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Product documentation

Knowledge base – product documentation

Knowledge base is a critical part of any product documentation . It provides a library of the main information, keywords & features about the product.

Definition

According to Wikipedia, a knowledge base (KB) is a technology used to store complex structured and unstructured information used by a computer system.

In plain English, it is a condensed list of the main keywords, topics and questions that are requested by users.

Types of knowledge bases

A knowledge base is normally used for external users as e.g. customers and users.

Internal knowledge bases can be used by departments, teams or employees from sales, marketing, product management, development, QA/testing & support to collect and describe information, specific knowledge and typical procedures.

Knowledge bases can also be differentiated by the target – it can be e.g.

  • product-related knowledge base, extending the product documentation
  • knowledge base for an online shop focusing on the transactional steps as e.g. shipping, payment or return of orders

Why do you kneed a knowledge base?

For new and existing users and customers, they provide a structured and always available self-service help.

The support department can forward and link incoming requests and inquiries to static, well-written knowledge base entry, providing additional information and links to related content.

Such a focused entry page can be used and linked to as reference in the product documentation, providing additional background information about a specific topic.

A public, well-written and strong knowledge base entry page for a specific keyword or topic will rank in search engines and attract new visitors, and customers.

How to create a knowledge base

The following steps describe basic steps to create and maintain a knowledge base.

  1. Gather key stakeholder and knowledge person from different departments, especially from support, marketing, sales and product management. If possible, set up a meeting with all people involved.
  2. Collect content. Focus on typical issues, problems and key features. Suggestion: provide post-it notes to all involved people, write the keyword or topic on a post-it note, and let everybody present them.
    Additional sources could be search queries from the website, reports from support department or the product manual.
  3. Categorize the topics into cluster (e.g. moving related post it notes together on a wall or whiteboard).
  4. If not already done before or existing, choose a suitable knowledge base product and set it up.
  5. Create knowledge base entries for the main keywords, e.g. using the knowledge base template below. Add typical search terms to content, and links to related pages.
  6. Add links from external pages as e.g. product documentation, support tools or the company website.
  7. Update regularly: all people from step one should continue improving the content. Support department adds typical new support requests. Product management adds new features in each release. One person is appointed that regularly checks the knowledge base and e.g. removes no longer relevant content and improves unclear pages.
  8. Measure – use the users behavior and the search requests to learn about the content, and missing or problematic features. If the knowledge base software does not provide such a feature, a website monitoring solution as e.g. Google Analytics could be used.
    Go back to step 7 with the results – add, improve and remove.

Does and doesn’t

  • Be clear and consistent. Not too much words. Include images or videos only if it provides additional information.
  • Structure the content using categories. Focus on relevant pages. Do not add unnecessary content.
  • In the knowledge base entry, add links to features and additional information of the product documentation.
  • From the product documentation, add links of keywords and terms to the related knowledge base pages.

Knowledge base entry template

… or how to write a good knowledge base page.

Remember – be precise and consistent. Do only write relevant information.

For each entry, the following parts should be present:

  • Title:
  • Introduction: 1-2 sentences, definition/main features
  • Images, screenshots or short video
  • Description
  • Further reading & link to detailed/related content pages of e.g. the product documentation

Depending on the type of knowledge base, these topics and categories could be present

  • Onboarding of a new user
  • Main features of the product
  • For the administrator user, working with user management, access rights & security.
  • Reporting – use existing reports, and create custom reports.
  • Payment & shipment
  • How to contact support and links to self-service help sources

Knowledge base products and software

There are various solutions and products available. Providing a complete list is not possible, since new products and features are added every month.

To choose the suiting product, a short evaluation should be performed. Here are some criteria that could be taken into account:

  • How is the content structured?
  • Is there a search functionality – and how good is the result?
  • Is it possible to create a page for each entry? Can the page be optimized for direct linking and search engines?
  • How good is the online editor? Can you add additional resources easily?
  • Does the tool provide reports for the users search requests, the top/poor content pages and other relevant metrics to improve the knowledge base?
  • Can the portal be customized? Can you upload your logo, customize layout (e.g. CSS) and company font styles and colors? Does it provide customizable placeholders in header/footer e.g. to link to your support portal, main website, product landing page and sales team?
  • If you need a advanced knowledge base, check and compare features as multi language knowledge base (e.g. translation, linking, referencing, maintaining, multi-language image and file handling), user-rated content and white-labeling / having a subdomain as e.g. help.yourdomain.com .

Typically, the following categories will evolve

Further reading

You can find more information about knowledge base processes and best practices on the follow pages

Final notes

Start now, if you are not sure if you need a knowledge base or not for your product. Your customers, your marketing, your sales and the support department will thank you.

Get all relevant stakeholders on board, and start with a first effort.

Schedule regular improvement sprints e.g. every month or every release. The users search queries, rated entries and support requests are very helpful to focus on the relevant topics.

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