5 Tips for Writing Better Cyber Security White Papers

Cyber security white papers - person reading text on a Kindle

Quality Cyber Security White Papers Generate Quality Leads

White papers have become a popular marketing tool for cyber security firms, software developers, and other businesses in the IT sector. A well-written white paper can help your company establish thought leadership, bolster off-page SEO, and generate quality leads, but a poorly written, unprofessional paper could damage your reputation and turn off potential customers. What distinguishes poor cyber security white papers from winning ones? Keep these five tips in mind.

1. Pick a Topic that Addresses Your Customers’ Pain Points

Sales is all about identifying your customer’s pain points and illustrating how your product or service can relieve that pain. This is especially true in the information security sector, which is all about keeping businesses from getting hacked and keeping them in compliance with industry and regulatory standards. The first step to generating a good white paper is to ask yourself who your customer base is and which specific security issues they are struggling with. Are they overwhelmed by compliance costs? Are they scrambling to defend against ransomware attacks? Is IoT security about to become a huge problem for them?

2. Don’t Confuse White Papers With Sales Sheets and Marketing Collateral

While the bottom-line purpose of a white paper is to generate leads, white papers are not sales sheets or product brochures. Cyber security white papers that do nothing but talk about the issuing company’s product or service and how great it is are advertisements, not white papers, and they do not get read. The bulk of your white paper should be devoted to addressing your readers’ problem and exploring potential solutions, not repeatedly plugging your product or service.

3. Grab Your Audience’s Attention with a Strong Title and Introduction

The most important part of a white paper is the title; the second most important is the introduction. Remember that the target audience for cyber security white papers, IT decision-makers, are very busy people who are already drowning in reading material. Your paper has only a few seconds to pique their interest and make them want to continue reading.

4. Make Sure Your White Paper is Authoritative, Substantial, and Professional

White papers cannot be slapped together overnight and on the cheap. A quality white paper could take several weeks to research, write, edit, proofread, and format. The content must be original, substantial, and reference other authoritative sources, preferably peer-reviewed research studies or industry reports. The written content must do more than regurgitate what the references already said; it must provide further insight into the issue. Preferably, the paper should include charts and graphs that enhance the text by reinforcing the most important facts and figures. Finally, the English must be flawless, with no spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.

5. Segue into How Your Product or Service Can Help at the End

At the end of your white paper, and only at the end, you can finally get down to business and promote your product or service. If it was written properly, your paper has already hit your readers’ pain points and made them realize they need help solving their IT security or compliance issues. Now is the time to explain why your product or service can relieve their pain. Discuss the features and benefits, tying them back to the issues discussed in the paper. Make sure your company’s complete contact information – phone, email, web, and street address – is included on the final page.

White papers are popular because they work. Customers are tuning out online ads because no one likes reading sales materials. Everyone, especially in a sector as dynamic as cyber security, likes to read informative materials that will keep them apprised of current events that are relevant to their business. The time and monetary investment put into a quality white paper should come back to you several times over.

The cyber security marketing and content experts at Wild Owl Digital have deep experience working with information security and IT compliance firms to bolster SEO, build thought leadership, and drive qualified leads. Contact us today to inquire about our cyber security white papers writing services.

Three Black-Hat Backlink-Building Strategies to Avoid

Backlink-building for PageRankClients sometimes ask about link-building, also known as “backlink-building.”  They may think that backlink-building is a magic bullet that will propel their site to Page 1 of Google quickly and with little or no effort.

There are many black-hat marketers and “SEO consultants” who will promise the moon – and take your money – but those promises hold no water. White-hat, quality backlink-building is a long, tedious process, the results are very difficult to measure, and no two sites’ link-building strategies will be the same, even if the sites are in the same industry.

Not only do black-hat backlink-building techniques not work, but they can also result in your site being penalized or even delisted by Google. They can also irreparably damage your company’s reputation; people who engage in black-hat marketing are spammers, and no one wants to do business with a spammer.

Here are three common black-hat backlink-building strategies to avoid at all costs:

1. Submitting Content to Free “Article Directories”

Article directories are sites that allow anyone and their brother to submit articles on any topic, with space at the bottom for the author’s biography (or a description of their company) and a link. In return, the author agrees to allow others to copy and paste the content (including the bio and link) on their sites. Allegedly, the author will benefit from getting a backlink not only from the article site itself but also from whoever downloads and republishes the article.

While free article directories were a valid backlink-building method several years ago, they are now a very bad idea. Google frowns on them because they are full of shoddy, thin content. Additionally, once you post articles on these sites, you are giving permission to other webmasters to copy and paste them onto their own sites – which means that the articles could end up on a competitor’s site or, worse yet, on a site you do not want your company associated with, such as sites hawking male enhancement products, multi-level marketing schemes, or other “fast easy money” scams.

