Articles in the series
- Introduction: Elements of a self-service channel
- Part 1: Planning your self-service content project
- Part 2: Planning your self-service content structure
- Part 3: Determining what articles you need to create
- Part 4: Writing your knowledge base articles
- Part 5: Launching your help center
- Part 6: Tracking essential self-service metrics
- Part 7: Maintaining and improving your knowledge base
After you’ve taken the first steps to plan the content development and rollout of your self-service channel (see Getting started with self-service – Part 3: Planning your self-service content project), you should think about the content architecture and how your knowledge base will be organized in your help center. You can then create the structure in your help center by adding categories and sections into which you’ll add your knowledge base articles.
This article covers the following topics:
Organizing your knowledge base content
Who your customers are will likely influence how you structure your knowledge base. For example, if your customers are consumers, you’ll want to focus on an architecture that helps them use your products, navigate your site, and understand ordering, returns, and shipping issues.
In the help center, at the topmost level there are categories. Within categories you can create sections to provide another level of content organization. You then place your articles into your sections. That’s a typical two-level structure: categories and sections within those categories.
Here’s an example of the categories used for the Guide knowledge base content in the Zendesk help center.
Within those categories there are a number of sections used to organize related articles. In this example, ‘Using Guide’ is the category and ‘Guide basics’ and ‘Setting up Zendesk Guide’ are the sections.
If you want a flatter structure (only one level of organization), you can do that as well by creating only one category and then creating sections within that category. When you use a single category, it’s not visible in your content structure (the end users of your help center don’t see it). Whichever approach you take, you should strive to keep your structure as simple as possible.
Fortunately, there are many examples of help centers created in Zendesk Guide for all types of businesses and organizations. The following sections present some examples of help center structure and design for business to consumer (B2C), business to business (B2B), and business to employees (B2E).
For more information about creating your knowledge base structure with categories and sections, see Organizing knowledge base content in categories and sections.
- You organize your knowledge base content into categories, sections, and articles.
- Create the simplest organizational structure possible.
- How you organize your content depends on how your customers are and what kind of content you need to provide to them.
B2C (business to consumer) help center example
help centers in support of online retailers, as one example of a type of B2C company, focus on helping customers to place orders and related activities and issues such as shipping and returns.
This example is from Magnolia, an online retailer of home and lifestyle products. Their help center is seamlessly integrated into their site, meaning that it matches the visual design and it’s quickly accessed by clicking ‘Help’ in the global navigation.
Drilling down into the knowledge base content, you see that they are focused on essentials: removing barriers to making purchases and providing easy to locate information about frequently asked questions such as how to make returns.
The structure of their content is as flat as possible, one layer of organization for their articles (just sections with their articles).
Looking at one of their articles, you see how concise and direct the content is – as short as possible with clear indications of what actions to take to resolve the issue. This is consistent throughout the articles in their help center.
You probably also noticed the prominence of the search bar in both of the images shown here. People prefer to search for the information they need, not have to click their way through multiple layers of information architecture. That said, you need to categorize the different types of information that you provide to your customers, but you should strive to keep it as simple as possible.
If you’re creating a B2C help center, you can find more information about using Zendesk Guide and Support together to set up for this model in Using Support for your Business-to-Consumer (B2C) business.
B2B (business to business) help center example
Given that there are many types of B2B companies, there are also many examples of B2B help centers. You’ll find however that best practices usually prevail – they use the simplest organizational structure possible.
As an example, let’s take a look at the Slack help center. Although Slack can also be used in support of the B2C model, it’s primarily B2B and B2E (business to employee) and is an excellent example of B2B content structure. Slack enables teams to communicate better via real-time conversations in the form of group discussions and private messages between team members. Users come to their help center to understand how to use their software, apps, and services.
Their knowledge base is more extensive and certainly more complex than our Magnolia example above, but they still keep their structure very simple.
On their help center home page they’ve created six categories (not all shown above) to organize their content. Clicking into a category (for example, Using Slack), you’ll see that they organize their articles into thematically related sections.
