When potential readers or, as we like to think of them, prospective customers are searching for white papers, your title is the first thing that they’ll see in search results. If it’s vague or boring, like the example below, they’re likely pass it by in favor of other options.
So, how do you come up with a white paper title that can draw in readers? Use the tips below:
1. Keep it short
Back in 2005, MarketingSherpa published an article on white paper titles that generate the most downloads. One of the key takeaways was that shorter titles were downloaded more often.
To illustrate this point, MarketingSherpa compared the title of the top download in the digital security category, The Starter PKI Program, with that of the least downloaded, An Introduction to Enterprise Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). As the article pointed out, “The titles say much the same thing, but the first says it quickly and simply.” This is the reason I’m using “LMS” in the examples below rather than “learning management system.”
Additionally, the article found that successful white papers with longer titles broke those titles into sections using colons and subtitles. So I’ve also used a colon in this next example.
2. Use keyword research
A white paper title has to make it obvious that the document meets the reader’s needs. After your initial promotion of your white paper, most people are going to find it via online searches, so your title has to come up in appropriate search results. Consequently, while your title should not be a hollow mishmash of keywords, you should do some research to determine what terms people are likely to use when searching for information on your white paper’s topic.
For example, we know from the title of the original example (vague though it is) that the white paper is targeting readers who are interested in implementing an LMS. A search on “learning management systems” just pulls up basic explanations of what an LMS is as well as lists of the best-rated ones.
So, we know that prospects will be using a more specific phrase to learn about implementing an LMS. Also, several different organizations, (e.g., schools, postsecondary institutions and businesses) use LMSes, so that’s another factor that needs be considered. Let’s assume that the white paper is for businesses and type “implementing lms for business” into Google Search.
The Hubspot article suggests that you take a look at the “Searches related to …” suggestions that appear at the bottom of the search page when you type keywords into Google. The suggestions I got are below. The fourth and seventh options could be good starting points for thinking up a title, don’t you think?
Another resource for keyword suggestions is Neil Patel’s free UberSuggest tool.
3. Promise a benefit
One of the most effective tactics for writing an attention-grabbing title is to highlight what the reader will be able to do after reading the white paper. This may not be suitable for every white paper but the more often you can make your title benefits-focused, the better.
4. Use numbers
While many people complain about the prevalence of listicles, the numbered list format is still an effective way to present information. In fact, in his book White Papers for Dummies, author Gordon Graham, cites numbered lists as one of the three main types of white papers.
Titles like “Five Ways to …” “Six Secrets of …” “Seven Best Practices …” or the example below can convey to busy readers that your paper will be an easy read.
Note: I’ve also seen a white paper titled 101 Uses for a Virtual Directory (courtesy of software company Optimal IdM). In that case, the purpose was to showcase the enormous versatility of virtual directories in general and theirs in particular.
5. Don’t include a product name
Of course, this won’t hold true if you’re writing a product-focused white paper. But if your white paper is supposed to provide industry or how-to information, a product name in the title will give prospective readers the impression that they’ll actually be getting a brochure in disguise.
Most of your readers will have been burned before, so don’t go awakening their inner skeptic. They’ll read your white paper with a hyper-critical eye, expecting you to try and pull one over on them. Or worse, they’ll decide against even giving your paper a chance.
The five tips discussed above are not the only ways to come up with a compelling white paper title, but they’re great starting points. Play around with these ideas. If possible, test some of the better variations you create with a group of target readers to see if they will have a favorite. Your white paper title has a big job to do, so taking that extra time is well worth it!