How to Breathe New Life into the White Paper

So far, we've made the claim that the original purpose of the white paper as a way to build trust is still valid. However, the way readers consume content makes the traditional PDF format less than ideal. Now let's look at the way forward from here.

The interactive digital publication

Once again, we quote from Foleon's website:

“Now, more than ever, content must quickly grab attention, promptly deliver its message, and be memorable enough to outlast all the other marketing messages your readers are bombarded with each day.

To do this, you must deliver something visually stunning. Human brains process images 60,000 times faster than text and people naturally pay more attention to words on a screen when relevant visuals accompany them. Cognitive biases also cause people to ascribe more value to things that are pretty. When asking for attention amid such stiff competition, beautiful goes a long way.

With 43% of people admitting to skimming through content, and readers reportedly spending less than a minute on web pages, on average, companies are desperate for new ways to engage readers.

Using HTML5 and JavaScript, the same technologies that power websites, you can create measurable, mobile-friendly white papers that are far easier for your audience to consume. Web-based interactive white papers can be responsive in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible."

A basic principle of marketing is that you should always be collecting data about the performance of your content so that you can make it more effective. But in order to apply this to your white papers, you must be able to gather data from them too.

Unfortunately, PDFs make this impossible. You can see how many people came to your landing page and downloaded your white paper, but you won’t have any data from the white paper itself.

Imagine tracking behavioral metrics for each page of your white paper and analyzing precisely which pages, paragraphs, topics, and sections interest your users most (or least).

Data gives you the power to optimize your content, make it more persuasive, and ultimately drive more bottom-line results. Using web-based interactive white papers, instead of PDFs, makes this possible.

Typical metrics are shown below.

whitepaper stats

Advanced Capabilities

The two obvious advantages of web-based white papers are the responsive design so that that you are not short-changing 50% of your audience who are consuming content on mobile devices, and the ability to collect a wealth of data. Web technology enables other important capabilities, such as:

  • social login and content personalized to each specific reader
  • variety of media including embedded video, podcasts, all image formats (including gifs), comment boxes, polls & surveys, online forms--features you've come to expect from websites but aren't easily achieved with PDFs.
  • live display of statistics from a database updating in real time
  • quick and easy updating of content.

“The internet is barreling towards an age of content overload. That means if your white paper doesn't stand out, it's likely to miss out. Stunning visuals, personalization, and interactive design elements ensure your content gets the attention it deserves.”


Website vs web publication

Your corporate website serves a variety of target audiences interested in different products and services, and each at a different stage in the buyer's journey. Each visitor has a different content requirement that can lead to information overload. Your website is essential in your communication mix. It’s the ideal place to show factual, functional, and relevant content.

In contrast, you use a web publication when a visitor shows a particular interest and you want to demonstrate your ability to address his or her concerns by offering a clear path without any distractions. An interactive white paper, or a relevant case study, focuses their attention within the dynamic structure of a web publication capitalizing on a variety of media to tell your story.

Writing for a digital publication

People read differently online than they do when they read print materials--web users typically scan for  information.  In a study of online reading behavior, Jakob Nielsen found that “on the average webpage, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.”

  • Use the words your users use.  By using keywords that your users use, you will help them understand the copy and will help optimize it for search engines.

  • Chunk your content.  Chunking makes your content more scannable by breaking it into manageable sections.

  • Front-load the important information. Use the journalism model of the “inverted pyramid.” Start with the content that is most important to your audience, and then provide additional details.

  • Use short sentences and paragraphs. The ideal standard is no more than 20 words per sentence, maximum of five sentences or 300 words per paragraph.
  • Use bullets and numbered lists. Don’t limit yourself to using this for long lists—one sentence and two bullets is easier to read than three sentences.

  • Use clear headlines and subheads. Questions, especially those with pronouns, are particularly effective.

  • Use images, diagrams, or multimedia to visually represent ideas in the content. Videos and images should reinforce the text on your page.

  • Use white space.  Using white space allows you to reduce noise by visually separate information.

You may have noticed that these guidelines are almost the opposite to the style of the traditional white paper!

Source: How to write user-friendly content

In the next section, we'll talk about the importance of tailoring distribution to match how people access content.