White Papers: Key To B2B Enterprise SEO Power

Enterprise marketers, particularly in the B2B space, often find content development for SEO a difficult proposition. The company’s thought leaders, although happy to pontificate, are often afraid of committing to a writing schedule. And the marketer, admittedly, is trying to get others to “squeeze in” content, essentially “off the books.” With no reward, why should anyone help with the difficult, thankless work of writing articles? The trick is for the marketer to take advantage of three key tactics:

  1. Appealing to the ego
  2. Re-purposing
  3. Transcription

Any enterprise that can harness these three elements can pump out high volumes of quality content.

This article will show how enterprises can use White Papers as the basis of their content generation process, leverage these three elements to supercharge this process,  and diversify their traffic sources beyond SEO in the process.

Very High-Quality White Papers: The Core Of The System

The approach presented here (see Figure 1) uses the white paper as the core item that all other items flow from. If you have visions of outsourcing your white paper to India or having an intern write it — forget it. When writing a white paper, think in terms of creating a comprehensive resource for a topic that only someone intimately familiar with your industry could have  created.

This means either you personally are going to have to write it, one of your company’s thought leaders is going to have to write it, or you’re going to have to pay an extremely high-end professional writer to write it. However you handle it, make sure you include a lot of refinement, back-and-forth editing and perfection in any white paper. The better it is, the better everything that flows from it will be.

Figure 1 - B2B Content Creation Process

Figure 1 – B2B Content Creation Process

Start By Simply Creating Lots Of Lists

B2B marketing is really a Features/Benefits, Problem/Solution, and often, a “Total Cost of Ownership” game; all of these play into creating lists, which are a great, easy way to pull together raw material for a white paper. I always start out by creating a list of customer problems. I try to make the following lists:

  • Customer problems.
  • Implications of those problems.
  • Aspects of those problems.
  • Complications or impacts arising from those problems.
  • Different approaches to solving those problems.
  • Pluses and minuses of the different approaches.

Once you have these lists, a white paper, then, is merely a “peeling the onion” presentation of whichever of those lists you think are worth exploring. It’s the old “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell  them, then tell them what you told them” game.

First, create a flow or circle diagram (just use PowerPoint: a big circle in the middle with arrows going to other circles). That will be a summary diagram for the background section that gives a sense of the structure of the white paper; and it can be around the life cycle of a problem, or a product, or elements that contribute to a problem, or players in a market or anything.

Then, the individual elements of the diagram are simply the sections of the white paper, each with its own table/list. Whenever you present a list or a table (say, problems and implications), just present in the table a bullet item, then a sentence. Then in the text itself, expand on this with a paragraph.

Pretty soon you have a section, with a table, and with text that describes what’s in the table. I usually write all of this backwards — lists, then the lists become sections, then when I have enough sections to make sense of something, I make the summary diagram that goes into the background section.

One overall structure I like using for White Papers is:

  1. Cover Page/Title/1 paragraph description (1 page)
  2. Introduction: “tell them what you’re going to tell them” (1/2 page)
  3. Background: a section that sets the stage, with the diagram, elements in the diagram, and a sentence on each element.  (1 page)
  4. A Section Dedicated To Each Element: with a table (list) with sub-elements, and then a paragraph about each sub-element. There should be three to five of these sections (1 page each)
  5. Conclusion: “tell them what you told them” (1/2 page)

The total length runs around 6-8 pages. If you end up with 10-12 pages, consider splitting it up into two or three separate white papers, and then beefing *those* up until they each reach 6-8 pages. One approach that works great is to simply put down as much material you can into one massive document, then carve white papers out of it.

Take The High Road — Don’t Mention Your Product Or Service

A white paper is supposed to be “thought leading.” It’s crass to sell your product with it; your purpose instead is to impress the prospect with your expertise and to entice them to research whether they want to further a relationship with your company. So don’t mention your product — it knocks your company off the pedestal you’re trying to set it on.

A white paper that mentions a product is called an “App Note.” These are okay to have around and generate as well, but are much less open to re-purposing than white papers are.

Attain Credibility By Quoting Statistics Wherever Possible

Wherever possible, quote your own data, or other authorities (results of surveys and so on… include original URLs so the reader can verify it for themselves).

Here’s a favorite trick of mine, though:  if you have knowledge that you generally know, but there is no actual study or numerical data you can easily point to… you can try saying “Acme’s extensive field experience with widgets has shown that…” After all, who can argue with extensive field experience?

Why It Has To Be Such A Long White Paper

Because if it were three pages, there would be very little to re-purpose, of course! Also, contrary to popular belief, David Ogilvy was right when he said “Long copy sells.”

