Best Practices for Creating SaaS Documentation

by Trevor

FEATURED_Best-Practices-for-Creating-SaaS-Documentation

Even the simplest, cleanest SaaS applications have problems that require support. Providing support to your users and customers is a critical part of operating any successful business.

The beauty of a SaaS product, however, is its scalability. You can service thousands of customers with minimal staff. One of the ways you do that is by making a plethora of support documentation available on your website.

Documentation benefits you and your customers in a few important ways.

1. Customers onboard faster

Onboarding is about helping your users find value in your product quickly so they continue to use it (and convert from free to paid tiers or renew their subscription). Documentation doesn’t replace your onboarding process, but it should support it by offering additional information. It’s also available in case new users have questions.

2. Your team operates and scales faster

Documentation can be used as internal training materials to help new employees become familiar with your product. It also reduces the amount of time you or your support team spend answering customer questions. They can quickly link customers to already-prepared documents.

3. B2B clients don’t struggle with employee turnover

Your B2B customers will likely change employees ever so often. If you rely on live trainings, you’ll be forced to repeat your presentation over and over or leave the customer to figure things out on their own (which might incur costs on their end, something you don’t want customers to experience).

4. Reduces the likelihood of churning

Any time you can reduce friction in the customer experience, you reduce the chances of a customer churning. Documentation turns moments of frustration into moments of value.

So how do you create truly valuable documentation?

Download this free checklist to use each time you create a support document.

Prioritize what you create

Naturally, some of your support documentation articles are going to be more valuable than others. Some features, screens or actions are going to be used more often. Many users will have the same problems, while others will experience less popular challenges.

It would be great if you could create all of the documentation at once, but that usually isn’t the case. You can only allot so much time each week or day to this task because there are other tasks that need doing. So you have to prioritize the order of articles you create.

Talk to whoever handles customer support or customer success for your SaaS. What types of questions do they get most often? What types of complaints do they receive? What questions do customers ask with a sense of urgency? What problems do customers have that prevent usage of the application?

Your goal should be to remove as many obstacles as quickly as possible. Prioritize your documentation by targeting the most common problems your customers have, or the most serious problems (like being unable to log into the application).

Craft searchable titles

People don’t search for features. They search for solutions to their problems. Your titles should reflect their concerns so they can easily find answers.

Let’s say you have created a social media scheduling tool. Users need to integrate their social media accounts before they can schedule any posts. Even though you make this feature apparent, some people will inevitably need help. Their problem is urgent because they can’t use the application otherwise.

If you explain this feature in a support document called “Social Media Integration Feature Explained,” your users will have a hard time finding it. Instead, focus on their problem. A better title would be “How do I link my social media account?”

Here’s an excellent example of what not to do. These titles are tough to scan because they all start with the same words, which aren’t even relevant to the search.

saas-documentation-titles

Image source: screensteps.com

Only answer one question at a time

You won’t do your customers any favors if you merge multiple support topics into one article or page. Keep in mind that your users won’t read your documentation for fun. No one will read your documentation page-by-page.

Instead, they’ll search through it when they have a specific problem, so each page’s title needs to clearly relate to the page’s content and nothing else. If you cram too much information into one page, it will be hard to find.

Let’s return to our example of a social media scheduling tool. You might have a comprehensive article on scheduling social media posts for training purposes, but you should also have articles that address individual features. You might have one called “How to schedule a social media post,” one called “How to delete a scheduled social media post,” and “How to edit a scheduled social media post.”

Stay simple and actionable

Like I said, no one reads support documentation for fun. Users will visit those pages on your site only because they have to. At this point, they are already frustrated with your product, so you have to do everything you can to reduce their burden and provide a solution quickly.

You can do this by keeping your support documents simple. Don’t dig into details about why your product functions the way it does. Don’t bore them with unnecessary information. Certainly do not give them a history of how the product used to be, because that would cause confusion.

Be succinct and actionable. Answer direct questions. Put your content into scan-able, digestible chunks so readers can quickly find what they need. If your document explains a multi-step process, style it as a list so the steps are clear.

In short, do whatever you can to reduce the barriers between your users and solutions to their problems. Notice how this MailChimp knowledge base article jumps right into actionable solutions.

mailchimp-knowledge-base

Assign topics to people throughout your organization

As your SaaS grows, you might hire people who are more knowledge than you on certain topics. It’s smart to have documentation written by the expert. For example, you would want someone acutely familiar with the technical side of your product to create documentation around your API.

If you have a customer success team, it’s usually best to let them handle documentation. They are intimately aware of the user experience and customer problems.

Even if you are capable of writing all the necessary topics, I recommend assigning some to your team anyway. Documentation is one of those tasks that’s easy to push to the bottom of your to-do list. When no one really owns the responsibility of doing it, it may never get done. Each week, assign one topic to each person on your team to keep the process moving.

Iterate just like a product

Your documentation is all part of your software-as-a-service. Like any other component of your product, you should refine it over time. Add articles as customers ask questions. Encourage everyone in the organization to take note any time they come across a topic that would be suitable as a help article.

You can expedite your article writing by leaning on your support staff. Have your support team copy you in on conversations with customers. You should be able to lift the solution they provide straight from that conversation to craft an article.

Finally, review your documentation at least yearly. If your product goes through any type of fundamental change, it would be smart to go through every article and make the necessary changes. Sometimes just updating screenshots to your new interface can encourage more engagement with your application.

Use this free checklist to make sure every support document is effective.

Ultimately, documentation helps you retain your customers by pre-providing solutions to their problems. If you want to maximize your retention abilities, get your invitation to Retained today.

Kill your churn. Keep more of your customers. Get an invite to Retained.

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