“SaaS product documentation.” Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Yet this bunch of instructions can make or break your business.
Product documentation can become one of the most powerful growth channels for a SaaS company. If you do it right, it can take the form of a marketing resource, sales tool, customer support hub and even an internal knowledge-sharing portal.
The question is – how do you do it the right way?
The process shouldn’t be complicated – you just need an action plan. To help you with it, we’ve broken down the anatomy of product documentation and revealed the secrets of building kick-butt SaaS documentation.
What is documentation in a product lens?
Product documentation is a collection of informational resources about a product. It transfers the knowledge about product specifications, roadmaps, use cases, training manuals and more product-related information.
Types of SaaS product documentation
While SaaS product documentation isn’t limited to any specific format and may come in many shapes and forms, you can split it into two major types:
- User manuals.
- Internal documentation.
This is customer-facing product documentation. It includes onboarding instructions, API documentation, policies, operation manuals, release notes, troubleshooting guides and other documentation enabling customers to use the product effectively.
SaaS companies create user manuals to educate customers on their products and industry best practices. It’s a powerful strategy for increasing customer retention by enabling people to realize the product's full potential.
Internal documentation consists of all the written records of the company’s standard operating procedures, product specifications, briefs, etc. More specifically, internal product documentation covers internal product infrastructure, market requirements, architecture, source code, development processes, FAQs and more resources that might help teams navigate the product.
This type of documentation enables employees in different departments to improve their product knowledge and complete their work successfully.
3 Product documentation examples
Let’s look at the best examples of product documentation built by SaaS companies.
Paperpell, the coaching software company, has created comprehensive product documentation for its users.
Interestingly, the Paperbell team doesn’t limit its SaaS documentation to product-specific guides. Laura Roeder, the Founder at Paperbell says:
“Sometimes you need to create documentation for features that aren't in your software! Here's what I mean. Currently, Paperbell does not support custom domains. Yet customers do sometimes ask if they can use a custom domain with their Paperbell account. So we created a help page all about custom domains. Just because you don't have a feature doesn't mean you can’t be helpful to your customers”
Webflow is a no-code website-building software provider. Their team guides users through the entire site creation experience with Webflow University – a comprehensive lesson library.
Here you can find product documentation split by feature, use case and the level of complexity. The best thing about Webflow University is that almost all of its manuals offer content in both video and text-based formats. All the video tutorials are transcribed, and written guides are supported by screenshots.
Airtable, the low-code platform for collaborative app development, has a rich selection of manuals, product specs, templates and API guides in public access.
Alongside providing a collection of user manuals thoroughly organized under different categories, AirTable also highlights recently released features with the help of an interactive widget. Users can click on any tab to learn more about the update and discover how to make the most of it.
10 Benefits of product documentation
Creating and maintaining product documentation is an ongoing project that takes company time and resources. Why bother with it?
Comprehensive product documentation benefits SaaS companies in many ways.
- It increases your online visibility. Well-structured product documentation can become an extension of your marketing resources.
- It helps to sell the product.
- It enables self-service user onboarding. New users navigate product features faster with documented user manuals at hand.
- It supports product adoption. Kommunicate.io, a chat-based customer support software provider, has discovered that most of its users were using only three to four major aspects of the product due to poor adoption. Product documentation drives software adoption by familiarizing customers with all the product capabilities right from the start.
- It saves customer service and support teams’ time. Customers won’t disturb support reps with simple questions when they can turn to a product documentation library.
- It demonstrates product value. Great documentation turns customers into power users, enabling them to make the most of the product and see its value.
- It improves customer satisfaction. Seventy-nine percent of customers say they expect organizations to provide self-serve support channels enabling them to find answers to product-related questions on their own. By having easily-accessible product documentation, SaaS companies fulfill customer expectations and increase their satisfaction levels.
- It facilitates employee onboarding. Linking to your product documentation in your employee onboarding checklist eliminates the need for in-person product training for new hires.
- It prevents knowledge loss. SaaS documentation preserves the critical knowledge that might otherwise be lost as key employees leave the organization.
- It improves teams’ product knowledge. Regardless of their job roles, your employees should have perfect product knowledge. Product documentation fosters product knowledge training not only for end users but also for your staff.
7 Best practices for writing strategic SaaS documentation
When you get started with SaaS documentation, the process might seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to. Here are the seven best practices you should follow to build relevant and strategic product documentation your teams and customers will love.
