5 Proven Ways To Create Great Help Content

Your customers rely on your software help and support content to ensure they can actually use your software. But what happens when your support documentation doesn’t actually support anyone?

Unfortunately, it usually means unnecessary calls to your tech support department, angry and frustrated customers, and users who may actually just decide to buy from a competitor.

But great support content can be a game changer for both your customers and your company! More and more, users want self-service content that can help them do what they need to do without sitting on hold or waiting for your chat bot to respond to their query.

Your software support content can delight users and create customers for life.

But how do you ensure your content fits the bill?

Here are five proven ways to create help content that’s not just helpful, but outstanding.

Read on to discover …

5 Ways to Improve Your Help Content

The job of a help author is to make the complex topics simple: to structure high and low-level information in a way that’s easy to discover and digest.

Practically speaking, if you can explain concepts in plain language with task-based steps, you’re on the road to developing good help. If the task is a process that involves more than a handful of steps, it’s best to break the task into smaller chunks of tasks.

Include a high-level process overview at the top of each topic to explain how the sets of tasks function in the larger process. At that point, users can identify which part of the process they’re stuck on or interested in and navigate to the low-level information they need. As the writer, this activity of outlining the process is helpful, too, because it uncovers gaps or holes you may have in your task-based documentation.

Of all the ways to provide help content, giant walls of text is most likely the least userful.

1. Visuals and video are essential to great help content

Of all the ways to provide great help content, giant walls of text is most likely the least useful. Research shows that people don’t just prefer video and visual content — they actually perform better when its provided. They even remember it longer! It’s literally a win-win-win.

When your users can see how to perform tasks, they understand faster what they need to do.

Remember, though, that not all of your users will be able to consume your visual and video content in the same way. Always create content with accessibility for users with disabilities in mind. All images should include alternative text and all videos should include an audio description and captions.

2. Give your users the content they need, not what you think they should know.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but while no one knows your products like you do, no one knows what customers need better than the customers themselves.

Often, we get so caught up in wanting to show off cool features and other bells and whistles, we forget that most of our customers likely use a small subset of a software application’s features and capabilities.

And that’s ok!

You can create content that speaks to more advanced users or shows off your favorite new features, but don’t forget about your average user and their average problems. Show them the basics of how to use your software and how to navigate your user interface. Help them get started in the best way possible and then — maybe — they’ll seek out more advanced use cases.

So how do you know what content your customers need? The easiest way is to simply ask them! Surveys, roundtables, and customer interviews are a wonderful way to get to know how your customers use your software and what they struggle with. And, I guarantee you’ll learn things you never even thought of.

Most companies can also collect valuable data from the software itself, such as what tools are most popular, what kinds of outputs most users prefer, and more!

We get so caught up in wanting to show off cool features and other bells and whistles we forget that most of our customers likely use a small subset of features.

3. Choose user-driven language

Generally speaking, be concise and write with an active voice. Use words and phrases that users search for, not terms a developer used to describe the thing to you.

Remember your audience. If you have data to help you understand how your audience talks about your product, then use that to inform your decisions about terminology.

Even if your product is complex and technical, your help doesn’t need to be. Break it down, and decode it for your readers. Use conversational and controlled language. They’ll appreciate it.

To learn more about how to write in the active voice, check out this writing resource published by Duke University.

4. Optimize for search engines

Good help content shows up when and where you search for it. Sometimes that means in a product, and other times that means on the web.

If your users open Google to search for answers, you want them to find your help since you’re the authority (or, you’d like to be).

If they open an internal site search, you still want the right article to come to the top of the results. That means you have to pay attention to how search engines catalog and rank pages, and write your help articles with that in mind.

Whether your output is a PDF or a webpage, there are things you can do to optimize your pages for search.

Even if your software is complex and technical, your help content doesn’t need to be.

5. Cross-reference related articles and resources

If your topic has related support articles, blog posts, or tutorials, it’s a good idea to cross-reference them on your page.

Often these other resources will approach the subject matter in a slightly different way, or provide a more technical or instructive perspective, which could help a user be successful.

Better help = happier customers

So whether you’re on a customer support team, a content marketer, or someone in between, these tips will will help you produce help content that makes more successful users.

To learn more about improving your help content with great-looking visuals, check out 10 Ways to Make Better-Looking Visuals for Your Technical Guide.

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Ryan Knott

TechSmith Marketing Content Specialist and manager of the TechSmith Blog. More than 25 years of communications and marketing experience. Geek. Science and sci-fi enthusiast. Guitar player. On a mission to pet all the dogs. He/him. A few things about me: 1) Mildly (or not-so-mildly) obsessed with the movie Alien, 2) two rescue pibbles (Biggie and Reo), and 3) friend of ducks everywhere. Ask me about my seven+ years as a roller derby coach.

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