Also, if someone downloads a white paper and it’s just a few pages, there is a bit of a feeling of being shortchanged. You should make sure your white papers are substantial, meaty and chock-full of solid facts, thoughts, diagrams, and tables — readers will devour it, and it’s all great material for subsequent marketing efforts.

The Real Work Starts When The White Paper Is Done

Now that you’ve created the perfect warhead for your marketing attack, you need to deliver it many different ways — both by delivering it as is, and by re-purposing it (see Figure 1).

“Delivery” activities include:

  1. Putting it on your website for download under “White Papers.” Be sure to require users to give minimal information — name, email and company — so you can capture them as a lead without discouraging them from downloading.
  2. Using it as a Paid Search call-to-action (“Download Free White Paper Now!”).
  3. Announcing the White Paper’s availability in a press release.
  4. Announcing it on your blog.
  5. Cannibalizing sections of it for individual blog postings.
  6. Turning the diagram(s) and table(s) into a presentation.
  7. Having thought leaders deliver the presentation at conferences.
  8. Publishing the transcribed conference presentation on your blog.
  9. Discussing the white paper during your regularly scheduled podcast (more below on this).
  10. Publishing the transcribed podcast on your blog.
  11. Having thought leaders deliver the presentation as a webinar.
  12. Publishing the webinar as a video.
  13. Publishing the transcribed webinar on your blog.
  14. Re-purposing many of these incarnations above in your email newsletter.

That is a lot of mileage for one marketing piece! This is why spending a lot of time making a *great* white paper can pay off in spades. If you did everything listed above, and let’s say you got 5 blog postings out of the material in the white paper… that’s at least *thirteen* blog postings, by my count.

If you were to crank out one very high-quality white paper every two months, and then did all of these follow-on activities, you’d be way ahead of the game — much further ahead than if you tried to hound three or four thought leaders and got an occasional short article out of them.

How This Strategy Leverages The Three Elements

This strategy *appeals to the ego.* By providing a thought leader with the perfect raw material, and excuse, to do presentations at a conference, and a webinar, you’re helping them succeed. What thought leader doesn’t like speaking at a conference? It’s a huge ego boost.

This strategy *re-purposes* content as text, audio, video, and presentations. Notably, much of it ends up being reworded/paraphrased, just in the natural course of things — which is great from an SEO perspective. When a thought leader presents the concepts at a conference, he will naturally use his own way of describing them; the podcasters, when discussing the white paper topic, will have their own. It’s like spinning, but for real. ;-)

Finally, *transcription* is the secret weapon of this strategy. When you can’t get people to write for you, you often can get them to *talk* for you. You’d be shocked at how much content you can create through transcription of talks, podcasts, and webinars. Try Speechpad at $1/minute. If you have historical content locked away in videos and audio recordings, it could be the cheapest way to produce high-quality content at your command.

For a great example of how transcriptions can be leveraged, check out lewrockwell.com. They have a great approach for doing fascinating interview podcasts, then posting transcriptions of them — sometimes months later (which can be an advantage – a viewer may even forget they already listened to it!).

The transcriptions are very well-edited and even include hyperlinks out to different concepts and resources for the reader; I often find myself listening to a podcast and then re-reading it three months later when the transcription is put up.

Here’s an example of one of their original podcasts… and here’s an example of how they later transcribed and re-released it – for twice the mileage.

Ancillary Content Development Approaches

You can use other tactics to pump additional content into this system — the more streams of content flowing into the system, the better.

Individual articles by your thought leaders are great — as long as you’re not relying on them.

A weekly roundup of industry news is a perfect task for an intern or junior marketer as it just involves paraphrasing and commenting on industry announcements and trends.

Interviews with experts both inside and outside your company (again, great for podcasts and re-purposable as transcriptions). Interviews are great for junior marketers to put together, and can even be handled almost as guest postings, with written questions and written answers exchanged.

Customer support people, an oft-neglected resource, can be enlisted to turn knowledge base documents (often a treasure trove of great information) into App Notes or do interviews on typical customer issues.

Customer testimonials, case studies, and interviews are, of course, mandatory for B2B businesses. They are the lifeblood of credibility and should not be neglected.

Regular podcasts, hosted by your up-and coming junior “thought leaders” in the organization can be a great way to pump additional content out, and are a great way to develop and recognize internal talent. I’ve seen two formats that work well.

One approach is a regular get-together and discussion of a minimum of three people. Put four or five people in the group, and you can make it more likely that the podcast will happen on time — one or two of them will always miss it — also note that peer pressure, since it’s a group, will help ensure it actually occurs.

