Daniil Kopilevych
Dec 23, 2019 | 10 min read

One of the greatest things about a good knowledge base is that it places you in a very proactive position.
You do not wait for the customer to call you, write an email or raise a support ticket. With a knowledge base, you provide an answer even before the customer has asked the question. Isn’t that a miracle?

For the miracle to happen, however, you need to do some hard work. Putting together a user-friendly and informative knowledge base is a serious task, but the result is definitely worth the effort.

The benefits of having a knowledge base are multiple – it relieves your service agents, it provides answers to the most frequently asked questions, it caters to the introverts among us.

Let’s see how you can build a knowledge base that is intuitive, searchable, helpful, customer-friendly – in other words, a knowledge base that works. Trust me, a properly organized knowledge base can sometimes resolve up to 90% of your customer issues, and with no human interaction, too.

How to create a knowledge base from scratch

HelpCrunch Knowledge base
HelpCrunch Knowledge Base

OK, let’s start ab ovo – you have no knowledge base whatsoever. As any project – and building a knowledge base is definitely a project – it requires planning and designing. Let’s plan your knowledge base!

Define your requirements

Spend some time defining what you want to have in your knowledge base and how you want it to function.

Article editor

Think of how you want to create, edit and, most importantly, maintain your knowledge base content. The answer to this question is closely related to the set of skills you expect from people maintaining the KB in your company. On one end of the range you have WYSIWYG editors where you just type and format your text as you want it to appear, insert images and videos and immediately see the result. On the other end, there are tools where you compile your content in HTML or Markdown and the final document appears only after certain processing (and make sure you got all your tags right!)

Both options – and all flavors in-between – have their pros and cons. The WYSIWYG editing tools require almost no special knowledge and are very easy to use. On the other hand, the content they create may be difficult to use in other formats, if needed. Special tools, such as Madcap Flare or Adobe RoboHelp have a rather steep learning curve but produce highly reusable content that can be posted on other resources or used to build other documentation.

Structure

The most optimal knowledge base structure is category-section-article with category being the most general level and article – the most detailed. Such structure is the most universal and can fit the requirements of any business.

While we recommend that you stick to the category-section-article structure, it is totally up to you to organize content within each of these structural levels. There is, however, one rule that fits all – think like your customer. Step into your customer’s shoes and try to imagine how they would want your KB to be organized.

You might want to categorize your KB content by user roles if your product supports them. For example, you can place user content and administrator content into separate categories, like Slack did:

Image credit: Slack Help

Alternatively, you can go the Skype way and categorize your content by functions:

Image credit: Skype support

The choice is yours, the main thing is to make the structure intuitive and clear for the user. When they first navigate to your KB page, they should see immediately what they need to click next to get an answer to their question.

Search in the knowledge base

Your knowledge base must have a search feature, otherwise it is as good as useless. Use an effective search engine (or a knowledge base building tool that has it on board).
Depending on the complexity of your knowledge base, you can choose different search functions:

  • Full-text search allowing to search for strings
  • Autosuggestion completing the search strings as you type
  • Advanced search where you can select the category or section to search in, define your search string as a complete word only, search by date or relevance

No matter which set of functions you use, your search must perform its primary purpose – to help the customer find information they need.

Help desk integration

If you integrate the knowledge base with the help desk software (and some tools, like HelpCrunch, include both and allow setting up integrations between the KB and the customer support environment), you might notice some reduction in support tickets.

The reason is quite simple – when the customer turns to support but manages to resolve their issue on their own, they no longer need to create a ticket.

How can you achieve it? Rather easily, by offering the customer to look up the solution in the KB before raising a ticket.
An optimal practice is to provide links to your knowledge base right from the Support or Contact Us page. This way, you are giving your customer the option to search the KB before contacting the support. Many businesses use this approach, for example, Shopify:

Image credit: Shopify support

Set up your support form to include a description of the issue that would search for the relevant articles in the knowledge base and offer the links to the customer. Of course, if the issue is too specific or requires manual handling by an agent, the customer should have an option to connect to a service rep or create a ticket.

Still, suggest the relevant knowledge base content even when the customer decided to file a ticket with your support. Look how Jira does it, for example – it offers KB articles right from the ticket page:

Jira ticket page
Image credit: Jira ticket page

Live chat integration

If you implemented live chat as one of the channels, it is a good idea to integrate it with your knowledge base, too. This way, the customer opening a new chat will be offered a choice of KB articles related to their inquiry. 

Again, such an integration will reduce the number of support tickets and, consequently, the load on your service agents. Moreover, since customers do tend to prefer self-service over contacting a person, the level of satisfaction may also increase.

Knowledge base reports

If you want to know how well your knowledge base is doing (and you do want to know that, don’t you?), include the reporting feature. It will show which articles received positive customer ratings and which – negative, how many times the articles were viewed, whether they helped to resolve customer requests, etc.

Of course, for the reports to work, make sure you add the review or feedback feature to your KB for the customers to be able to rate the article and state whether it helped them or not. This data is then processed and returned in a report.

Atlassian, the famous producer of such project management tools as Jira and Confluence, offers reports showing how many requests were resolved with and without a particular article. Such knowledge helps to identify articles that need revision as ineffective.

Atlassian knowledge base reports
Image credit: Atlassian knowledge base reports

SEO settings

A perfect knowledge base should be searchable not only from the “inside” but also from the “outside”. In other words, your KB articles should be available to users browsing the internet for information on their issues that your product may help to resolve.

By making your KB indexable by search engines you can even get new customers. Of course, your knowledge base should make the first impression urging users to know more about your product.

For that purpose, adjust the SEO settings of your KB to make it visible in browsers. Some KB building tools such as HelpCrunch have SEO settings as one of the configuration options, so use them. 

