11 min read
So you’re considering building a knowledge base for your company. This can be a huge task, but when done well, can reap huge rewards.
Essentially, the knowledge base is the support system for your customers. It helps them be successful with your products or services, ensuring they want to continue buying, leaving great reviews, and recommending to their friends. At its core, a knowledge base is a hub of kb articles informing customers on everything from purchase and setup to advanced skills and troubleshooting. Depending on how many products or services you offer, this could wind up being hundreds of articles.
But don’t feel intimated by the thought of writing that much content. Because with proper planning, you can slowly evolve the content at your own pace.
Many companies already have a knowledge base or list of content on their site that they can work with. But often, startups have essentially zero technical documentation available to their customers. This is usually because beginning companies allocate more resources toward development, sales, and marketing. This forces them to handle customer support on a one-on-one basis. This is ok at first when dealing with only a few customers, but once your company gains traction and more customers need support, you need a more scalable way to help everyone without making phone calls with each customer. That’s where a knowledge base comes in.
But how can I tackle planning all of the technical documentation I will need? In this blog, we will cover seven simple steps to get your knowledge base started.
The first step to creating your knowledge base is planning what content you will need to cover. Essentially, your knowledge base should cover these bases:
Now, in order to properly cover each of those bases, it’s important to analyze your top content drivers. By doing so, you can climb into your customers' heads and better understand what they often need. Here are a few ways you can understand how your customers think:
You may unearth a lot of questions you need to answer, but it’s important to first focus on the most common ones. A good rule of thumb is to pick the top 20% of questions that make up an 80% volume in support tickets. These are your MVPs.
Now that you’ve listed out all of the content you will need to cover, it’s time to make some sense of this. The list may feel quite overwhelming, but breaking it into manageable chunks can help you learn how to get started.
The first thing you should do is decide how you want to organize the knowledge base as a whole. Do you want kb articles to be broken up by your products? Maybe they’re broken up by topic, like getting started or troubleshooting. You could even divide them by audience type. Or you could do all three of these things and let your visitors choose which route is easiest for them using different filter options surrounding the content.
Regardless, you will want to begin grouping article ideas into these main categories: product, topic/process, and audience. If you support multiple brands, regions, or languages, keep in mind your content may also differ across these dimensions as well.
Consider using tools like Trello, AirTable, Jira, or the ServiceTarget Matrix to organize your content across multiple dimensions. You can also use these tools to establish progress tracking to monitor which articles have been drafted, what’s under review, publish status, and more. We will talk about this process in more depth in the next section.
Writing an entire technical documentation knowledge base by yourself is a huge task. Odds are, you have other writers or content creators on your team who can help. Or, you may even have your development team or product managers pitch in as well. Sometimes, it can be especially helpful to get people from the product-end of the business to contribute to super-technical or advanced topics your writers may not understand.
But, it’s important to nail down an effective process for creating content across a team. You don’t want inconsistent content, but that is hard when there are multiple writers. And, you don’t want team members accidentally re-writing things that are already complete.
To keep the writing process efficient & consistent:
Now, just because you’re starting from scratch doesn’t mean you’re literally starting with nothing. Odds are you have tons of helpful information surrounding your products and services that are either for internal eyes only, hard copies, or maybe were tailored to a specific customer.
This might include:
Now you shouldn’t just copy and paste this content into a kb article and call it a day. But all of this can still be useful in the research and writing process. It can also help you gauge how much you really have versus what you will need. So before you waste time re-writing content you have, it’s important to discover the knowledge your company has already curated. Then, consider creating a spreadsheet, jot titles down in your notes, or collect URLs all in one folder for easy access when you start writing.
Technical documentation is only helpful if your customers can find it. Posting huge lists of kb articles on your site with no organization or search functions will often intimidate customers. No one wants to spend hours scrolling through article titles to find the one they need. And you don’t want all of this work to go to waste.
The best way to make your content easier to find is by implementing a knowledge base. This aggregates all of your articles into a single hub that customers can sort and filter through. But building this successfully on your own is not an easy task.
Luckily, there are tons of knowledge base tools that can get you started with a simple template. Then, you can just upload all of your articles as well as how you want the content to be broken up. And voila, you now have a knowledge base that is searchable and easy for customers to navigate through to find all of their answers.
When shopping for a knowledge base tool, consider the following features you may need:
Some knowledge base software solutions, like ServiceTarget’s knowledge base templates, can even guide customers through targeted questions and do the searching for them. For example, you could ask your customer what product they own, what feature they need help with, and what audience they associate with and instantly aggregate the perfect list of articles for their needs.
Great, now you are finally ready to start writing! But where exactly should you start? You could potentially have quite the large list of articles, maybe even hundreds. But you don’t want to spend years writing every single article before you can release the knowledge base.
Instead, you should cover some of the most important topics. Select the common processes that your customers must complete, popular products, and the necessary features. These are all of the topics that customers need to learn about most often.
Rather than writing every single article you can think of about a single, outdated product, begin with the lowest hanging fruit. Pick a handful of the most important questions your customers need answers to and start there. Then, you can go ahead and publish before all of your content is even complete.
Now that the most common topics are covered, continue working down the list. Hit your critical items first then move on to the less common features, outdated products, or super-advanced topics.
Depending on how many articles you have planned and how many writers are on your team, this process could take months or even years. But that is ok because the most important content is already out there, helping your customers.
Read our article on writing a KB article to learn more tips on authoring successful content.
Creating a knowledge base and writing technical content is an ongoing process. Even if you’ve written everything on your list, it is still never going to be “complete.” Your company is always evolving, products change, customer needs change, even the market changes. So your documentation must evolve as well.
Here are some different ways you should always consider evolving your technical documentation:
Now that you’re prepared to build your knowledge base from scratch, learn about the 6 steps to writing a kb article and check out some examples of effective technical documentation content!
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