White Papers are interesting assets. Their origin as dry, technical documents has given way to a mix of content that often includes a blatant sales pitch. The best provide a solution to a prevalent problem, and are chock-full of valuable, usable content for the reader.
Good White Papers are really hard to write.
I wrote our first White Paper several years ago. It was a fair initial effort that took a great deal of time, contained some relevant information. But isn’t exactly at the top of my list of go-to assets.
When we launched our new product, the Universal Imaging Utility System Deploy Plug-in for Microsoft SCCM, I wanted a valuable, usable asset and maybe even a decent lead generator. So I had our recent White Paper written by a professional. (The @ppum Group did a great job and was a pleasure to work with)
But are White Papers really worth the time and money to market?
Unfortunately, the answer comes back yet again, to the same thing I’ve talked about all too often – good content. If the content is good, really good, and relevant to the reader, and provides knowledge or a solution, it is totally worth marketing. The big problem is that the White Paper universe is saturated with poorly written pieces. Or worse yet, filed under the wrong category. It can be extremely tiresome to sift through countless company-sponsored White Papers trying to find anything useful.
The other difficulty comes from the large cost associated with promoting assets like White Papers through paid content syndication. Some of the largest conglomerates, while still offering free submission, charge thousands of dollars a month to promote and track the leads associated with said White Paper. I don’t know about your budget, but mine certainly doesn’t have $75 a lead with a 125 lead minimum readily available for one site, let alone multiple.
So if good White Paper content is worth marketing, how can one accomplish it on a small budget?
-I mentioned the free submissions available on many content syndication sites – that is a good place to start.
-The next tip is something I figured out about two years ago. You can optimize the heck out of a .pdf for great SEO results when the White Paper is hosted on your website. First, under the properties section in Acrobat, you can add meta data to help search engines find your asset. Then, you can hyperlink any images or links that you didn’t already have hyper-linked through InDesign or word or whatever you wrote it in. Lastly, under Tool>Advanced Editing, you can TouchUp Text Reading Order. This actually tells the browser in which order you want it to read the .pdf which can be extremely helpful with keyword and header content.
-A lot of White Paper writing sites will recommend submitting a press release to promote your asset. I have mixed feelings about this one. Part of me thinks that any press is good press, and there are plenty of free PR sites. But does your White Paper contain content that is remotely as significant as your latest new product? Basically I ask myself, even if my White Paper is terrific, is it newsworthy, and does it warrant me pestering the journalist who’s desk the release will ultimately cross? The last thing I want is to have someone glaze over anything associated with our company. (This, of course, assumes that journalists pay attention to our companies in the first place.)
-Social Media is a pretty solid tool for continued promotion. Assuming you’ve done your job of garnering followers with similar interests to your company, strategic posts highlighting particular aspect of your White Paper can be very effective. This is true particularly if you have designated landing pages and an automated marketing system (we use Pardot) to track interactions. I used to use Hootsuite to plan out a weekly or bi-monthly post to Twitter or LinkedIn until we started using Pardot.
Those are my main ways to promote our White Papers, what are yours?
…then it’s better to not create any at all.
I’ve been thinking about the time involved for content marketing a bit more often lately as I contemplate starting up a Product and Support blog on our UIU and UIUSD site. I’ve done plenty of research to try and determine the value, focus, and time requirements of adding another consistent content stream to my existing obligations. Even though we are a niche software developer, and the content focus is rather restricted, I’ve got a pretty clear game plan worked out in my head that I think will be fairly successful.
The problem with adding more quality content obligations really comes down to the time required to generate something potentially valuable to our readers. And the more I think about it, the more I think that if I don’t have an adequate amount of time each week for at least one quality post, then I am better off not adding that content to our site, and instead, focusing on the other content marketing projects that are still in the works.
Sure added knowledge base items, support topics, new product development, and discussion on current trends in our industry would all make for great topics to bring people to our site and increase SEO. But if people get a few sentences in and don’t have anything good to read, then not only will they leave immediately without taking the time to read more about our products, but will be unlikely to return.
In my estimation, it’s far better to focus on quality, relevant content, even if that means there is less of it, than to crank out a slew of sub-par posts or pages that could potentially to more harm than good.
I realize that as a topic, the time for good content marketing might seem fairly obvious. If you can’t create something good, don’t do it at all, duh.
But I think that particularly when it comes to a continuous content obligation like a blog, it is vital to determine if you are going to have enough time to continue to generate quality content. It might be great for the first half dozen posts, but somehow that blog deadline sneaks up on you every week, and before you know it, you are struggling to not only find something worthwhile to write about, but allocate less and less time to make sure it's actually worth reading.
That is why, at this time at least, I have decided not to try and get the Product blog off the ground.
Any other kinds of content that would be better off left on the drawing board?
One of the challenges of any business is understanding the sales cycle, assuming there is one. Now obviously, some business are seasonal, or can anticipate increased sales volumes for certain times. Christmas is going to increase catalog, retail, and online sales, all of which will increase the amount of traffic for FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service. But what about your small business? Is there a semi predictable cycle? In my opinion, even if there is, predicting numbers is still like throwing nails at a dart board. In other words, wildly inaccurate.
