How to Use Valuable Content to
Attract Opportunity

Content Equals Opportunity

Are you struggling to attract prospects? Do you need to increase the size of your opt-in email-marketing list?

How can you stand out in a sea of noise?

With so many disruptive (and alluring) technologies such as email, RSS readers, instant messaging and mobile phones, prospects are distracted like never before—and chances are, so are you!

This attention-deficient dilemma makes it exceptionally difficult for businesses and professionals to stand out.

So what can you do?

The answer is very simple, and rests on this premise: If you provide something of value to prospects, they will give you their respect, loyalty, time AND ultimately their business.

People are hungry to learn and find great value in educational content. Educational marketing strategies can rapidly change the face of your business.

Perhaps nothing is more valuable to readers than white papers, how-to guides, reports and ebooks.

Consider the research. A major study by KnowledgeStorm and MarketingSherpa found that readers value white papers most—more than case studies, product literature, articles from industry journalists, analyst reports, company websites, webcasts, blogs, online video and podcasts.

While white papers are super hot right now, most fail to bring opportunity.

Share Your Secrets in White Papers

Chances are you or your company has knowledge that people find valuable.

This may seem counterintuitive… If you give away some of that proprietary, hard-earned insight in the form of a white paper or ebook, you actually can propel yourself to a position of thought leader and attract opportunity.

Consider Brian Clark’s free report on viral marketing with blogs, Viral Copy. When I first read this 30-page report, I forwarded it to many of my friends with the label, “Required Reading.” This excellent resource convinced me that Brian knew his stuff. If Brian had something to sell, I’d be first in line to buy it.

Here are the core character traits of effective educational marketing tools. They:

  • Downplay the mention of your product or company
  • Focus on problems or needs faced by readers
  • Examine trends and look at history

How to Leverage White Papers to Grow Your Business

Once you have written your masterpiece, it is time to put the document to work for you.

If your goal is to capture a lead (a name, phone number or email address, for example) or to encourage folks to join your email list, you should place the white paper, report or free ebook behind a registration form.

There is a right way and a wrong way to do this…

Mistake #1: How many times have you seen a single sentence or a paragraph summary of a white paper and then a long registration form? There may as well be a pit bull standing at the door, because I wouldn’t go near that paper.

Unfortunately, many white papers fail to provide enough content to engage readers or scare people away with 20 questions such as “What is your budget?”

Mistake #2: On the flip side, how often do you see a white paper that is instantly displayed with the click of a link? While this provides immediate access to a reader, it fails to capture any information or make it easy for readers to sign up for your newsletter.

The Solution: What I am about to propose is a strategy that appeals equally to readers and businesses. Revisit my earlier premise, when you provide value, you gain respect.

Consider real estate investment specialists Brown & Brown. A few pages of their white paper, Achieving Early Retirement With Real Estate: Rethinking Traditional Retirement Planning, are presented before the registration form appears.

With this example, readers are given plenty of sample content before they are asked to trade their personal contact information for access.

This idea flows from the video game market. Remember playing video game demos that provided you access to the first two levels? By providing a good sample taste of the product, the hope is that people will act and want the full game. The same strategy can be applied to white papers.

By providing a sufficient example of the document you want users to register for, you:

  • Increase the likelihood people will complete the registration form and you capture a lead.
  • Improve lead quality. If people do not find your opening words relevant, they will never scroll down the page and see there is a registration form at the bottom.
  • Create a content-rich page for search engines.

When your registration form finally appears, this is the prime opportunity to ask readers if they want to join your email opt-in list, in addition to receiving the white paper.

Thus, by providing a compelling sample of your white paper, you improve the likelihood that people registering are truly interested in your topic AND you can quickly grow your opt-in lists.

Your feedback: Have you utilized this strategy effectively? What are your thoughts?

Michael Stelzner is the author of the book ‘Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged.’ For a sample chapter of Michael’s book, visit his blog and sign up for his newsletter.

