• Higher Education
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How to Write Your School's First Whitepaper
Mia Major

What does a 10% off coupon for your first purchase at this online baby boutique, Pedigree’s online breed match pet quiz, and this free downloadable eBook on yoga basics have in common? They are all content offers with one goal: get your information early, so they can market to you throughout your baby-clothes-buying-pet-shopping-inner-yogi-seeking journey.

A content offer is one of the most effective ways to get more families in your funnel, too — before they’re ready to make the commitment of an inquiry or application. This is especially true if your inquiry form looks a little something like this:

long scrolling form

That’s a lot of information you’re asking for at the very beginning of the admissions funnel. And very few prospective families are willing to make that commitment. A content offer allows you to ask for less information (think 3-5 form fields!), in order to get prospective families into your admissions funnel sooner to give you more control in their journey.

However, not many schools use content offers. In fact, according to survey results in our Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report, only 20% of schools currently have a content offer. But for that 80% who don’t have any content offers? Well, half of them can’t find the time and about one-fourth of them have no idea how to get started.

Content offers can come in the form of a/an:

  • Viewbook or brochure
  • eBook
  • Guide or whitepaper
  • Webinar recording

If your school already has a viewbook or brochure, refer back to this blog for next steps. If you want to create a new content offer, a guide or whitepaper is the easiest place to start. And if you’re in that group of individuals who can’t find the time or don’t know how to get started — my goal in this blog is to break down both of those barriers for you.

Let’s start with the basics…

What is a whitepaper?

A whitepaper is an authoritative report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution. You would want to create a whitepaper to educate your audience about a particular issue, or explain and promote a particular methodology. For example, a Montessori school may want to create a whitepaper that explains and promotes the benefits of Montessori education, while a public school district may want to create a whitepaper that promotes the benefits of a public school education. 

You may already have content like this on your website to an extent too. For example:

In all cases, the piece of content is a problem-solving guide that can help families in their journey for selecting the right type of education or school for their child. A whitepaper allows you to go deeper into this philosophy and answer other questions like how to choose a boarding school once you've made the choice to attend one, or tips for dealing with distance, a guide for first time families, and more.

(Keep in mind that you don't have to call your whitepaper a "whitepaper." You can call it a guide, help book, e-guide...whatever you wish. The idea is that it is a short, helpful piece of content!)

How long does a whitepaper have to be?

Whitepapers are one of the easiest pieces of content to create due to their short, but informative nature. While most eBooks lend themselves to be 20+ pages, a whitepaper can be as short as 5-6, cover to cover. That’s shorter than most assignments your teachers give to their students!

Why are whitepapers important?

Prospective families (and millennial parents in particular) spend a lot of time in the research stage of the admissions funnel — meaning they do a lot of the legwork on their own by reading reviews and content, making comparisons, and drawing conclusions.

So, by the time they’re submitting inquiry forms, they’ve likely already made their list of selections — and if your school isn’t on the list, you never get a say.

A whitepaper gives you the opportunity to get into the journey earlier, join the conversation, and become a trusted thought-leader in the space by offering guidance, answering questions, and solving problems.

Writing Your School’s First Whitepaper

Writing your school’s first whitepaper is easy (I promise!). In most cases, you’ve said or written the contents of your whitepaper on your website, at open houses, and in one-on-one conversations. 

1. Determine Your Audience

Your first whitepaper should serve as a resource and guide for a specific audience. Most schools will write their first whitepaper (or content offer for that matter) as an “inquiry magnet” — AKA, a way to establish more inquiries. However, not all schools struggle with inquiries. Some schools struggle with turning applicants into inquiries, and then into applicants, while others struggle with yield, and some struggle with retention. 

By first turning your focus to who you need to focus on, you’ll be able to come up with a topic that addresses their needs, questions, concerns, and desires. Keep in mind that your whitepaper may end up being helpful to numerous of your target audiences, but it is best to write it with one in mind to stay concise and on track.

2. Select a Topic

Once you’ve determined who you want to write the whitepaper for, you will then determine your topic. This is the most important step, and arguably the most difficult. The topic needs to be compelling, informative, speak to your audience’s questions, and address them. It also needs to sell the value of your school and/or type of education. For example, private schools located in towns with fantastic public school systems may need to spend more time convincing prospects of the benefits of private school education.