Alternately, if you’re lucky enough, you may have a lone prolific author or podcaster you can harness and ideally brand around, who can regularly do an effective podcast themselves (either audio or video). Two of my favorite examples of this are Blendtec’s Will it Blend? series and Evolving SEO’s Noboard SEO video podcasts. Note how they both successfully do what I would call “mini-branding,” one around a personality, the other by positioning  against (or rather as an homage to) Moz’s renowned “Whiteboard Fridays” series.

You don’t have to use your CEO as the star of the show; enterprises often resist mini-branding around a thought leader from lower levels of an organization (in case they leave), but people love humans as brands, and a human ambassador can do wonders for your company.

Yes, the Food Network created the Rachael Ray “brand,” with Rachael Ray eventually leaving to make millions on her own, as did the Discovery Channel with Bear Grylls… but rest assured both networks laughed all the way to the bank for many years before their stars left.

The White Paper Approach To SEO Content Generation Drives Other Channels

By putting content creation processes in place that focus on white paper development and leverage appealing to the ego, re-purposing and transcription, any enterprise can generate copious, useful, and search-engine-user-friendly content that will attract traffic and conversions.

However, you may have noticed, by putting this content to use in so many different forms and ways,  you also end up *diversifying* your traffic sources themselves — through Paid Search (using the White Papers as calls-to-action), Public Relations (using the White Papers as talking points and newsworthy announcements), Email Marketing, Webinars, and Trade Show Presentations and Handouts.

Think of all of the social updates on all of these elements, too — I count no less than 15 separate activities that can be Tweeted/Updated in Figure 1, for instance. Your sales force can use the White Papers and Presentations as collateral; making an upcoming webinar known is a great “excuse” to ping a prospect… the benefits of generating interesting and notable activity in this way go on and on.

This makes white papers the perfect element for B2B businesses to power their content generation process.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: SEO


About The Author: helps enterprises to scale up online marketing efforts through custom engagements tailored to their unique situations. Ted blogs on a variety of online marketing topics with a special emphasis on SEO at Coconut Headphones. You can find him on Twitter @tedives.

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  • http://www.imagefreedom.com/ Matthew Egan

    I feel like this stops at the Blog step, and there is a lot of opportunity for internal anchor text links back to the really important pages that they want to rank, and stopping at the blog underserves those pages.

    That said, your “idea graph” of things you should be including on your blog is totally awesome, and should be stolen, re-used, emulated, and copied mercilessly. =)

  • http://www.imagefreedom.com/ Matthew Egan

    I feel like this stops at the Blog step, and there is a lot of opportunity for internal anchor text links back to the really important pages that they want to rank, and stopping at the blog underserves those pages.

    That said, your “idea graph” of things you should be including on your blog is totally awesome, and should be stolen, re-used, emulated, and copied mercilessly. =)

  • Alec Green

    Great stuff Ted. You almost have enough content here to publish
    a whitepaper on writing whitepapers!

    For most B2B marketers, the definition of “white paper” is very grey.
    Only rarely do I come across one that is is blatantly self-promotional or an in-depth
    examination of their own solution (an adverwhitepaper?, whitepapertisement?
    whitepapertorial?). But it’s equally rare to see one that is grounded in secondary research. Finding and sourcing the right publications takes work. And it’s
    hard enough just to get the original ideas out of your organization and down on paper.

    I agree that there needs to be some heft to these papers.
    But the average reader may be turned off by anything longer than 3000 words.
    It’s a sad commentary, but a reality of the world we live in. Most
    people would rather have something they can consume quickly or skim than carve
    out a block of time to read and digest your findings.

  • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

    Excellent tips. Something else you can do to repurpose: take existing content from previous white papers and fold it into new white papers devoted to new topics. I have a client who sends me a bunch of work every month doing this.

    Another tactic: you can interview somebody in the company, have somebody transcribe it and hand of the transcription to a writer: you basically say “look, your research is pretty much done — it’s all in the interview transcript” and you can turn it much faster (and at lower cost) because the writer doesn’t have to burn hours and hours researching the topic. Most professional writers can dash off an article or white paper pretty quickly once the research is done.

  • http://BrianHansford.com/ Brian Hansford

    Fantastic how you show a white papers can be diversified through multiple channels. Too many B2B orgs look at “white papers” as the end-all for a marketing campaign. It’s just the beginning and when used properly, the SEO benefits can be valuable.


  • http://www.readz.com/ Bart De Pelsmaeker

    Hi Ted – this is just awesome. By far the most complete overview incl graph that I have come across. This will be a fantastic help for my next white paper. I would add one element in the list : the whitepaper itself can generate SEO juice, if published not as a PDF but as a web app(lication) using tools like ours at Readz (excuse me I’ll just paste in our URL if you want to check us out http://readz.com )


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