphous and cold-blooded reality called The Algorithm. Powerful, deadly, rich with cash, better leveraged than anything Atlas needed to move the earth, it’s now controlling our lives and businesses.
As we know, the search engine is the way we find anything and everything in an instant, at home and at work. Understanding The Algorithm is the key to organic search engine results.
As marketers, we have no defense against such an invasive and seductive tool beyond our ability to understand The Algorithm, learn to use it, keep a light touch on the controls and avoid getting comfortable; it will surely change tomorrow.
Intelligent Content has emerged as the newest buzz phrase in the marketing world. According to the Content Marketing Institute, Intelligent Content is “structurally rich and semantically aware, . . . automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.”
Shakespeare was way ahead of all this.
"If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me."
Intelligent Content is our key to managing The Algorithm. It is a phrase dumped into a new corporate silo managed by a new crop of corporate chiefs building new rules about what’s said about a brand on the global digital platform. All must bow to The Algorithm in the quest for a page one ranking.
At OffWhite we’ve made it our business to craft content around and within websites and social media to match what The Algorithm wants to see. This combination of words and phrases, repeated with continuity throughout website and social media posts, is what The Algorithm requires before we are rewarded with a rise in search rankings.
Our business of information management and education as a marketing tool remains the same. In the new world, however, we must craft our messages with consideration for each word, knowing that fewer words improve the potency of the words we ultimately use. Less is more.
From words to phrases, phrases to pages, pages to logic paths within site maps, we must orchestrate what we say with a renewed appreciation for efficiency in language, a reality imposed by our hunger to find things on the internet at light speed.
It is The Algorithm that drives our addiction. It is Intelligent Content that tames the Beast.
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