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Have you ever come across a knowledge base article you couldn’t make heads or tails of? If so, you know it’s not a very nice feeling. Whether the language was wonky, overly technical, or simply incomprehensible, low-quality help content damages the customer experience.
Conversely, well-written knowledge base content is a tried-and-true way to reduce reliance on live agents and help customers get the information they need, instantly. That’s probably one of the reasons that 67 percent of customers prefer to use self-service options instead of speaking to a representative.
So, it’s useful to invest time and effort in writing knowledge base articles – even when you’re using effective knowledge base software to create your help center.
Here are nine best practices you can follow to write compelling content. (To make things even easier, you could also take advantage of our ready-made article template).
The audience is the first thing every writer should consider before putting words to the proverbial paper.
One rule of thumb is to assume your readers know nothing, so every action or piece of advice you give them needs to be spelled out and explained.
This doesn’t mean you fill every article with extraneous information. If you’re writing an article about how to train a chatbot, you can assume your readers know what a chatbot is. There’s no need to start from scratch. But, while writing about the training process itself, you need to describe the concepts used and steps readers take thoroughly as if they are seeing them for the very first time.
|Go to your account and click on “System Preferences”, then “Set key.”||Go to your account and set up a key.|
|You can train a chatbot by using the tool “Smart suggestions” in chatbot settings.||You can train your chatbot via the chatbot settings.|
|You can see your wishlist from any page on our site by clicking on the “heart” icon at the top left of your screen.||You can see your wishlist from any page on our site.|
|Fill out your email address and click “submit” (you may be asked to re-enter your password).||Fill out and submit your email address.|
If explanations end up unduly increasing the length of an article, or overcomplicating it, opt for links instead: write a separate smaller article and point the user to that via a clear anchor text. This approach will provide novice users with the information they need, while avoiding making the article unappealing to more advanced users.
There are different types of knowledge base articles and each of them demands its own structure and approach. Common types are:
Depending on which article you want to write, you’ll have an initial plan and timeline, and a particular approach to your preparation efforts (see next section). The type of article may also affect your structure. Installation and user guides have a strict chronological order, while FAQs may cover anything from the easiest-to-understand concept to the more advanced.
Clarity of writing comes from clarity of thought. You can’t guide your customers through complex processes if you don’t understand them yourself. It’s also helpful to be aware of the challenges and questions a customer may encounter along the way.
Before you start writing:
Customers don’t visit knowledge bases for sport. They almost always have a specific question or issue they’re trying to address.
This is your cue to give them the details they’re missing. Perhaps they’re getting an error message at sign in but they don’t know whether they should go to the “reset password” article or “how to fix technical issues”. You can help them by adding the error message at the beginning of the article so they’ll know these are the instructions they can use.
So, begin every knowledge base article by stating the reason you’re writing it – which should match the reason your customers are searching for it. “Reset your password” articles could start with “If you’ve forgotten your password or get the ‘password isn’t correct message’ follow the instruction below to set a new one.”
This will help:
Knowledge base articles are often seen by companies as purely utilitarian. They’re not considered marketing content per se.
But who’s to say they can’t be? If your knowledge base is publicly available online, your knowledge base articles may end up ranking on search engines and getting clicked on by people who aren’t your customers (yet).
Granted, you must avoid being cheeky, sales-y, or philosophical so as not to alienate your existing customers. However, there’s no downside to clarifying the “why” behind all the clicks, or mentioning the benefits for the customer of each product or service you’re describing. If you’re preparing a user guide, mention why the user would want to do what the article says in the first place. Every time you prompt the users to do something, explain what they get out of it.
Even technical knowledge base articles, like articles explaining the nuts and bolts of SLAs, can have a hint of why SLAs are important to your company and customers.
Online content in general should be easy to skim, but a knowledge base article especially should allow readers to scan the most important points at a single glance.
This is desirable in knowledge base articles because a user might have followed a process correctly but stumbled at one particular point. You want them to be able to find the solution without having to go back over steps or information they’re already aware of.
Also, skimmable content is extra useful on mobile, because of the smaller screen and increased need for scrolling, promoting a positive experience across devices.
Here are some key elements to consider:
We’re not talking about swearing, of course, (you know this should be avoided). But, your choice of words and turn of phrase can make or break an article. Such is the power of the written word.
So, when writing a knowledge base article, here are some rules to remember:
Imaginative titles will confuse readers and make knowledge base articles difficult to find. Instead, choose titles that accurately describe the content of the article even if they’re less than creative. Here are some common phrases used in titles of knowledge articles:
The correct title might be tricky for more complex topics. For example, whether you choose “How our API works” instead of “How to integrate your existing software” depends on what you know about your customers and their queries.
An idea that helps is good ol’ keyword research. Whether via Google Analytics or via an SEO tool like SEMRush or Moz, you can find what users are actually searching for regarding a particular topic. This will tell you what terms your customers are more likely to type into your knowledge base search. Or, what they’re more likely to scan for when going through your list of articles.
We’re talking about visuals.
Ever found yourself looking for a button that a support article says should be there but isn’t? It’s fair to say that any person who has tried to navigate software using an article without screenshots has had issues. Same goes for other industries, like telecom or banking, where you’re trying to find something on your bill or other documents.
So, consider adding these visuals to a knowledge base article when appropriate:
...may not exist. No matter how careful you are, it’s still possible a customer will be confused or won’t be able to find what they need. That’s fine. That’s what your customer support team is for – to step in when push comes to shove (by the way, you can offer a direct link or live chat option from the article to make it easier to contact customer support).
But still, by following the knowledge base article best practices above, you’re likely to cater to the vast majority of your customers. Don’t get complacent though; get feedback (e.g. via CSAT surveys that pop up in your knowledge base), adjust and refine. After all, your knowledge base works only if your customers think it does.