Their articles are simple and direct and usually begin with a strong action verb such as create, remove, set, delete, and so on. This is a best practice for knowledge base content (at Zendesk, our style is to use gerunds: using, creating, enabling, etc.).
The articles are also as brief as possible: concise sentences, short paragraphs, and clearly formatted step instructions.
As with the Magnolia example, the Slack help center is designed to match the look and feel of the company website and their help center is easily accessible from their global navigation.
If you’re creating a B2B help center, you can find more information about using Zendesk Guide and Support together to set up for this model in Using Support for your Business-to-Business (B2B) business.
B2E (business to employee) help center example
A business to employee help center usually contains much of the information an employee needs to know to get started in their new job and then use it as a reference for when they need information about typical business processes within the organization (how to submit an expense report, how to request help from the internal IT department, and so on).
In this example help center, those and many other typical employee documentation resources are quickly accessed from the home page or via the search box at the top of the page.
Because B2E help centers are not public-facing, their designs tend to be more utilitarian and quickly implemented. Perhaps not as sleek as B2B and B2C help centers, but still focused on clearly organized and usable content.
A B2E help center usually also serves as a portal into other internal systems and collaboration tools such as Slack, Confluence, and Trello. In these cases, links to what look to be categories or sections are in fact just links to those other systems and tools. The organizational structure of your B2E help center can help to impose some order on the usually numerous resources that employees use to navigate their work life.
If you’re creating a B2E help center, you can find more information about using Zendesk Guide and Support together to set up for this model in Using Support for your Business-to Employee (B2E) business.
Evolving help center organizational structure and design
We’ve advocated that you start simple and keep it simple, as much as that is possible, as you continue to grow your knowledge base and self-service. As an example of how a knowledge base and help center grows over time, let’s look at how we’ve developed the Zendesk help center over the last nine years (as of this writing).
This snapshot from 2012 shows one of the handful of categories that we used to organize our quickly growing knowledge base. At that time, Zendesk was one product, now called Support, and our focus was relatively simple: help our customers understand and use our product. We also had a category for product announcements, one for support tips and frequently asked questions, and also one dedicated to our community where we solicited feedback and interacted with our customers.
By 2015, Zendesk offered a number of other products such as chat, advanced reporting, and a developer platform. The help center had also been spun off from the core product and included many more features for us to build and improve our knowledge base.
The writing team grew along with the new products and in addition to one of a number of design overhauls we continued to adapt the content structure to our quickly growing knowledge base. As shown in the example above, we created three layers of organization to help navigate the content from the help center home page. We also used expanding/collapsing areas of the page to try and help our customers more easily understand the content structure.
At that time, our help center contained elements of the Zendesk brand but it did not appear as a seamless extension of zendesk.com as it does today (as of this writing, Spring 2020).
Zendesk is now a suite of products that each have their own knowledge base and documentation challenges. Each product has its own knowledge base and help center, which are all integrated in the global navigation and search engine. If you select a specific Zendesk product from the help center home page (https://support.zendesk.com/hc/en-us), you’ll see that product’s knowledge base content and you can search that specific set of content.
In a product-specific help center, search results are only for that product and return knowledge base articles and community posts.
The design and structure across all of these separate but integrated help centers is consistent. There are a few major categories such as ‘Getting Started’ and ‘Using …’ and ‘Advice & Troubleshooting’.
Consistency across a broad product offering is essential. After your customers understand how you’ve organized your content (the categories and sections you use and how you present content at the article level), they expect that to be consistent so that they don’t have to reprocess what you’re presenting to them when they navigate around your help center.
Design evolves, how you organize your content evolves, and hopefully your content evolves as well (refined to address customers questions as clearly, accurately, and concisely as possible). Throughout that ongoing process of evolution, however, your content (the information your customers need) is always the most important part of your help center project. Customers are fine with rough around the edges design and the occasional typo if they can quickly locate the information they need to solve their problems.