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Reader Comments (31)

  1. says

    Michael, I think this strategy has pretty much been the norm since shortly after Seth Godin published Permission Marketing, and I’ve been using it myself since 1998 for both offline businesses and online pure-plays. You simply have to be able to stay in contact with people to ultimately convert them, and that means using the opt-in and following up. Even if you publish a general blog or newsletter, you’ll still want separate opt-in channels where you can laser-focus on certain issues and selling points.

    Ironically, the only time I’ve ever released a substantial piece of content such as a report or white paper and not required an opt-in was Viral Copy. I debated it, but the goal for Viral Copy was to attract links (that’s what the report is about!) and to get as many people as possible to read it.

    My estimation of the blogging community at the time was that no one was going to link to something that was “behind the wall,” and I think for the most part, that’s still true today. So, it’s important to understand your goals and your audience, but from what I’ve seen, business bloggers are under-utilizing the email opt-in when it comes to converting passive readers into active prospects and actually selling something.

    If Brian had something to sell, I’d be first in line to buy it.

    That day is coming sooner than you think, and I’ll remember that. :)

  2. says

    Hey Brian;

    Looks like you and I are the only late night folks still up!

    Great comment.

    Interestingly enough, if you reveal enough sample and it is compelling and unique, you can still get a lot of folks linking to it AND raise your search engine results.

    Case in Point:

    Google the words white paper and look at where my “How to Write a White Paper” comes up.

    This is an example of what this article discusses.

    The reason it comes up so high is because some many folks have linked to it AND because it contains rich content.


  3. says


    You might be interested in a recent white paper by Enquiro Search Solutions ( They found that B2B customers most desired clear, downloadable content when researching products & services. Useful info they could easily share with colleagues and present to decision makers was what helped the most in converting B2B site visitors into customers. You can get the full white paper for free by registering on their site, or I’ve posted a brief summary on my blog.


  4. says

    Great stuff :)

    On the opt-in, I probably did restrict the number of links I got by putting my free ebook behind a subscription but my goal with the pdf was for people to get an idea of my approach and philosophy, it is a way for people to understand what I am about, those that hang around are then on the same page.

    I see blog posts and white papers as free samples, hopefully those small but tasty morsels will be enough to sell them on the full pie :)

  5. says

    Hi All, I think that free reports are a great leverage for the sales. I like the system described by Mike:

    1) Teaser sample
    2) Registration in an e-mail list
    3) Allow download of the report/white paper

    At the moment I offer a free sample of my e-book even without registration in an opt-in list. I am using a little bit longer sequense (may be it is not the best, but I am learning on the fly):

    1) I give away a free sample that lead to my blog.
    2) I offer a free and valuable content on the blog.
    3) I offer the opportunity to buy my book.
    4) After the sale I ask the prospect for registration
    5) I know that my opt-in list contains “hot” customers only.

    What do you think about this “system”? Do you think I could improve it somehow?

    I am strong believer in viral marketing and using reports and white papers as marketing tools.

    Congratulations, Mike.
    Great article!


  6. says


    I do something similar with my hardcover book/ebook.

    I give a free chapter, two different ways.

    One, if they are on Amazon OR on the page where the book can be purchased, I give a sample chapter immediately.

    If they are on my blog, I give a sample chapter if they register for my newsletter.

    Different offer for different location is the strategy here.

    The bigger question is this, why should your readers register? What do they get? A newsletter?


  7. says

    Hi Mike,

    After the sale I ask my customers to register and receive further updates on the book’s content. They get fresh updates immediately after the release of a new information related to the book’s topic.

    I am trying to make updates at least once per month (or better – bi-weekly) – new issues and articles, news, tips and tricks on topic, etc.

    My purpose is to generate valuable content and send it to my customers as book’s updates. It works for me at the moment – at least the feedback is 90% positive. :)


  8. says

    People are hungry for knowledge, and if you gain their respect they will be loyal to your writing. Internet marketing is often like this also.

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