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Google hits on "white papers" 2002 2012 2022

This Just In: 20 years of Googling “white papers”

In 2002, I searched Google for “white papers” and got 2.8 million hits.

Of course, that didn’t mean there were 2.8 million actual white papers out there. But people had mentioned that phrase online that many times.

A decade later in 2012, the same search got 39.5 million hits: 14 times as many.

“Wow!” I said, “White papers are getting huge!”

Twenty years later in spring 2022, I ran the same search and nearly fell off my chair.

Now that search yields 782 million hits.

That’s almost 20 times the hits of a decade earlier… and an unbelievable 279 times what I got 20 years ago.

White papers have truly “arrived”

I think we can all agree on that.

White papers have gravitas, and a reputation for serious discussion that elevates them far above mere blog posts, case studies, or any other type of B2B content.

In some sectors, a company isn’t “real” until it has published a white paper.

You can get tossed off a vendor shortlist if you don’t have white papers.

For many B2B marketers, white papers are a standard part of the toolkit. When they work, they work beautifully.

White papers influence B2B buying decisions for many billions—maybe trillions—of dollars worth of products and services every year.

Yet too much popularity can have a downside

The “white paper” label can be applied to any document… including many that don’t live up to the name.

“Unfortunately, the term ‘white paper’ has been warped as marketers have injected brand-forward content vs. delivering real value,” says a recent report from NetLine (page 53).

The last thing any B2B prospect looking at a white paper wants is a thinly veiled sales pitch.

I’ve said for years that the term “white paper” is being abused, watered down, and devalued.

For some audiences, it’s often better to use an alternate name, such as:

  • Executive briefing
  • Guide
  • Research report
  • Special report
  • Technology backgrounder

So we’re back to the finding from the NetLine research: Why not call your next white paper a “special report” or an “e-book” instead?


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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