However, to an extent, I have learned that dips are far more predictable than peaks. Here are a few examples, and it is all driven by customer reaction.
In late 2008, the world crashed. The markets crashed, sales crashed, credit crashed. Hell in a handbasket. Through the first three quarters of the year, we were up in sales, and looking great. Fourth quarter hit, and we saw a fifty percent decrease in sales from the previous fourth quarter. Now, fourth quarter is generally our slowest with holidays and such in there, but occasionally it surprises us with some end-of-fiscal-year bumps. However, fourth quarter 2008 nearly called for layoffs, and I admit, it wasn't something I saw coming. Having experienced it once though, I now know to be on the lookout for it again. As a plus though, because the UIU saves customers a tremendous amount of time and money, 2009 turned out our best year to date, which very few companies could say. So again, I now have a historical piece of data to work with in the future.
Another example for us has been associated with the release of a new Microsoft operating system. When Vista was close to release, our sales slowed or were delayed because customers didn't know exactly what to expect from Vista. Rumor had it that UIU would be unnecessary. Well, that was obviously incorrect, as sales continued to increase, but it was understandable. Consequently, when Windows 7 was announced, we fully expected the same thing. Customers would delay purchases while reviewing their environment. Windows 7 would cure all their problems. We had several customers not renew their UIU licenses as they were positive they didn't need us. Well, 2011 proved that wrong, with record sales and several customers coming back to the UIU. But, because of our experience with Vista, the Windows 7 hit and subsequent rebound was predictable.
The third scenario we have run into is with our own product updates. It was not uncommon to hear that a customer wasn't going to purchase or renew until we had released a new version - something compatible with Vista, Window 7, containing certain drivers or fixes, etc. The customer always wants assurances that it's going to work in their environment, and despite years of proving our commitment, fear still reigns. Not much you can do, but understand that the process will take time. So, when we heard customers were leaving us for Microsoft's SCCM, because it would do everything they needed (see point two), we listened and waited, and soon those customers started asking if the UIU was SCCM compatible. As those requests grew, we realized we needed a new product that would integrate with SCCM (UIUSD), which we just released in April. That release though has caused a slow down in sales and renewals because for existing customers moving, or considering moving, to SCCM, they now had to do the research and evaluate their environment. And so while sales fell dramatically in April, I was able to warn my sales and marketing staff that it would likely happen. No one is happy about having such a terrible April, but the interest in UIUSD has been awesome, and we can fully expect the corresponding increase in sales shortly.
I don't think business is tremendously predictable, as far as set numbers. We would all like to increase sales by a certain amount every year, but can we predict that with any accuracy or certainty? I don't believe so. What I can do though, is be somewhat predictive as to when sales may increase or decrease based on certain outside events or perceptions. The more cycles you go through the better a predictor you should become, as long as you learn to recognize the patterns.
Rarely do I ever incorporate pop culture references into my small business posts, but since I’m finishing this post while watching the end of Season 6 of How I Met Your Mother, I will disagree with Mr. Barney Stinson when he says, “New is always better.”
My issue, and the part that adds extra time to my work load, is the constant changes in core products like analytics and adwords in particular. It seems that the developers get tired of the current UI, and see how many times a year they can make changes that seldom actually add to the experience or the ability of the customer to do more work efficiently.
The latest analytics changes are a great example. Ok sure, some of the new features help to take a look at some of the visitor data a little easier, but not most of them. Where did content page navigation go? All the way up next to Explorer, which was overview under Traffic Sources before the tab changed – what is it doing up there?
Like any new product, there will be feature updates, UI changes and with those come a new learning curve. What irks me is that Google makes changes that might make sense from a developer or even (sometimes) a design perspective, but it very much seems that they don’t consider the user perspective.
The left hand navigation tree is another good example. Previously, subcategories were pretty easily visible and navigable, but now in order to see everything, you need to click each item, and scroll six times because the page height increased astronomically.
I think that even though some of the actionable items under each main category were formerly a touch confusing while in page, they still were all in one spot and after the initial learning curve, were workable. Now the left subcategories are disconnected from the pages on which they are actionable.
To be honest, I’m in the middle of a whole bunch of stuff so I really don’t want to be inconvenienced again to re-acclimate myself. So take the moaning with a grain of salt. It’s a free tool and complaining about it won’t ever do any good. And we'll all keep using it anyway.
Sometimes Google, new isn’t always better.
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|About Adam Murphy -
Adam is the President and Owner of Big Bang LLC and espouses a pretty progressive small business philosophy based primarily around hiring the right people and getting the hell out of their way.
|About Nate Bauer -
Nate is the Marketing Director for Big Bang LLC and pretty much spends his days tip-toeing on the pinnacle of how to most effectively implement strategy given the wide open cookie jar of small business marketing possibilities.
|About Kelley Burian - @kelleyburian
Kelley is the Sales Director for Big Bang LLC. Responsible for everything from GSA contracts, resellers and international customers, she has her hands full doing whatever she can to make sure our valued clients are thrilled with our fantastic products.