4 Steps to a streamlined knowledge base
When it comes to organizing your knowledge base into categories and sections, it's important to consider the type of audience you have and their usual behaviour. Some people like to search, while others like to browse, so think about how you'll group articles in a way that makes sense for your product or service, as well as your customers.
Start with a pen and paper
There's something about the act of writing with a pen and paper that makes formulating a logical outline a little easier. You could approach it like drawing a mind-map. Write a category name down and draw branches to the section headings you could use to divide your documentation into smaller groups of articles.
Keep it simple
It's a mantra we hear often, but it applies to knowledge bases, too. Stick to a smaller number of generalized categories. Over-structuring with too many categories that are too specific can lead to confusion for your authors as well as your readers. Over time, as more articles are added to your knowledge base, opportunities for more section headings or categories will become clear, so be prepared to grow your knowledge base organically.
Organize to your customers' preferences
It's easy to fall into the trap of breaking documentation down into a structure that makes sense to you. But, you've got a wealth of knowledge about your product or service that your customer doesn't yet have. Categorize to your customers' habits and preferences, using the words and phrases they would use when searching for help. Remember, you can always set up restricted categories and articles for your own internal reference, too.
Consistent category labels across formats
If you provide documentation to customers in hardcopy format, you'll avoid your customers feeling disoriented if you apply the same structure and labeling to your online knowledge base.
Put your quick reference material at the top
It's a good idea to offer a set of articles for quick reference. These could be frequently asked questions (FAQs), getting started articles, or "How Do I" procedures. A small set of helpful content that can be easily scanned at the top of the knowledge base will save your customers time.
Note: You could create an entire knowledge base of How Do Is or FAQs, divided into different categories according to subject.
Here are some approaches our customers have taken with their knowledge bases.
Uncommon Goods have a single page of their most frequently asked questions, along with a search bar. Each article is tagged with the related keywords their customers are searching for. Even the typos.
Soul Mate Food have organized their categories by steps in the lifecycle of their customers' ordering process. They start with a category for all the relevant pre-purchase information, then move on to everything their customers need to know about the product, on to a category about delivery, and finally, payment.
Amilia have split their categories up into a formal knowledge base and customer community, with an announcements category containing news, release notes and system updates.
Highlight frequently read categories
Something we've found helps customers get what they need quickly is deep-linking to categories that are read most often, or to direct new customers straight to FAQs or getting started guides.
Bitcasa's bold banner on their support home page drive new customers to help for getting started.
Viewpath have created some custom icons in their Welcome text to deliver readers to the most common categories.
GovDelivery have done the same with a custom design highlighting the search bar and common categories.
Note : Thanks to the contributors to this article: Ryan Kopperud of GovDelivery, Andrea Saez of Amilia, Martijn of pluscloud, Andrew from LiquidSupport, Cheryl from Viewpath, Patrick from NeonCRM, Spike at Ticket Turtle, Scott Gilbert, and Diane from the School Annual Publishing company.