Use Your Words: Improve SEO Efforts With White Papers

If your website isn’t ranking well in the organic search results of search engines like Google and Bing, it may be time to overhaul your marketing content with well-written, information-rich white papers. It used to be that short, keyword-stuffed blog posts and indiscriminate link building were enough to get a site a high ranking in search engine results. But with the advent of Google’s latest Hummingbird algorithm and Bing’s new focus on grammar and spelling, that’s no longer the case. (See an overview of Google’s latest algorithm here and an explanation of Bing’s new content approach here.) Now search engines want content—they want quality content—and I say, “hooray”!!

These days, search engines are looking for content that goes deeper, demonstrates expertise, and offers value to readers. That means blog posts should be longer (around 1000 words), and website content should be information rich not just loaded with keywords. The new emphasis on quality also encourages exploring other opportunities for enhancing content marketing and improving SEO efforts. In this post, I’m going to focus on white papers.

In broad terms, a white paper is a persuasive document that describes a problem and presents a solution. White papers educate readers and help them make decisions. They don’t traditionally pitch a product or service; rather, they pose a problem and provide information that can help solve that problem. Usually companies only offer their own service or product as a solution at the end of the white paper, and even then, only very briefly.

The following overview of a white paper I wrote should give a good sense of what white papers are and how they work. I wrote this particular white paper for a firm that designed software for field inspections (health inspections, water inspections, etc.). The paper presented a problem: clunky, paper-based inspection processes. It then presented a solution: field inspection software (e.g., software that inspectors could use on mobile devices to input/access information in the field). Additionally, it explained the benefits of field inspection software, provided advice about how to implement it, and listed key elements to look for when shopping for it. Generally speaking, it provided valuable information for any organization seeking an alternative to paper-based field inspections while at the same time gently presenting the software firm as an expert in the field and as a potential solution provider. The white paper did its job by both educating and marketing my client’s product.

Business leaders have long recognized the value of white papers. They help build relationships of trust between businesses and their clients, and they establish a company as an industry authority. Also, their ability to both inform and persuade make them incredibly valuable for lead generation. In addition to doing a great deal of your sales work for you, they can even shorten the length of time it takes to convince potential clients to choose your product or service. Readers more readily decide to buy from you or use your service after reading a well-done white paper because they have learned to trust you, because you have provided the information they need to make an informed decision, and because you have presented them with a readymade solution. White papers offer additional marketing benefits as well:

  • Support the development and promotion of your brand
  • Assist in building your newsletter distribution list or mailing list
  • Help differentiate your product or service from that of your competitors

While these advantages are well known, lately business leaders have begun to realize that white papers can also help with SEO efforts. The SEO benefits of white papers are twofold. For one, they help with SEO because they are typically presented on websites as PDF files, and search engines can index PDFs. That means you can optimize your white paper content for search engines just as you would your other website content. As you develop your white paper content be sure that it follows standard SEO best practices and strategies including the use of targeted keywords. Once you write your white paper, you’ll also want to optimize the PDF file itself for SEO, so the search engines can take in and index its content. This last step is essential but easy. This article from Adobe provides clear step-by-step instructions: How to Optimize a PDF File for SEO.

White papers can also help with SEO efforts by attracting quality links and shares, which in turn elevate your site’s ranking in organic search results. There are a few thing you can do to make sure people will want to share and link to your white paper. First, make sure it’s relevant to your audience. Take the time to learn what really matters to your readers—when you offer a solution to a real problem they’re facing, they will be much more likely to read and share what you’ve written. Second, try to offer a unique perspective or solution, something your readers haven’t already heard. Third, no matter how profound the information you’re presenting, readers won’t trust it if it contains errors and bad grammar, so be sure your white paper is error free and well written. Finally, white papers should be compelling and entertaining. Usually they are relatively short (6-12 pages), have a lot of white space (they’re not packed to the margins with words), and include plenty of pull quotes and images (including charts and tables). The more you’re able to craft a document that meets these aims, the more likely your readers will be to promote it to others and return to your site for additional insights and information.

You never go wrong when you aim for and provide quality. And these days, that’s especially true since Google and Bing are rewarding websites for delivering value to users. Take a step back, think about what you do best, and help out your readers and your business by harnessing the power of white papers.