Why you will never again publish a white paper as a PDF

By Daan Reijnders

For me, a white paper is the ultimate form of content marketing. Making your knowledge and expertise available ‘for free’, while the reader ‘pays’ simply by providing personal details. It sounds like a win-win situation. Nevertheless, the whole process, from sign-up to download, has an intrusive and awkward feel to it. Let’s change that.

It all starts with the creative process

It’s unlikely that your content is a problem. After all, you know what you’re talking about. But do you take care of the layout yourself, or do you outsource it to a professional designer? They will probably convert your Word file into an InDesign file, implement your feedback in the layout. Probably even another round of revisions... Or two. Then it’s time to generate a PDF that you send to your web designer. They create a landing page and a form. They upload the PDF to your server. They link completed forms to automated emails providing a link to the downloadable PDF.


This is clearly a cumbersome process, and there are three more major disadvantages to working with PDFs:

  • You cannot run metrics on them. You cannot analyze user behavior.
  • Your recipients can easily forward the PDF to others after downloading it. There go your leads...
  • The user experience with PDFs on mobile devices is lousy, to say the least.

An easily digestible experience

A what? Your white paper should ooze relevance and pack a punch. Today’s audiences fail to find any appeal in a static PDF. Make sure your content is ‘easy to digest’, and that it is memorable. Keep it short, cut your text into logical ‘content snacks’ and use relevant images. Why not add a video clip while you’re at it? Your brain can process images up to 60,000 times faster than text, and people are more likely to watch a one-minute clip than to spend five to six minutes reading. Obviously you cannot avoid using text altogether, so make sure your text shines. Keep it legible. Use a large font: at least 16 pt. (yes, really). Whatever you do, don’t use Arial, 11 pt.


Convenient integration

Digital publications provide benefits that go beyond increased readership. Convenient integration with Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy for your readers to provide their details at the click of a button. Once they’ve logged in with their social media profile, you’ll have direct insight into their industries, their basic contact information, number of connections and much more. You’ll find a handy list of all the data we can extract here.

You can save these user profiles directly to your company´s CRM system. Later on, you can use this wealth of information in follow-up campaigns that tie in to your white paper. It goes without saying that this information is invaluable in the lead qualification process.

Make a real connection with your target group!

Great content, smart integration. This is all well and good. But if your white paper fails to reach your target group, then all of your efforts will be in vain. You should give plenty of forethought to how you intend to distribute your white paper. Logical distribution channels include your own website, a DM campaign, paid ads on Adwords, and social media. How about a cross-media strategy? A QR code in your printed materials, a bitly link on your business card or in your corporate flyer. Retargeting is another great suggestion. You can assume that visitors to your website must be interested in one of your products or services. By setting up a thorough retargeting campaign, you can be sure that prospects will encounter your proposition through other channels or on other media.

What can you really learn?

Digital publications provide a great deal of insight into engagement and reader behavior. You’ll get to know your readers much better than you can with PDFs. You’ll be able to identify the truly valuable pages by analyzing interaction in clicks and scrolls.

Integration with Google Analytics will quickly show you:

  • Where is my traffic coming from? You can then act by shifting your emphasis to this source, or by focusing on other channels.
  • Which pages does your target group tend to read most? Offer more in-depth coverage of these topics. This is a great way to enhance the relevance of your content, thus boosting engagement.
  • At what times of day do people read your white paper? This information is useful when it comes to distribution. You can then set the days and times for sending out mailings, and reserve additional advertising budget for specific timeslots.


Five tips to help you get more out of your white paper

  1. Keep your sign-up form short, and collect only the bare minimum of information. Studies show that each additional form field results in 10% more click-outs.
  2. Social media: get readers to sign up with their social media account. Why make things difficult on them? A single click, and you’re in.
  3. Conduct extensive analyses, and don’t be afraid to make drastic changes. Which parts of your content do people really read? Where do they click away? Which pages do they share with others?
  4. Personalize! Grab details from social media logins to address your readers directly: More power for Instant Magazine. Find out here, David! A personal touch like this will give a real boost to your engagement.
  5. Follow-up: devise an effective follow-up strategy for your leads. Call them after two weeks, for example. Analyze relevant content, and follow up with even more relevant content. Then call. Be as creative as possible as you implement new strategies. This is the best way to ensure continual improvement.

More tips? Schedule a free consultation with one of our content specialists. Or read more about our software’s fantastic capabilities.


See some amazing examples of what interactive white papers look like.

Read our 4 tips on how to fill Your Funnel Using Interactive White Papers.

Learn how to create stunning white papers yourself with a free Instant Magazine trial.



Daan Reijnders is the Co-founder and CEO of Instant Magazine, a content management platform that amassed 1000+ clients all over the world in under 3 years. He's a digital marketing veteran with years of experience in managing both SaaS companies and creative agencies.



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