8 Steps To Creating Effective Content For Your Self-Service Knowledge Base

7 min read

We live in an age of independence. Everything from self-improvement to self-checkout is putting the self first, empowering individuals to deviate from relying on others. Because of this, modern consumers desire the proper tools to help themselves solve any issues they discover.

Self-Service is how you empower customers to help themselves. It's not just about providing easy-to-use websites and applications, but also delivering a knowledge base rich with effective content. Why does that matter? Because customers who are successful with products and services tend to buy more, use more, and recommend them more frequently. When it’s done right, your customers will find exactly what they need without friction, quickly, and conveniently.

However, a lot of times, self-service can fall flat, failing to provide customers with the relevant information they are searching for, stinging with drab, hard-to-read language. Instead, the knowledge base should be your customer’s confidant; ready to support them anytime, anywhere, for any scenario.

There are many factors that go into creating effective self-service experiences: website design, content creation, making it easy to find, exposing it everywhere they need help, building awareness of the self-help so more can experience it. The list goes on. In this article, we will explore the aspects of creating effective content in your knowledge base to enhance your self-service.

So, how do you do that? Follow our 8 step guide.

Step 1: Understand Your Audience

The first step to making effective self-service content is figuring out who your audience is, and what they want. Get in your customer’s head. You need to fully understand who is consuming your content, why they are, what their needs are, and what they are searching for. Is your content serving an at-home user with minimal knowledge on the product, an experienced installer, a frequent buyer who already knows the ins and outs of your company, someone within your company looking for in-depth information to circulate to the customer? Once you can understand what your audience is coming to your content for, you can learn how to provide it for them.

You can do this a few ways:

  • Collaborate with customer service. The support team has the most first-hand experience dealing with customer concerns, and understands your customer’s biggest pains. Understanding these pains are a good start to understanding your audience.
  • Collaborate with sales. Find out about the value propositions they use for leverage in their calls. This can bring a more rounded edge to the audience you are trying to define.
  • Collaborate with the product development team. They frequently create user personas to target the audience they are creating the products and services for. This can be a valuable insight into your audience's needs and wants.
  • Find, or create, buyer personas. If your company has already defined buyer personas, great. Just find them, study them, and use them to your advantage. If not, use the information you’ve collected so far about your customer base to build your own. If you are building your buyer personas from scratch, follow this step-by-step guide.
Persona self-service
Persona created in Hubspot.
Persona knowledge base self-service
Persona created in Hubspot.

Once you have clearly defined who your buyer personas are, and what audience will be consuming your content, you are ready to start creating.

Step 2: Decide On Content Topics

Deciding on what the best topics are to include in your knowledge base content is a critical planning strategy. You should choose to write about subjects that will drive self-service resolution most while catering to the variety of your audience's needs.

How do you do this?

  • First, look into your target audience that you defined in step 1. Use your research to uncover what their biggest pains and obstacles are, and what their biggest need is that your company provides. Understanding what your customer struggles with, will help you choose topics that can educate them with the information they may be lacking, helping them succeed.
  • Look at your existing customer base. Do some research into what your customers’ most common questions, issues, or concerns are. Maybe send out a survey asking what your customers struggle most with, and what resources they wish they had. Use the information you gather to decide what topics your customers need most.
  • If you are starting from scratch, use the research you have developed to form a plan of the different topics you want to cover in your knowledge base, pick one, and get started.
  • If you already have existing content, use your new information to index it, deciding what is most or least relevant to your customer needs. Create a plan of how your content will organize around the different topics your customer is searching for, and start editing this content to be ready for publication.

Step 3: Assume Nothing

When writing your content, it’s important not to assume anything. Go into any content creation with the expectation that your audience knows nothing, and therefore, you should explain everything. As a rule of thumb, your content should be easy to understand for just about anyone reading, even if they aren’t in your target audience. Your goal is to ease confusion, rather than create it, so your writing should be as comprehensible and simple as possible.

A few easy ways to do this include:

  • Give context to any topic you introduce. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that on the business side, we use different languages than on the consumer side. Don’t assume your audience knows what problem, interface, program, feature, etc. you are mentioning. Always give context to ensure your audience is on the same page as you.
  • Skip jargon and overcomplicated terms and vocabulary. Stay away from that business side, complex, fancy language as much as possible. Your audience doesn’t understand it, and doesn't want to hear it.
  • Don’t pass over to-dos. Mentioning casually something that your audience should do, without explaining it in-depth, is the perfect way to spark confusion and anxiety. Always describe thoroughly what should be done to accomplish a task.
  • Over-communicating is better than under-communicating. Lack of communication is the number 3 reason for divorce in the United States. Nough’ said.