Here are 10 idea generating topic starters:

1. A complete how-to guide for…

Ex. A Complete How-To Guide for Selecting the Right Private School

2. X ways to…

Ex. 3 Ways to Make Private School Affordable

3. X helpful tips for selecting…

Ex. 5 Helpful Tips for Selecting Your Child’s PreSchool

4. A “101” guide

Ex. Catholic Schools 101: Everything You Need to Know

5. The secrets/myths to…

Ex. 5 Secrets About Charter School Education

Ex. 5 Charter School Education Myths — Busted

6. X rules for…

Ex. 10 Simple Rules for Picking the Right Type of Education for Your Child

7. A complete comparison and contrast guide for…

Ex. Public vs. Private Education in the D.C. Metro Area: What Every Parent
Needs to Know

8. X Important questions…

Ex. 10 Important Questions to Ask Before You Enroll 

9. X Tips for...

Ex. 6 Tips for Picking the Right School in NYC

10. FAQs about…

Ex. FAQs About Montessori Education

You’ll notice that many idea-generators in that list suggest to include a number in your title. Not only does sticking to a number make you whitepaper easy to write (and scan!), it is also scientifically proven to generate more clicks.

Depending on your team’s size, you will likely want to hold a brainstorm meeting to discuss your target audiences and topics. I also recommend involving individuals from other departments, as this specific project requires a synergy between marketing and admission teams in particular.

3. Do Some Research

In many cases, a Catholic school will have to write about their approach, a boarding school will have to write about their approach, and an all-girls school will write about their approach. (The list goes on and on.) Do your research on what kind of content already exists for your type of school. While in many cases there isn't always a need to re-invent the wheel content-wise, you don't want to be competing in search — locally and nationally. So, be sure you pick an original title at the very least.

4. Enlist Your Writer(s) & Designers

Once you’ve determined your topic, it’s time to enlist a group of writers, or rely on just one. Because it is important for the tone and voice of your whitepaper to be succinct, relying on one writer to pull everything together will likely yield the best results. 

In addition to writers, you’ll also want to find someone to help design your whitepaper. I recommend working in a simple program that allows collaboration — like Google Docs or Google Slides — to build out your content. This allows writers and designers to work in unison together.

Keep in mind that while aesthetics do matter, the content itself matters more. Don’t get too hung up on the details of the design — as long as it follows your school’s brand, that’s what matters most. 

Your whitepaper should include:

  • An introduction: Give a high-level overview of what readers can expect to learn by reading the whitepaper or guide.
  • A number of subsections based on the title: (ex. If you are writing a whitepaper with 5 ways to choose the perfect preschool, your whitepaper should have five sections.) In each subsection, be sure to answer important questions like “what”, “how”, and “why?”.
  • A conclusion: Conclude with key takeaways and a suggested call-to-action of what happens next.

And don’t worry if you don’t have any designers on staff, a quick Google search will yield up dozens of simple templates you can use.

Next Steps

Once you’ve written, edited, and perfected your school’s first whitepaper, it is now time to get it on your website to be downloaded. It’s important to note that your whitepaper should be easy to find! Add it to your homepage, admissions pages, blog posts, and even in your navigation. 

Some tips for adding your whitepaper to your website include:

  • Using a timed page pop to promote the whitepaper on key pages
  • Using a call-to-action on key pages (especially in your admission section) to drive traffic
  • Using a short form (3-5 form fields!) to maximize conversions
  • Sending them to a thank you page to spark further interest and engagement
  • Setting up a marketing automation campaign to nurture individuals once they have downloaded the content piece

Key Takeaway

A content offer is an integral part of an inbound marketing strategy, and can help get families in your funnel earlier to give you more say during their decision-making process. While about half of schools struggle to find the time, a whitepaper (or e-guide, or e-book) makes a great summer project, and reason to rally your disparate teams together! 

School Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report: Download Now


Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools and districts create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, student and faculty retention, and school-to-home communications. With more than five years experience in the industry, Mia has written more than 200 articles, eBooks, and reports about best practices for schools on a variety of topics from social media to web design. As a former TV and news reporter, and wedding photographer, Mia specializes in sharing how to use storytelling to power your school's admissions funnel. When she isn't busy creating content or hosting her #LIKEABOSS Podcast for FinalsiteFM, you can find her hiking with her Boston terrier, running an army wives meeting at Fort Campbell, or enjoying a well-deserved savasana on her yoga mat.

  • Admissions
  • Content Marketing
  • Inbound Marketing
  • Marketing/Communications
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