Posting Phony, Leading Questions and Spammy Non-Answers on Q&A Sites

Q&A sites, such as Quora and Yahoo! Answers, are meant for users to post questions and others to post answers. Blackhat marketers and other spammers misuse these sites by:

  1. Finding topics related to their business and providing spammy non-answers that include a link to the company’s website. For example, a black-hat marketer looking to promote a dog training company may “answer” questions about potty training and getting a dog to walk better on a leash by posting, “There are things we do at SpamU Dog Training such as potty training, leash training, teaching good manners, and solving behavior problems. Since 2010, SpamU Dog Training has served over 400 satisfied customers. Our primary purpose is to build better relationships between pet parents and their dogs! Hope this helped!”
  2. Creating two accounts on the Q&A site, using one account to post a leading question in the business’ category, such as, “What are the best ways to train a German shepherd to walk well on a leash?” and using the second account (sometimes under a different IP address) to post a spammy non-answer.

Unfortunately for spammers, Q&A sites have TOSes that prohibit this type of abuse, along with moderators who continuously monitor for it, delete the spam, deactivate the account(s) used to post the spam, and, sometimes, block the spammer’s IP address so they can no longer access the site.

A similar black-hat marketing technique is to comment on other company’s blogs and on message forums with similar spammy non-answers. The results are the same: Your spam post is deleted (if it ever makes it out of the moderation queue to begin with), your account on the site is deactivated, and your IP address is blocked.

3. Reposting Blog Articles from Your Website Onto a Free Blog Platform

This technique involves creating sites on free blogging platforms, such as Blogger.com and WordPress.com, and using them to repost blog content from the company’s main site, with a link back to the main site. There are two problems with this approach:

  1. Google’s algorithm will detect the duplicate content and penalize your main site for it.
    Google may also consider these efforts to be a page rank manipulation technique and punish your main site for that as well.

Creating separate content for these sites would prevent the penalties. However, money-wise, time-wise, and SEO-wise, you are far better off simply publishing more often on your company blog and promoting the content through social media.

So, now that you know what not to do, what are some ways you can build quality backlinks using white-hat marketing techniques? While the exact answer depends on your industry, target market, and goals, a good way to start is to steer away from the type of black-hat shenanigans described in this article.

Oprah Loses 26 Pounds & $29 Million on Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers meeting sign
Image courtesy of Mike Mozart on Flickr

Weight Watchers banked on the “Oprah Effect” after it signed the outspoken (and often controversial) media mogul last October, and things seemed to go well – for a while. However, USA Today reports that Weight Watchers’ stock plummeted last Friday:

Shares in Weight Watchers (WTW) went on a crash diet Friday, falling $4.54, or 29%, to close at $11.01 after the diet company said it expects a quarterly loss. And the biggest loser — at least in terms of individual shareholders — was Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey, the entertainment superstar, saw her massive, nearly 6.4 million-share stake in Weight Watchers shrink by almost $29 million. But even Winfrey wasn’t hit as bad as an investment firm based in Belgium that was seeing losses piling up that exceed $125 million.

Weight Watchers has been troubled for a number of years, likely due to the proliferation of free and low-cost calorie counting app such as MyFitnessPal. It’s also questionable whether the Weight Watchers formula, which revolves around group support in the form of in-person meetings, resonates with busy modern consumers who live their lives online. Around the same time the company partnered with Oprah Winfrey, it completely revamped its diet plan. However, the rollout of the new plan – dubbed SmartPoints – was plagued with IT issues, as well as complaints from members that the new plan was too restrictive and reminiscent of the very fad diets that Weight Watchers has long railed against in its own marketing.

Weight Watchers claims that its plan is sustainable for a lifetime, but how sustainable is a diet plan that fundamentally changes every few years? And, with each change, members are forced to buy new materials. Weight Watchers and other diet plans may have been able to get away with that pre-Internet, but today’s digital consumers are more educated about their options – and perhaps more likely to turn to a calorie-counting site that is free of charge and never changes.

Because of all of this, it doesn’t surprise me that the “Oprah Effect” appears to have been temporary. Oprah came on board near the end of the year – the time when throngs of people make “New Year’s resolutions” that they almost never keep long-term. My prediction is that, ultimately, Weight Watchers will scrap its diet plans and focus on branded products. That’s where they have a chance of effectively competing. Everyone and their brother offers a free calorie-counting app, but nobody is giving away free food, free scales, or free fitness wearables.