Creating Knowledge Base Content that is Indispensable

Your knowledge base is the manifestation of your team’s entire understanding of your customers’ pain points. It shows that you have a handle on how they use your product and how they prefer to learn.

Ultimately, your team’s goal should be to create a knowledge base (KB) so good that your customers never need to contact your support team. Even if your support team is excellent, 70% of consumers prefer using a knowledge base rather than getting help over phone or email. Being able to find information on their own saves them time rather than waiting for a response, and it can be especially useful if they’ve got simple or straightforward questions.

Having indispensable documentation and support is just as important to the customer experience as having a fantastic product. Your customers will more likely remember what you did (or didn’t do) to help them. Here’s how to make content that your customers will love to use.

Create a plan

Alexander Graham Bell famously said, “before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” He couldn’t have been more right! Whether you already have a knowledge base or are just starting to build one, you need to have a plan. Consider the following points:

  • What information should your customers know?
  • Where do your customers experience the most pain? 
  • What is the best way to answer different customer questions?
  • How do you want to build your navigation?
  • Where does your knowledge base sit within your overarching customer experience strategy?

Having a plan in place is essential because it sets you up for future success. Gartner believes that in the very near future, customers will manage 85% of their relationships with businesses without having contact with a human. To support customers who find help without contacting you, you need to put thought and intention into the resources they use and how you want to guide customers through your help center.

For example, creating a troubleshooting guide may be useful for addressing a specific standard product issue, and an FAQ page could help answer general questions about a particular service. Create a scaffolding for what types of articles you want to have and why.

Guide writers in best practices

After you create a plan, teach your writers how to execute it. Like your marketing team, your support team should have a style guide for writing knowledge base articles.

A knowledge base style guide goes beyond basic grammar. It gives an understanding of how to arrange content to best communicate with your customers. It provides a template for your articles. Here are some great examples of knowledge base style guides:

A screenshot of Mailchimp's content style guide.

There are many things to include in your style guide to make sure it’s comprehensive. Here are a few starting points to consider:

  • How should article titles be structured?
  • What kind of punctuation rules do you want writers to follow? 
  • Are there specific sentence and paragraph lengths that you want people to abide by? Shorter sentences and paragraphs are more straightforward for people to read.
  • What technical jargon do you want your team to use? For example, you should try to use the same specific term for each feature in your product. Using multiple terms can confuse customers, and wreak havoc on search.
  • How would you like your articles to be structured? For instance: step-by-step guides, interactive how-tos, webinars, and so on.
  • What kind of formatting should writers use? How does your team feel about ordered or unordered lists or bold and italic formatting?
  • What type of linking structure or external sources would you like to use in your docs?
  • How should writers find and use images?
  • What abbreviations are you willing to accept, and how should they be indicated?

It seems nitpicky, yes, but having all of these things outlined and written out will significantly help create consistent content that your customers love.

Consider your audience

You are not your customers. Some of them will come to your knowledge base having no experience of your product and features—and you need to write to reflect that. Writer bias occurs when you assume readers share your understanding of a topic. You don’t take the time to explain things as clearly as you need to, and it narrows your audience down to more advanced users who don’t need as much help.

Write to your entry-level customers and write content that addresses a variety of different learning styles. For instance:

  • Video tutorials and webinars
  • Infographics and imagery
  • Step-by-step guides or in-app flows
  • Glossaries of useful words and phrases, especially any specific to your product
  • Technical manuals that get a little more into the weeds with difficult content

No matter what format you choose, be sure to state the solution at the beginning of your content rather than making your customers search for it or skip to the end. After you’ve introduced the resolution include any steps your customers need to take to achieve it. This step-by-step example from Square’s documentation is a great example.

Square uses step by step guides to help customers sign up online

Write clearly and simply. Your readers aren’t trying to find their next favorite novel; they just want to know how to fix their problem. 

Enlist your marketing team

Everything that goes on your website, from your blog to your knowledge base, represents your brand. That means that it markets your brand, and could potentially deter customers from moving forward with a purchase. Luckily, your marketing team is almost single-mindedly already considering this. Use them!

Marketers have an inherent knowledge of many useful functionalities that can make your knowledge base articles indispensable. They also have a knack for making things easy to find via social, search engines, or natural traffic. Let them help you:

  • Figure out the best article titles to maximize your primary keywords and boost your docs to the top of search results.
  • Use and understand metadata to represent the phrases that customers are actively searching for.
  • Identify and place appropriate keywords throughout the body of your KB articles.
  • Code in anchor text to your docs to make your KB more navigable.
  • Surface your knowledge base articles in places outside of your KB: use these helpful resources in in-app tooltips or UI text bubbles, drip email campaigns to new or upgrading users, links from relevant landing pages, or blog posts, and even conversations with your support team.

Here’s a great example of Apple’s marketing team displaying their content on YouTube: 

Apple Support uses YouTube videos in their knowledge base to help customers learn.

The more places where you can show your KB articles, the better it will be for your customers. This is especially true if your KB articles lend themselves to other content, like case studies on your blog, or webinars.

Make it easy

When it comes to effort, 44% of customers already think they work harder than the company they’re seeking guidance from. You never want your customers to believe that they have to put in more effort to get an answer than you are putting in to give it to them.

Focus on making documentation easy to read and easy to find. Pull in teams cross-functionally to make the most out of your content and where it’s shown—docs can be just as helpful when linked contextually outside of your KB as they are within it. Experiment with content styles that lend themselves to this! Gone are the days of traditional text-based documentation. Spice it up with videos, incredible images, and types of content that help all kinds of learners learn.

Plan out your knowledge base with all of these ideas in mind, and you’ll be setting up both yourself and your customers for success—with indispensable content to boot.