Knowledge Management

How to Write an Effective Knowledge Base Article

Knowledge base articles are an effective way to help your customers quickly get the answers they need without having to engage your support team.

Introduction

Knowledge base articles are an effective way to help your customers quickly get the answers they need without having to engage your support team.

But it’s no longer simply an optional benefit you can provide with your product.

It’s an expectation.

70% of customers expect a company’s website to have some sort of self-service section. The vast majority of your customers expect a knowledge base, which means you’d better be able to write effective knowledge base articles. 

There are two key benefits to writing great knowledge base articles:

  1. Customer engagement
  2. Customer support efficiency

Customer engagement

An effective knowledge base article helps get your customers the answers they need quickly. They train and educate customers, leading to higher engagement with your products, services, and business..

Your knowledge base enables you to get proactive in serving your customers. Every touchpoint with a customer is a chance to make a good impression. Anticipating their biggest needs and answering them before they can even ask is sure to make a great one.

Customer support efficiency

Having effective knowledge base articles reduces how often customers need to contact your support team. This lower ticket volume means your team can concentrate on providing a great customer experience for the issues your customers can’t solve themselves.

Implementing self-service wherever possible for your customers allows your support team the time and space to make customers that really need their help feel like they are the most important people in the world—because they are.

A great knowledge base allows you to create a better experience and to scale your support team in a more efficient manner. Win-win. 

11 simple steps to writing an effective knowledge base article

There are 11 simple steps to writing an effective knowledge base article. We’ve broken them up into three different sections: before writing, as you write, and after you write the article.

Before writing your knowledge base article

You don’t want to spend the time writing an article only to have it fall flat and not meet your customers’ needs. Even worse, a poorly written article could cause more confusion or frustration. 

These first three steps will help you set your article up for success before you even start writing.

Step 1: Find out what your customers need

Building a knowledge base is like building a product. You should start with research to understand how to help your customers:

  1. Check your support queue. Use your support tickets to help determine your customers’ common questions and issues. What trends do you see? Which of them can be solved through an article? 
  2. Ask your best customers. Proactively reach out to your best customers. Ask them what’s confusing about your product or what would have helped them learn the ropes faster.

Step 2: Don’t reinvent the wheel

One of the best ways to create your own effective knowledge base articles without reinventing the wheel is to see what’s working for other companies. You can even look at your competitors to get ideas on what they do well and where you can do better.

For example, Twitter and Facebook both have articles that teach users how to change their account settings. Within those articles, they include  links that lead directly to a user’s settings page.

This isn’t a coincidence. This link makes it easy for the customer to perform the instructions taught in the article.

Doing some research beforehand can also help ensure you are formatting your articles the way your customers are used to seeing them. It’ll also save you some time since you don’t have to come up with anything brand-spankin’ new.

Step 3: Write simple titles

Take a look at Slack’s Getting Started page. Do you notice anything about the titles?

Every article title tells you exactly what you’ll learn by clicking the link.

Click on “Email template for introducing Slack” and you’ll get an email template for introducing Slack! Plain and simple. Don’t confuse your customers.

A sure-fire way to simplify your titles is to use common phrases like:

  • How-to…
  • Video walkthrough of…
  • Overview of…
  • Help with…

You can also use your customers’ exact questions as titles:

  • How do I reset my password?
  • Where can I update my account settings?
  • How do I change a user’s role?

As you write your knowledge base article

Step 4: Prioritize clarity

There’s an old saying that says “your customers don’t want a quarter-inch drill bit, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

Your customers don’t want your knowledge base article, they want the solution the article is going to give them. So keep your customers’ end goal in mind as you write. Here are some tips to help:

  • Ask yourself “What is this article trying to accomplish?” What is the end goal you want your customer to achieve after reading this? Organize everything around helping them achieve that goal.
  • Short is good. You want to get your customer from point A to point B as easily as possible. Some articles may require a long format to do that, but it’s alright if others are short. 
  • Avoid jargon. Stay away from industry jargon that your customers don’t need to know in order to successfully use your product or service. Talk like your customers talk.

Step 5: Structure the articles to make them easy to read

Customers may get stuck at different points during longer, step-by-step processes. 

Including a table of contents and anchors makes it easier for your customers to jump around as needed. Budgeting company YNAB is a great example of this: 

You should also optimize your articles for easy scanning. You can do this by adding headers and using short paragraphs. If you have a list of steps, use bullets. Call out important info by bolding text. And use images or GIFs to illustrate as needed.

Step 6: Have a “Next Steps” section

A “Next Steps” section at the end of your knowledge base article is a great place to link to other articles that could also benefit your customer next. For example, if they’ve just gone through creating their profile, the next logical step may be to complete the setup of your product. You can guide them down that path through providing recommended next steps. 

Step 7: Ask for feedback

Your knowledge base is an evolving thing. That’s why it’s important to get customer feedback on your articles even after they’ve been published. There are a few different ways you can do this. 

Dropbox asks for a rating from their customers by showing the following at the end of their help articles:

Clicking on any of the emoji-like options causes a text box to pop up underneath to tell them why you chose your answer.

Slack has a simpler option:

Like Dropbox, selecting either option on a Slack help article will open a text box prompting the customer for more information. 

If you’re using knowledge base software, chances are it includes some kind of feedback mechanism like this. 

After you’re done writing your knowledge base article

After you’re done writing your knowledge base article, there are a few more things you can do to make sure it is—and stays—as effective as possible. 

Step 8: Make it easy to contact support

In a perfect world, your knowledge base answers every question and enables all customers to self-service. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so it’s important to make it easy to contact your support team.

Offer whatever support channels you think are best, but aim to make it as smooth as possible for your customers.

Step 9: Add videos to relevant knowledge base articles

Some things are easier to teach and learn through video.

In order to cater to different types of customers, consider including a video at the top of relevant articles. This allows the customer to choose how they want to learn. 

Slack does of great job of this in their help center: 

While Scribes aren’t truly videos, they make it easy to record step-by-step how-to guides that serve the same purpose. 

Step 10: Create your own article templates

As you create your knowledge base, several different types of articles will pop up over and over. These include how-to’s, FAQs, user guides, overviews, and more.

As you learn what works well for your company, consider creating templates for each of these article types. This serves two different purposes:

  • It makes the writing process quicker, saving you time
  • Your customers will be familiar with the format 

Creating templates is also a great way to empower other members of your team to easily contribute to your knowledge base. 

Step 11: Keep it updated 

As your customers’ needs and your products and services evolve, chances are you’ll need to make some updates to your knowledge base articles. 

A good baseline is to review each article quarterly. 

To make this easier and less time-intensive, rotate which articles you’re reviewing on a monthly basis.

For example, if you have 60 knowledge base articles, work it out so you review the first 20 articles one month, another 20 the second, and then the final 20 the third month. Then, repeat the process the following three months. 

If you find that there aren’t many articles that need updating, move to a six-month review process. 

Take Action

There has never been a better time to create a knowledge base that meets your customers’ needs and makes supporting them easier. 

Customers expect answers quickly, and an effective knowledge base article gives them what they need, increasing their satisfaction with your product and brand.

Scribe makes it easy to take action and get your knowledge base article up in running as efficiently as possible.