More lawyers should write white papers. Why? White papers have some serious "viral marketing" benefits. Research shows, for example, that 77% of prospects who download white papers will pass it along to their colleagues, and 24% will be pass it along to a supervisor (MarketingSherpa).
White paper offers can also be lead generation machines. Some of our clients have captured leads numbering in the hundreds from white paper promotions.
So what makes a good attorney white paper? Here are ten guidelines:
#1. Style: A white paper should not be a disguised sales pitch. That is, do not write a white paper suggesting why you are the greatest lawyer since Atticus Finch and why any intelligent client should hire you and your law firm. Instead, a good white paper will educate readers by, for example, telling them “how to” solve a tactical problem, avoid a common pitfall, capitalize on a growing trend, or address a compelling need (note: research shows that white paper readers tend to think more in terms of their problems (e.g., spyware) than possible solutions (e.g., anti-spyware)). In other words, think of a white paper as a short written tutorial that conveys expertise indirectly (since only an "expert" can be an effective tutor).
#2. Hire a "Ghostwriter": don't have time to write a white paper? Hire a "ghostwriter" - there are many talented writers out there - often former attorneys - who can take an outline that you provide to them and convert it into a compelling, well-written white paper. Don't use the "I don't have time" excuse to miss out on such a valuable marketing tool.
#3. Length: avoid broad topics that it would take a book (or at least a law review article) to cover properly. Instead, focus on a small, but fascinating slice of your knowledge base. To paraphrase a well-known proverb, write about individual “trees”, as opposed to the “forest.” This will also help you build a larger library of white papers over time.
Ideally, you want to aim for probably not more than 4-5 pages. If your audience is particularly harried, busy and stressed (such as investment bankers), even shorter might be better. The key is to deliver "bit-sized" chunks of guidance and insight that is valuable to your target audience.
#4. White Paper Titles: the title you choose for your white paper may probably be the most important choice you make since it is the title the attracts people's attention and gets them to download the white paper. Follow these guidelines from MarketingSherpa for a great title.
a. The shorter the title, the better.
Try to convey the subject matter of your white paper in as few words as possible. For example, MarketingSherpa reports that research of downloads from CNET revealed that the most-viewed white paper on digital security was named, “The Starter PKI Program,” and the least popular paper was, “An Introduction to Enterprise Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).”
If a longer title is necessary to convey the subject matter of a white paper (as is usually the case), break it into sections using colons and subtitles, such as: The Dangers of Web Due Diligence: Why Google is No Substitute for a Professional Background Investigation (research shows that 70% of the top 10 white papers use a colon, compared to only 30% of the bottom 10) (MarketingSherpa).
b. Promise a benefit in the title.
As examples, as reported by MarketingSherpa, the following white papers were among the most popular in a leading IT white paper database:
- Measuring the Return on HR Technology
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Compliance
- VoIP Basics for IT Technicians
c. Use numbers.
For some reason, people love numbers (we see this regularly with email newsletter subject lines like "The Top 5 M&A Pitfalls"). As an example, “10 Things You Need to Know about Compliance” conveys to readers that your paper offers tangible, rapidly digestible facts.
d. Use “ing” words
People love "How To's". “How to” white papers offering specific advice or solutions frequently have titles with words like: “Identifying,” “Preventing,” (or “Avoiding”), and “Defending.”
e. Stick with plain English.
Do not use terms readers won’t be familiar with, or overly technical or pompous language, such as: “Best Practices in Utilization of Value Proposition Theorems”.
f. Add mystery
Titles like “Secrets of” or “Insider’s Guide To”
(click below for Tips #5-10).
#5. Formatting: People often scan white papers online to see if the content interests them. To make scanning easy, break long paragraphs into smaller chunks.
Use "bubble" call-outs, subheads, bullets and diagrams to call attention to important information. Checklists, timelines, flow charts and glossaries can be helpful formats in which to present information.
Many readers also print white papers to read on the plane, the train, etc. For offline reading, make sure the font is black and large enough to read (recommended: 12-point Times New Roman). Key URL’s should be spelled out so readers of offline copies can enter them into a browser if they are interested.
#6. Cover Page: invest in a high quality cover page that "sells" the white paper. You can include a screenshot of this cover page on the landing page (see #7 below) to help increase conversions. Something like this (note: make sure to maximize image when viewing)
#7. Headers/Footers: The hope of white paper publishers is that qualified leads will contact them after reading the white paper. To maximize the likelihood of this happening, be sure to include the firm’s contact information on every page of the white paper as part of the standard footer or header.
#8. Landing Pages: white papers are usually made available through landing pages where users are asked to submit contact details in order to gain access to the white paper.
There should nothing on a landing page that is not connected with promoting download of your white paper. If you give visitors other options such as multiple links back to your website, the greater the chance you will lose them (and thereby lose leads).
The number of fields in a landing page form should be kept to a minimum since the more questions you ask on the registration form, the fewer downloads you’ll get.
Reassure visitors at the bottom of forms that their information will be kept private.
Confirmation pages displayed after forms are submitted should include a link to the white paper offered (plus possibly links to 1 or 2 other white papers previously offered by the company as a "bonus"). This will impress readers and encourage them to browse your library of white papers.
Adding a “tell a colleague” link to the confirmation page will encourage the viral aspect of white paper marketing.
#9. Tracking Success. It's a good idea to track the traffic on your landing page using a tool like Google Analytics. This will show you how many page views your landing page received. You can then count how many downloads there were. "Downloads" divided by "Page Views" is your rough conversion rate, which tells you successful your landing page design was in converting visitors into leads.
If you're not happy with conversion, you might try tweaking elements of your landing page. The results of such tweaks can sometimes be astounding! (see prior post). But if you don't measure stats like page views and conversion rates, you won't be able to improve your landing page's performance because you won't know how it is performing in the first place!
Finally, if you'll be sending traffic to your landing pages from different sources (e.g., Google AdWords, newsletter ads, banner ads, your website, etc.), make sure to assign a unique URL to each landing page so you can measure the performance of each source at driving traffic to the landing page, and the conversion rate of the visitors coming from each source.
#10. Promotion: find as many channels as possible through which to promote your white paper. One excellent option is popular, industry-focused email newsletters distributed to your target audience. To maximize clickthroughs, make sure to compose a “teaser” that provides compelling reasons for readers to download the white paper. As with the title, talk about key problems and “pain points” and how the white paper can help readers solve them.
Once your white paper is complete, send out a keyword-optimized press release via PR Web and other online press release services announcing its availability and where prospects can find it (see prior post discussing the lead generation value of online press releases).
Your PR folks might also email reporters a note about your paper. Best to send a personal text-only message with a link to the paper. Make sure the link is to a page that doesn’t require reporters to register for your white paper (they won’t).
#11. What are you waiting for? Get started on your first white paper today!
You may also want to visit Marketing Sherpa for some excellent case studies and "How To's" on successful white paper marketing.