Whitepapers, eBooks and guides: How to make long-form content that works

long-form copy work

Whitepapers, eBooks, and downloadable guides are critical elements of your marketing toolkit. Find out how to make these weighty pieces of content win leads, sales, and all-round top results for your business.

Copywriters like to write; this is catastrophically unsurprising. A good copywriter, however, will reign in their literary pretentions and give you only the words that pull their weight.

Sometimes that means a killer six-word title. Sometimes it’s circa 280 characters of Twitter brilliance. But once in a blue moon, the right number of words is… lots.

So, how many? Here today, we concern ourselves with long long-form content. Stuff like:

  • eBooks

  • whitepapers

  • landing pages

  • blogs over 1750 words

If you’re thinking about writing something of that scope and your millennial knee-jerk kicks in all like, ‘nobody’s going to read all that,’ think again. People will read all that, they’ll enjoy it (as might Google), and it’ll form a worthy part of your marketing mix if you follow a few simple steps.

What’s your objective?

Something written for its own sake isn’t going to do you much good. Both yourself and your audience need to be enriched from the experience, and that end goal needs to be built into your strategy from the outset.

That goal could take many forms:

Creating a source

Royal society of chemistry

Perhaps you’re working in cutting-edge tech, pushing the frontiers of science. Mayhap you’ve found a niche topic that, somehow, nobody has explored in detail before.

In either of these scenarios, producing a researched, authoritative piece creates a valuable resource which others can use to benefit from your knowledge. Whitepapers really come into their own here.

This positions you as a credible authority. I often find myself referencing reports from the likes of McKinsey & Company who regularly produce wonderful papers which make my life as a researcher much easier.

You too can reap that same level of goodwill, and if the finished piece is useful enough, it becomes the kind of investment which will keep paying dividends years into the future. Few tweets can say that.

Generating leads

Lead generation has to seriously step up its game post-GDPR. People have woken up to their data having real value; if you want that data, you’ve got to make it a fair deal.

Offering something like an eBook with insider knowledge for your audience sounds like a fair deal to me. If you’re in B2B, you might want to pick a topic adjacent to your core competency, helping readers without giving away your own trade secrets for free.

This, with robust data capture, gives your audience a reason to enter your brand’s universe. But the value you offer doesn’t have to stop once you’ve got their data, in fact it’s better that it doesn’t.

The Royal Society of Chemistry keeps its huge membership updated and engaged with regular series of whitepapers to ensure the audience doesn’t drop out and unsubscribe once they’ve got their free content.

With such a huge scientific discipline to cover, they go to town providing something for everyone even tangentially connected to their space. We know, because we happen to have written and designed some of those beautiful whitepapers. Just sayin’.

Cutting through the noise


New ideas iterate so fast that keeping track can be a headache unless you’ve got your finger constantly on the shifting pulse, and not everyone has time for that. Certain topics pick up a lot of chatter; blockchain, VR, and data ethics were all big talking points in 2018.

Yes, there’s a lot to be said for speaking up and joining the conversation, but he who laughs last laughs loudest. Producing a comprehensive piece which sums up the conversation so far, at a pivotal moment, lets you cut through the chatter and present an authoritative take.

Of course, this is something you’d need to revisit periodically to make sure your definitive stance is still accurate. Property giants JLL do this by commissioning us each year to write their Hotel Investment Outlook reports, updating and revising their observations for an industry worth billions of dollars.

This lets them keep moving and give informed predictions without their stance changing with the wind. Time invested into producing one big report each January is time saved flip-flopping throughout the year.

How to craft long-form

Your own piece might be trying to achieve more than one of the above example goals, or all three of them, or something totally different. The important thing is that you decide what the goal is ahead of time, and craft an experience to that end.

Make no mistake, a proper bit of long-form needs to be an experience; you’re asking someone to sink serious time into absorbing what you’ve created. Even if it contains the facts, stats, and informed opinions to make it an academic masterpiece, you’re not going to achieve your objectives if it doesn’t spark joy in the reader.

Lean on your designer

The human mind is prone to quick judgement. If your whitepaper is a drab, monotone affair, nobody’s going to give it a chance. On the other hand, if it’s visually striking and well-laid out, replete with carefully chosen pictures, people might get as far as reading the copy.

This means dropping a few quid into working with the right designer. Someone used to web design or infographics might not have quite the right skillset to give a report maximum visual impact. It’s a fine art, and worth investing in.

Use the research, don’t be consumed by it

Something of this length needs to be credible. Pure opinion might carry you to a 500-word blog post, but sooner or later you need the cold, hard facts. But the thing about cold, hard facts is that they’re kinda… cold and hard.

Unless you’re producing something purely academic, there’s room for personality, and I’d argue that even pure academia could stand to loosen up a notch. With something like a report or eBook, it’s your job to interpret the facts and tell people how to feel about them. Feelings sell, then facts come along to rationalise a decision that’s already been made.

Get your dates straight

Rather than just talk about ‘storytelling’ (yawn), here’s an actual narrative technique that means something. When you’re dealing with data from a lot of research and studies, try to present that data chronologically if possible.

These studies didn’t happen in a vacuum, they were informed by their scientific context. You obviously don’t have the time, space, or inclination to break down everything that was going on to produce one tiny stat you’re using. But by talking about the invention of the wheel before you talk about the development of the Reliant Robin, you make it easier for the layman to follow.

Rock the research-to-writing ratio

Good long-form isn’t ‘lots of words,’ it’s lots of value. The risks of just hitting keys before you’ve planned your points become even greater the longer the piece gets.

Honestly, don’t be unduly concerned if you’re spending three times as long on research as you spend writing. It’s incredibly helpful to plan the whole thing out in bullet points first, complete with references, especially if your work is subject to various layers of feedback.

Pierce the paywall

This last one’s cheeky. From time to time you’ll come across a piece of research that is simply too perfect not to reference in your own piece… but it’s locked behind a paywall and there’s no budget for journal subscriptions.

Despair not! Academics seldom see a financial cut when their papers are downloaded and used, they’re more concerned with getting their knowledge out there. Shoot them a quick (polite, respectful) email and let them know you’re interested in referencing them; chances are they’ll email you a copy of the relevant research.

This is far more common than you might expect, and nets you a source that your rivals might not have access to.

Copy that goes to great lengths

Big copy jobs net big rewards if they’re providing a useful, enjoyable experience for a clearly defined target market. With luck, you’ve nabbed some tips here to make that happen for your own business… or we could do it for you.

Need long-form content experts for some waffle-free wins? Talk to Sookio today and let’s get started.