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How to Write a Good White Paper Title

by | Sep 10, 2018 | Blog | 0 comments

How to Write a Good White Paper TitleYour white paper’s title is probably the most important factor in your prospect’s download decision.

It’s the first thing prospects read when they encounter your white paper. It heads the description on your download page and any search results that turn it up. It figures prominently in any promotions you run.

It must make a good impression. Nothing minimizes white paper downloads like an uninspiring title.

Yet, an astounding number of white papers suffer from poor titles. When CopyEngineer made a survey of technology company websites that offer white papers for download, it found this mistake on nearly half (47.4%) of them.

Three types of poor white paper titles

What makes for a poor white paper title? They generally fall into three categories: (1) boring, (2) product-oriented, and (3) misleading.

The problem with a boring title is obvious. Busy technology buyers aren’t going to waste time downloading and reading something they think will bore them. Your title must grab their attention. It must be relevant to their needs. It must promise them they’ll benefit just from reading your white paper.

The problem with a product-oriented title is not quite so obvious, but no less fatal. It has to do with when buyers download and read white papers.

In a recent survey, Eccolo Media discovered that 80% of technology buyers use white papers in the “pre-sale process” – before they send out RFPs or initiate discussions with specific vendors – while only 46% use white papers once they contact vendors and begin considering specific solutions. [i]

In these early, information-gathering stages, prospects aren’t interested in specific solutions. They don’t need to hear about features. They don’t want to hear about your products or services. Period. They aren’t ready for that yet.

In fact, when Eccolo asked buyers to rank factors that would decrease the influence of a white paper, “Too much focus on a product or vendor” placed second, closely behind “poorly presented information”.  Similarly, when TechTarget and the CMO Council asked tech buyers what factors caused them to be disappointed in a white paper, 47.7% said they were “expecting technology discussion, not product info”. Another 39% said they’d been disappointed by white papers that were “not problem-solving focused”. And 36.9% disliked white papers that are “too product oriented” (Figure 1). [ii]

Factors that most often cause disappointment in white papers

In other words, technology buyers look to white papers for problem-solving knowledge, not product info. So, the mention of a brand name in the title can be the kiss of death for a white paper campaign.

“We find that any white paper with a product name in the title does anywhere from 50 percent to an order of magnitude worse than if the title contains an educational or benefit statement,” says Jay Habegger, former CEO of Bitpipe (now TechTarget).[iii]

There is one exception to this “product-oriented title rule”, however. That comes when the white paper being titled is what is called a “backgrounder” white paper. Backgrounder white papers – one of the three principal types of white papers – are written to provide detailed information on a product’s features and benefits, either to industry journalists during a product launch or to technical evaluators late in the sales process. Because of their strong product orientation, however, backgrounders are ill-suited to lead generation campaigns, for the reasons just mentioned. To attract leads and site traffic, it’s better to use the other two types of white papers, the problem/solution, and the numbered list.

Interestingly, the fourth most frequent cause of disappointment among white paper readers in that TechTarget / CMO Council survey, at 33.3% (Figure 1), was our third category of poor titles, the “misleading title.” [ii]

Obviously, tech buyers don’t take kindly to white papers that fail to deliver on the promises of their titles. Note that the most frequent cause of reader disappointment in white papers – “expecting technology discussion, not product info” – seems to indicate the same.

If readers feel you’ve tricked them into downloading something that’s not immediately useful to them, they’ll distrust you. And that could ruin your chances of making an eventual sale.

Crafting an effective white paper title

Fortunately, it’s not hard to write an effective white paper title.

First, choose a subject that’s problem-focused, rather than solution-focused. Remember, buyers searching for white papers probably don’t yet know what solution they need. But they’ll probably recognize their problem if you spell it out for them in your title.

Then, be very specific. Your title should do most of the following:

  • Identify your target reader
  • Identify a problem your target reader has that your white paper will help him solve
  • Promise a solution to the problem and a benefit to the target reader

Also, consider using a number in your title. Titles that include phrases like “7 Tips for” or “5 Ways to” are appealing to busy prospects because they promise to break the information up into bite-sized chunks. Numbered list white papers always have a number in their title, but it’s often possible to include a number in the title of a problem/solution paper by dividing the solution into various facets.

Look at the title and subtitle of this special report, for example. The phrases “Kill White Paper ROI” and “Generate More Leads” identify the target audience: marketing managers who use white papers in lead-generation campaigns. It identifies a potential problem they face: low ROI from their campaigns. And it promises to help them avoid 10 common mistakes that can cause that problem.

The implied promise is that what’s in the report will help the reader do his job better and make his life easier. That’s what your title must convey if you want prospects to download your white paper.

Takeaway Points

  1. Your white paper’s title is probably the most important factor in your prospect’s download decision. It must make a good impression.
  2. Avoid these common white paper title mistakes:
    • Boring title
    • Product-oriented title
    • Misleading title
  3. Make you title problem-focused, not solution focused.
  4. Try to make your title do all or most of the following:
    • Identify your target reader
    • Identify a problem your target reader has that your white paper will help him solve
    • Promise a solution to the problem and a benefit to the target reader

Next Steps

This month’s article is an excerpt from CopyEngineer’s newly updated special report, 10 Common Mistakes that Kill White Paper ROI: How to Avoid Them and Generate More Leads. To request your free copy, click here.

Need expert help planning and developing a new white paper for your company? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop me an email at I’ll be happy to schedule a call and discuss your project with you


[i] Eccolo Media 2009 B2B Technology Collateral Survey,, September 2009.

[ii] 2007 TechTarget and CMO Council Technology Buying and Media Consumption Benchmarking Survey.

[iii] Graham, Gordon, How to generate leads with a white paper: tips from Tech Target execs, CompTIA Software CEO.

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