White Papers For Dummies
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Your white paper title can make or break it. B2B buyers scan pages of search results to find useful information. Your white paper title is often all that prospects have to go on to make their decision about whether to download or read your white paper. If your title falls flat, they’ll skip right past it, meaning that all the effort you put into creating that document was a waste.

Stress the benefits to readers

Why not tell your readers explicitly what they’ll gain from reading your white paper, right in your title? That’s probably the single best way to strengthen a weak white paper title. If you don’t, do you expect them to read between the lines or use their psychic powers to intuit your intentions?

The classic business benefits that interest most executives include

  • Making money

  • Saving money

  • Saving labor

  • Cutting waste

  • Streamlining processes

  • Eliminating processes

  • Any other way to “run lean and mean” or “do more with less”

The classic technical benefits that interest executives include

  • Automating processes

  • Controlling IT costs

  • Avoiding mistakes or rework

  • Overcoming constraints or trade-offs

  • Linking smoothly with existing systems

  • Any other way to contribute to the company’s strategic objectives instead of just “keeping the lights on”

Use active verbs, not passive labels

You need to add active verbs that propel your title up the list of search engine results. Try titles that start with a verb gerund that ends in -ing. This tried-and-true format suggests taking action in the present. Don’t project your readers into the future or drag them back to the past with your verb endings. After all, there’s no time like the present: Carpe diem!

Identify your target reader

Naming your target audience by a specific job title helps B2B buyers see whether your white paper is truly aimed at them. The simplest way to add a job title is to use a subtitle, as in “A Special Report for CFOs.”

You can even work in two job titles if you’re careful, as in “A Special Report for IT and Finance Executives.” In this case, always list your primary audience first and your secondary one last.

Convert a weak title to a subtitle

What if your boss or some high-powered reviewer wants to use a title that you think isn’t effective? Thankfully, a simple solution exists: Knock down the weaker title to a subtitle, and insert your more powerful wording as the main title. That way, everyone ends up more or less happy.

If you’re lucky, your target readers will click on your title before they even notice the final words.

Why not try a question?

Don’t you love a good question in a white paper title? Isn’t that an intriguing way to challenge readers? Can you ever go wrong with a question for a title? Turning a weak title into a question can give it an engaging twist.

Recast your paper as a numbered list

Any number sounds more precise than any qualifier. See if you can think of some way to work a number into your title.

Of course, if you plan all along to write a numbered list, the title will simply fall into your lap like a gift. If, instead, you find yourself with a boring title and a ho-hum document done in another flavor, you may be able to recast it as a numbered list mash-up.

Even if you didn’t plan it that way, you may be able to reorganize your white paper around a set of numbers that give it new vigor. Doing so can involve some rewriting, but it can pay off with a much more compelling document.

Use "how to" phrasing

Western civilization, and especially America, is a can-do society that values know-how. Just try Googling the phrase how to to see the popularity of this little phrase. You can insert “how to” in front of almost any phrase and see that it works just fine. After all, your white paper is supposed to help readers learn how to understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

Leave out product names

Unless you’re writing a backgrounder to explain the features and benefits of a particular offering, never use a product name in the title of your white paper. Including a product name in a white paper title will cut downloads by 50 percent or more.

Why? Because a product name in the title makes your white paper sound like a sales piece that won’t give B2B buyers the useful information they’re seeking. They’re not ready to evaluate your product; first they want to understand the issue.

What if your VP of Sales insists on including a product name, in the misguided belief that anyone out there cares? If you fight this battle and lose, the best approach is to knock down the product name to a subtitle. Make sure to give the product name right at the end of the subtitle to de-emphasize it to the max.

Cut out jargon and buzzwords

Although some B2B buyers no doubt Google an occasional buzzword, many more are searching for helpful content about an actual problem they’re facing. Loading up your title with say-nothing buzzwords won’t help your white paper stand out from the crowd.

Use selected keywords

In your title, try to work in the keywords that you think your target readers are searching for. Make sure to include those terms in your title. Doing so will propel your white paper into their search engine results, higher up in the list.

On the other hand, if those terms aren’t yet popular, use whatever synonyms your ideal readers are most likely to use. Choose the most popular terms that you can but always craft your title to sound as natural as possible.

Test titles in advance

Whatever you think of a white paper title, the ultimate test is up to your target audience. To improve your odds, try out some proposed titles on your ideal readers in advance.

Create a set of multiple covers with the same look but a different title for each. Then ask which one they’d most likely download. If one emerges as the clear favorite from this testing, use it. If not, consider going back to the drawing board and tweaking your suggestions some more.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Gordon Graham — also known as That White Paper Guy — is an award-winning writer who has created more than 200 B2B white papers for clients from New York to Australia. Gordon has written white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, and for everyone from tiny start-ups to Google.

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