In our day-to-day lives, answers are just a quick search away. So when a question arises about a particular product or service, most people’s instinct is to search for the answer themselves first, before reaching out to a support team for help.
Without a knowledge base, your customers and prospects will either find advice from disreputable sources, start a support ticket, or simply move on to something else. It’s an unnecessary source of frustration and friction that can negatively impact the customer experience, and even lead to missed revenue.
What is a knowledge base?
A knowledge base is a digital library of how-to documentation, information, and answers to frequently asked questions, and guides about a company’s products or services. They can be used internally, to educate employees or assist support staff, and externally, to help customers self-serve information. In some cases, the same knowledge base will be used both internally and externally.
Benefits of building a knowledge base
If you have a product that requires some know-how, like a SaaS product or an app, it’s likely your customers will expect you to have a knowledge base and, when they have a question, they’ll look for it before they turn to customer support. Having a well-maintained, easily searchable knowledge base will not only meet their expectations, it will minimize the number of tickets being generated for your customer support team, giving them time to focus on more complicated queries.
Internal teams will benefit from a knowledge base, too. Sales, support, marketing, and success can use it as a quick go-to whenever they have a question about the product or need to answer a customer’s question.
Knowledge base fast facts
88% of customers expect a brand or organization to have an online self-service support portal
69% of consumers prefer to solve issues on their own
63% almost always start with a search through the company’s online resources before turning to a support rep
31% of consumers say the most frustrating online customer experience is not being able to get answers to simple questions
How to build a knowledge base
A good knowledge base is never truly finished — you should be continuously adding and updating articles based on customer and employee feedback and product updates, new features, and bug fixes.
Clear processes and an organized knowledge base will help make those on-going updates more manageable. Follow these steps to start things off on the right foot:
1. Choose your knowledge base tool
You can custom-code your own knowledge base or use a CMS to build it out, but this tends to make things more complicated than they need to be. A knowledge base platform like Ortto’s includes a no-code article builder to help you to easily publish, update and organize articles to a knowledge base that can be searched by customers and combed by search engines.
Here’s a basic laundry list of features that make up a great knowledge base tool:
Content design is crucial to a successful knowledge base, and it can be tricky to identify exactly how best to organize your articles. For SaaS products and industries like finance, organizing things by product or feature category (e.g. Home loans, Credit cards, Savings, and Checkings accounts) often makes the most sense. If you are in an industry with an overwhelming number of product categories, like eCommerce, it’s more likely you’ll be organizing your articles based on the category of question — for example, orders, returns, and shipping.
From there, consider how best you can organize topics within that category. It’s best to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and present information in a logical chronological order — set up first, basic questions next, and move through to more advanced use cases or answers to more complex questions.
3. Establish a style guide
In most cases, you’ll have a style guide for your brand as a whole, but when you are taking this and applying it to your knowledge base, you’ll want to add some more specifications around how to write how-to instructions, rules for video or screen share content, and styles for product or industry-specific jargon.
4. Outline roles and responsibilities
Many SaaS products will have a dedicated technical writer, or team of writers, who own the knowledge base. Depending on the size of this team, you could enlist the help of customer support to make light updates or set up a clear process for agents to make requests and recommendations.
In other businesses, a dedicated technical writer may not be required and, instead, your knowledge base could be built by content team members, customer support or success specialists, and even sales.
Whatever your team looks like, ensure they are empowered to make data-driven decisions about prioritizing new articles or categories, set up clear processes for content requests, and check that your knowledge base has the correct settings for user permissions as well as tracked changes.
5. Set up your workflow
Use a Trello board or similar to outline a list of articles that need to be created, updated, edited, or pushed live, and use this to prioritize updates and keep track of changes.
Wherever possible, streamline your process with automations. For example, Ortto’s support team has a field in our live chat tool Talk that allows the team to request updates to our knowledge base. These requests go directly to our technical writer on Slack, where they are prioritized and added to Trello.
Now it’s time to start creating! Written content with screenshots or gifs is often the simplest place to start, and from there you can add videos, infographics, diagrams, or other visual elements to further explain concepts or share instructions. Follow the best practices below to ensure your content is helpful and discoverable.
Best practices for knowledge base content
The most important thing is to put yourself in your customer's shoes. Remember, this content is primarily to help them navigate your offering and get answers to their questions. To do this, follow these best practices:
Use straightforward, clear language This is not a place for your highest-scoring words. You want to be clear and concise to ensure self-serve customers can quickly and easily understand what you’re saying. In some cases, product or industry-specific terms and acronyms will be impossible to avoid. If that’s the case, be sure they are defined in the first instance for each article and, where possible, provide a link to a larger explainer piece.
Make your content skimmable with formatting When a customer is searching your knowledge base for an answer, they’re likely to skim through the contents or use the search functionality to identify the part of the article that is relevant to them. Make this easier for them by adding formatting like headers, subheaders, bullets, lists, pull-out boxes, and tables.
Optimize for SERPs Many of your customers will head to a search engine instead of or as well as using your internal knowledge base search functionality. Use a tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs to find out which keywords and questions people are searching for, then use these words and phrases in your H1s, H2s, and metadata.
Generate and respond to customer feedback Make sure you have a way of understanding whether your knowledge base content is helping resolve queries, and generating feedback around what you could do better. Ortto’s knowledge base allows you to add a simple ‘yes/no’ question around whether an article resolves a query. If the customer selects ‘no,’ they are directed to Talk where they can chat to a customer support agent. From there, the agent can create a ticket to request updates to the page if necessary.
Make data-driven optimization decisions A knowledge base is not like other content in that you are not trying to drive large volumes of traffic and spikes in traffic could indicate a problem with the product or confusion around a new feature. However, there are plenty of other metrics that can shed light on performance and help you generate insights for improvement. Ortto’s Technical Writer Lauren Pitman shared, “I’ve got a report showing the conversations that were started from particular articles so I can look into the referring source (Google or in-app, for example) and determine whether those articles need a bit more information. I also track average pages per session and time spent.”
Include visuals Sometimes it’s simpler to show your customer what to do. In these cases, use visuals to explain. If you don’t have the resources for custom visuals or videos, even simple screenshots or Loom videos will help your customers get the answers they’re looking for.
Don’t make any assumptions When you’re writing a lot of knowledge base content, you can start to feel as though you are repeating yourself a lot. This can lead to knowledge assumptions — in other words, assuming that your reader already understands a to-do that you’ve mentioned before or that they’re familiar with the jargon and terminology you’ve used throughout. Avoid falling into this trap by explaining each step in detail, or using anchor text and quick links to direct customers to longer how-tos where relevant.
Building and maintaining a knowledge base is integral to delivering a great customer experience. In most cases, your knowledge base will be your customer’s first troubleshooting experience with your brand, and leaving a good impression can be crucial to your success.
Start the way you intend to continue with a well-organized, helpful, and clear knowledge base and processes for capturing feedback and making optimizations.