HelpCrunch SEO settings
HelpCrunch SEO settings

Customization

It is a good practice to have all company resources maintaining a uniform company style. The knowledge base should follow the general style guidelines, too. Use the customization options to design the KB similar to the rest of your website.

Most knowledge base building tools offer customization as one of the features. Use it to add your logo, design the KB in your brand colors and make it immediately recognizable for the customers.

Roles and permissions

As any service accessible by different users, your knowledge base needs a system of roles and permissions. They will determine the actions users can perform with the KB content. This way, the knowledge base will be protected from unauthorized edits and will always be a consistent and reliable resource.

Each permission system has a role of administrator who assigns all other roles and permissions. Other levels may have, for example, editing rights but no deleting rights, still others – read-only rights, and so on. Choose the system that works best for you.

Assign a dedicated knowledge base owner

The knowledge base should have an owner who is in charge of its management and maintenance. Usually, KB owners have the admin or super-admin role giving them permission to assign other roles to users and supervise the permission system.

In addition to the administration functions, KB owners perform a lot of other actions related to knowledge base management. They are usually subject-matter experts on the matters of the company knowledge. Below is a very loose list of the knowledge base owner’s responsibilities:

  • Basic knowledge base configuration and settings
  • Management of the knowledge base content structure
  • Selection of the knowledge base topics
  • Decision-making on publishing, removal or revision of certain articles
  • Revision and approval of the knowledge base content

Choose a knowledge base software

You can, of course, build your knowledge base using a common content management tool, such as WordPress. However, there are dedicated knowledge base software tools that are focused specifically on the KB content requirements.

We recommend that you consider the tools that belong to the category of all-in-one solutions. This way, you are getting customer support functionality, content management, analytics and even some project management features in a single package. The main advantage is seamless integration between the components allowing to insert knowledge base into your live chat or help desk in an easy, organic way. Check, or example, HelpCrunch offering all customer support and knowledge base management functions as a complete toolset.

Building and managing your knowledge base

OK, we’ve got your knowledge base planned and designed. Now, let’s fill it with quality content and make it available to your customers.

Map out your knowledge base structure

Start with defining the categories and sections. Set up the categories that will be the top level units of your knowledge base and represent the logical subdivision of the entire KB content. Categories should lead the user to the content they are searching and clearly indicate what’s inside. For example, you can have such categories as “Getting started”, “My account”, “Troubleshooting”.

Some knowledge base tools allow adding SEO parameters to your knowledge base categories to make them indexable. If your tool offers such an option, don’t forget to configure the SEO settings for the best discoverability.

Once you are done with the categories, add sections. Sections group your knowledge base content into logical chunks within a category. For example, under the “Getting started” category, your user will expect such sections as “Pricing plans” or “Install the app”.

With your sections in place, you can start filling your knowledge base with actual content in the form of articles.

Write knowledge base articles

Ideally, an article should represent a single use case explaining how to achieve a particular goal. If you are working on the “Getting started” category and the “Install the app” section, you might consider adding such articles as “Install on Windows”, “Install on Mac”, etc.

Make your content as complete and explicit as possible. A good practice is to add screenshots or videos when explaining a sequence of actions required to achieve the user’s goal. Developer content might require code samples. Most KB editing tools allow adding various types of content, from multimedia to code samples in different languages.

If you use HelpCrunch for building your knowledge base, writing an article is as easy as it could possibly get. Your customers will see your article exactly as you see it in the editing mode:

HelpCrunch WYSIWYG editor

Promote your knowledge base content

It’s time to make your knowledge base available to you customers and promote its use. There is more than one way to do it:

  • If you have a practice of issuing release notes for your product, mention knowledge base there, too. 
  • Post a banner on your website containing the link to the knowledge base
  • If relevant, include the links to the knowledge base in your product
  • If you have implemented integration between your knowledge base and the help desk tool or live chat, start showing links to the knowledge base in the chat or support tickets.

Use all possible ways to promote your knowledge base. The more actively customers use it, the more effective your customer self-service will be.

Track and optimize article performance with reports

Use the reporting feature of your knowledge base software to the maximum. Invest some time in analysing the reports for each article and on the performance of your knowledge base in general. From the reports, you can get multiple insights:

  • The articles that got the most positive reactions
  • The articles that got the most negative reactions
  • The queries that customers typed in to search for information in the knowledge base, and didn’t find any relevant articles
  • The keywords that led to your KB content through search on the global search engines
Knowledge base reports
Knowledge base reports

Depending on the knowledge base software you are using and the features it offers, you can also track lots of other metrics – how many times an article was shared, how many times it was commented by users, which articles were the most/least popular over a certain period of time. 

However, the main thing is not only to gather the metrics but to use their results to improve and optimize the knowledge base performance. Here’s what you can do to make your KB more effective:

  • Revise the articles that received too many negative ratings
  • Add new articles based on the keywords your customers use
  • Remove or rewrite articles that are hardly ever viewed
  • Adjust the SEO settings for better indexing

Keep the knowledge base up-to-date

As your product develops, the knowledge base should develop, too. Include knowledge base revision into the scope of each release, so that a new product version comes accompanied by an updated knowledge base. 

For example, if you are changing the authentication method, make sure you update the corresponding KB article. If any product component is added or removed, the knowledge base should reflect the change, too.

Bottom line

Building a knowledge base is a complex task. However, when done right, the time and resource investment is going to pay back in spades – by an increase of customer satisfaction, an improvement of your support department effectiveness, better customer reviews, a higher number of referrals.

If you want to know more about building a knowledge base, check the HelpCrunch knowledge base feature. Try it for your product, and the effect won’t be long in coming.

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