Rita Theologi

Leveraging Data to Maximize the ROI of Your White Papers and eBooks

by Rita Theologi

Measuring the return on content is fundamental to proving the value of your marketing efforts, yet it’s one of the most challenging things for marketers to do.

Research by TrackMaven Marketing Leadership shows that more than 2/3 of marketers struggle to attribute revenue to content when examining the ROI of their work

White papers, an indispensable part of your demand generation strategy, require a tremendous amount of effort to create and keep updated. They’re also one of the toughest assets for performance tracking. 

Ideally, after distributing your white papers, you should be able to gather metrics that help you judge readability, interaction, engagement, and conversions. You want to know if your white papers are really helping to move leads further through the funnel.

Unfortunately, if you're like most marketers, your white paper data doesn't extend beyond the number of times downloaded, leaving you scratching your head about how they perform.

But fear not. With the new generation of digital content technology, it’s possible not only to measure the ROI of your white papers but also maximize lead generation and performance.

This post will show you what essential analytics insights you're missing and how to measure the real performance of your white papers beyond mere downloads. 



A checklist for white paper analytics 

Like with all “deep dive” style content assets, a white paper takes lots of time to prepare and produce. To make all this worth the effort and ensure you’re not throwing money down the drain, you should be able to gather insights that help you maximize not just downloads, but SQLs and, ultimately, revenue.

Below, is a list of questions to get started with your white papers’ ROI.

1. How many people downloaded your white paper? 

This one's a no-brainer. If your white papers are distributed as links in emails, or gated behind a form on a landing page, the number of downloads serves as a good metric to help you optimize your email copy, perform a/b tests on the CTAs, or remove extra form fields. 

However, if this is your only available metric, you've got a problem.

2. How much of your white paper do they actually read? 

Do readers get all the way to the end of the white paper, or do they give up a few pages in? The latter could indicate that your content isn't valuable, interesting, or that the reading experience is poor. Measuring the time they spend reading and the number of pages they get through is crucial for understanding your white paper's contribution to bottom line results

More importantly, it can serve as a lead quality score. If a particular lead reads your white paper cover to cover, it might warrant immediate follow-up by your sales team. Conversely, you can avoid fruitless labor by putting fewer resources into following up with leads who are less engaged. 

3. Which pages and topics do people spend the most time on?

Knowing which specific chapters or sections readers spend the most time on is not only useful for optimizing your content, but it allows you to segment your audience by their interests and use a personalized follow-up approach. You can use marketing automation to assign different readers to different sales teams based on the topics they focus on. 

4. Which links and CTAs perform best?

Including CTAs in your white paper is smart. Rather than waiting a few days to send a follow-up email, embedded CTAs encourage leads to take immediate action while they're still engaged with your content. 

Measuring the performance of links and CTAs within your white paper is vital for succeeding with this strategy. You should continually test the CTA text, placement, accompanying description and destination, and optimize accordingly. 

5. Which pages have a high exit rate?

On your website, high exit rates can mean different things. A high exit rate on a thank you page, for example, is normal and not a reason to be concerned. However, high exit rates within your white paper will give you clues about the quality of your content. It might indicate that your content is no good, but it also might mean readers found what they were looking for. 

If readers exit, though, you want to ensure they're taking the next step you've planned for them. If they leave before reaching your CTA, for example, you may need to rethink the order of your pages. Like with all content, it's important to test different iterations for best results. 

6. How often is your white paper shared via social media and email? 

This is one of the most telltale signs — a proof that your content is so priceless and useful for your audience that they decided to post it on social or even email it to other people. 

As your white paper is passed along, you not only get a better grasp of its value, but you get the opportunity to collect data from all those 2nd degree leads as well — as long as you've gated it properly with an embedded form. 

7. How many new customers are coming in through your white paper?

You spent all that time gathering material and conducting research, and then sat down to produce and distribute your white paper. The big question is, did it work? Did it bring any new customers? If you can’t track your white paper beyond only downloads, it’s impossible to answer that question.

Immediate access to metrics like those mentioned above will help you evaluate your white paper, optimize and perform a/b tests, save time and money in the long term, and make educated decisions without wondering whether your white paper is working or not.



Why PDFs won’t cut it anymore 

If you use PDFs for your white papers you may have noticed that most of the aforementioned metrics are impossible to gather. 

PDFs lack all modern requirements for measurability. The only available metric is the number of downloads, which alone, doesn’t say much. 

More specifically:

You can't see engagement

The more engaged your leads are with your white papers, the more valuable they are to your business. You can't follow up quickly with highly engaged leads if you don't know who they are. 

You can't optimize and improve

With PDF white papers, the only data you have is how many times they've been downloaded. You have no data regarding what happens to them afterwards. You don't know if the content is effective, thus any attempts to improve it will be based on assumptions.

You can't attribute success

Customer journeys are complicated. Just because someone downloads a PDF and some time later becomes a customer, you don’t know whether it was your white paper or something else that influenced their decision. You don't know whether they even read it. 

You can't collect data from people with whom it was shared

Once someone downloads a PDF white paper, you lose all control over it. They can share it with as many people as they want and you forgo all those potential leads. 

Traditional PDF white papers are simply no longer suitable for modern data-driven demand generation.



There's a better way to do it

Web-based content is the new black. 

In an age where virtual assistants are winning IQ tests, marketers can't afford to use file formats they can't measure. White papers must be modern, interactive, and highly effective. 

Interactive web-based white papers are a next generation format that can supercharge your content marketing strategy. 

Because they're infused with web technology, interactive white papers are fully measurable. They also allow for personalization, and dynamic interaction with your leads as they navigate your funnel. 

Read more about how we use interactive web-based content to leverage our marketing efforts.

Interactive white papers can help you land more customers by supporting your sales funnel with content that’s measurable, mobile-friendly, and functional.


Why web-based interactive white papers?

Measure engagement within the white paper

See what readers do after they download your white paper to both determine the quality of your content and to spot hot leads right away. From reading time, to scroll depth, to click rates — you get all the insights you need

Continually optimize to get readers to do what you want

Use the data-driven insights you collect to fine tune your white papers and guide your leads on to the next desired action

Get attribution right and see the contribution of your white paper to bottom-line results

Using interactive white papers instead of PDFs removes that massive blind spot in your customer journey and lets you really understand your content's ROI.

Get the contact info of everyone with whom your white paper is shared 

Interactive web-based white papers don't need landing pages. The lead gen form is embedded in the white paper itself. This means that if your leads share your white paper with others, they'll encounter the form too. 




In modern organizations, everything marketers do should be measurable and produce clear, demonstrable business value. 

Your white papers and eBooks, like every other content asset you produce and distribute, must be carefully evaluated, rigorously tested, and continually optimized. Otherwise, they’ll fail to attract, engage, and guide your leads to purchase. 

That’s why many progressive brands are already switching away from PDF to interactive web-based white papers that help them generate hassle-free SQLs, and better understand their contribution to overall ROI

Check this out: Our client, Pavo, acquired more than 2,150 new leads with their white paper after switching to Foleon! Read the whole story here!

Rita Theologi
Rita is a writer and content marketing specialist at Foleon. She has years of experience in SaaS and continually enriches our blog with her wide range of expertise.

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