Step 4: Make Your Content Easy to Read

Your audience is already searching for some kind of relief to their confusion. The last thing they want is more confusion from complicated, hard-to-understand grammar. Keep your content simple and concise with basic vocabulary. Keep your sentences brief, using active voice, and cutting unnecessary adjectives or adverbs. Focus on getting to the point in as few words as possible (while still assuming nothing!).

Also remember to stay away from slang terms that will confuse the audience, unless it is fitting to your tone. Speaking of tone, make sure you adjust your tone across your content according to your specific target audience. Try to sound friendly and personable to keep people engaged, but overall, just remember your audience’s main goal when deciding your tone (I.e. If their goal is to fix a problem, they are probably frustrated, so making jokes in the content may come across as annoying).

Lastly, always carefully edit your content before publishing. A misplaced comma, incorrect spelling, or typo could create far more confusion than intended.

Step 5: Use Simple Organization

Another way to prevent your audience from getting confused is how you organize it. If you can make your content easy to skim, avoiding big blocks of texts, it will look less intimidating to your audience, and they will be more likely to engage with it.

Some simple ways to organize your content to be engaging:

organization knowledge base self-service
  • Highlight the most important sections of information with headers, bolding, underlines, large fonts, etc.
  • Vary your formatting to show changes in content with useful spacing, bullet points, lists, multiple colors or highlights, etc.
  • Organize your total content in a logical way. Whether this means ordering it into chronological steps (like this guide is), listing your tasks as bullet points, or any other way, just make sure it is the most effective for the information you are providing.
  • Avoid interrupting the topic you’re talking about. If you mention something that your audience won’t understand (assume nothing!), but is off-topic, rather than falling down the rabbit hole, you should just link it to further information. Which brings us to our next step!

Step 6: Use Links to Your Advantage

Using links is a great way to keep your writing concise and focused on your topic. Explaining everything you could ever know about your product in one piece of content would be ridiculous, so linking externally, or internally, is a great way to provide your audience with the information they need to understand the context of your content.

Linking externally: You can choose to link to other pieces of your content that have relevant or valuable information. Or, you can choose to link to external sources that may be useful. You should be choosing content that will provide context and ease any of your audience’s confusion.

Linking internally: This is used in cases like a table of context. Even though large documents aren’t advised, sometimes they need to be used, depending on what you are achieving with your content. If that is the case, using a table of contents with internal links to specific sections is a crucial way to make the experience easier for your audience to consume the larger document.

Step 7: Use Visuals

What’s more engaging and effective than visuals? Once you’ve completed writing your content, you should go through and see how much of it you can replace with things like screenshots, images, graphics, GIFs, brief videos, etc.

Show, Don’t Tell.

The best rule of thumb to remember—use fewer words and more visuals to show your audience how to do something rather than telling. Not only does this make it easier to understand and more engaging to look at, but it also helps cut down on those big blocks of text.

Step 8: Pick a Simple Title for Your Content

Ok, you’ve got an awesome, engaging, effective piece of content now that’s perfectly catered for your target audience. What’s left? Picking the perfect title. As with everything else in this guide, the simpler the better. Choose words that exactly describe what your content is serving, avoiding unnecessary adjectives. Keep in mind what your audience will actually type in when they are searching. This will help your audience find this great content you’ve created without having to spend too much effort finding it.

Search engine self-service

Do: “Send an email”

Don’t: “A quick and easy guide on sending emails and looking like a digital boss”

And Finally, Use Content Feedback to Improve

Creating effective content for your self-service knowledge base isn’t just a task to be completed, but an ongoing cycle. As you create more content and fill your knowledge base, you will receive feedback from your customers on how you’re doing, what you’re doing well, what you’re lacking, and what needs to be improved. You can use this feedback to not just improve the content you create, but also improve your products and services, customer service, marketing, and business strategies as a whole. The feedback you receive on your content is a great look into how you should progress as a company. Providing your customers with this resource is not the end, but the beginning of an ever-evolving cycle of self-improvement for your company.

Now that you've created some wonderful content, help your audience find it easier by boosting your SEO through social media.

Gianna Spitaliere
I love exploring, writing about, and building knowledge on different ways to make businesses and customers more successful all around. I have been with ServiceTarget for less than a year, but have been thrilled to expand my writing into customer self-service.

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