1. Distinguish between the types of product documentation
First off, you need to determine the type of documentation you want to build.
Internal documentation and user manuals have completely different audiences and serve different goals. Therefore, it’s crucial that you distinguish between documentation types and create separate resources focusing on the specific needs of people who read your documentation.
“The most important best practice, in my opinion, is to have both an internal wiki for our team (with detailed information about the app, how to access certain hidden features, etc.) and a separate help center for clients. On top of that, we have a developer-focused tutorial section,” says Deian Isac, Head of Agency Success at Service Provider Pro.
2. Standardize the process
Next, you need to map out the project plan and create a standardized process that everyone contributing to your documentation should follow.
Since you’ll (hopefully!) bring in multiple stakeholders to collaborate on your product documentation, it’s important that you find a way to systematize the process. Create a style guide, map out the structure that should be similar across all resources and/or build customizable documentation templates.
By standardizing the product documentation process, you’ll achieve consistent results regardless of who and when contributes to it.
3. Use software to create and maintain your documentation
Writing up guides can take an incredibly long time if you do it manually. The following software solutions will save you a lot of hassle in your product documentation efforts.
- Scribe. The tool automatically turns any workflow into a step-by-step guide, complete with text and screenshots.
- Tettra. To organize your documentation, you’ll need knowledge base software. Tettra offers tools for managing internal documentation in small companies and startups.
- Document360. If you need a sophisticated solution to manage both private documentation and publicly accessible resources, Document360 will help. With the platform, you can build a fully functional knowledge base serving the needs of company employees and customers.
You can pick one of these tools or choose from a variety of solutions available on the market based on your budget, scope of work and goals.
4. Mix the formats
Product documentation can come in different forms – and it’s good if you can leverage as many creative formats as possible.
Similar to Airtable, you might build an interactive widget familiarizing users with recent product updates in addition to traditional text-based release notes. Also, more and more SaaS companies are adding video content to technical documentation. Mix these creative formats with detailed, text-based guides to build appealing, relevant SaaS documentation.
5. Make it easy-to-navigate
Good product documentation is usable. Along with capturing the most important information, think of how you can present it in an easily digestible way.
Follow these tips to create user-friendly, navigable product documentation.
- Group content into a logical structure.
- Stick to a simple organization.
- Go for a consistent on-page design.
- Add a table of contents at the beginning of each document.
- Use content tagging.
- Enable document content search.
- Feature frequently asked questions in a separate section.
- Add internal links in the product documentation.
- Control document versions.
However detailed your SaaS documentation is, it’s no use if it lacks an intuitive organization. With well-structured documentation, you’ll improve product adoption without any manual effort.
6. Monitor product documentation usage
Once the documentation is live, the project is not over. You should keep monitoring how users interact with it to uncover usability issues and information gaps.
Use the analytics capabilities of your knowledge base software or set up a third-party tracking solution to see how users interact with your documentation. Look at the heatmaps, analyze user flows, check the top search terms, etc. – these insights will guide your further documentation optimization efforts.
Don’t hesitate to proactively ask for feedback on your product documentation. For instance, you might offer users to assess their satisfaction with the information provided through a one-question survey embedded below each guide.
7. Drive your SaaS documentation adoption
“When I joined SPP, we had very basic documentation in a Google Sheet that was a pain to go through, so I thought about moving everything to a searchable wiki.
I found wiki software, moved everything over and created tons of new, searchable and interlinked resources. Our developer has also documented exactly how our app works, which is great if you onboard new developers or a support team.
This keeps information siloed into different parts so that everyone gets exactly enough information without being overwhelmed with too much,” shares Deian Isac.
Product documentation shouldn’t get covered in dust after it’s published. By making it searchable and user-friendly, you’ve taken the first step towards its successful adoption. Now, you need to promote your wiki to customers and internal teams to fulfill its mission.
To keep your documentation up-to-date, assign a person responsible for maintaining it (most likely, someone from the development team) and create a schedule for regular reviews and updates.
Build your SaaS documentation
Don’t wait for the perfect moment to build comprehensive product documentation. Map out a structured plan today and follow our tips to create SaaS documentation for your customers and internal team members. Keep updating your knowledge base with relevant resources, and it will never get outdated.