Professionally crafted online help can reduce your support costs by providing your customers and staff with clear, engaging information that is searchable and available 24/7. As a technical writer with 19 years’ experience of producing web content, I can make sure your online help is easy to use, easy on the eye, and most importantly, easy to understand.
I’ve worked predominantly with MadCap Flare (I am a certified MadCap Flare Advanced Developer), but understand CSS and HTML/XML so can quickly adapt to other packages. I’ve also used wiki-style tools such as Atlassian Confluence.
What’s So Great about Online Help?
Online help gives your customers the information they need via a web browser. It usually contains a table of contents, web pages that contain text, images, and often videos, and also a search tool that allows customers to search for specific information, just like with Google. By making this information available to customers, you can reduce the burden on your customer support team (as long as your content is of suitable quality).
Online Help can be Available Internationally, 24/7
If you host your content on the Internet, your staff and customers can access it at any time, from any country. (Obviously, they need Internet access at their location).
Documentation Available on Computers, Tablets and Smartphones
Online help systems, just like web sites, can use responsive design. This means that the layout of the pages adjust automatically to suit the size of the device they are being viewed on. For example, I can create an online help system that uses a wide layout with a side menu when viewed on a computer, but switches to a more vertical layout when viewed on a smartphone. The content is the same, it is just the way that it is presented that changes. This is all achieved through CSS.
So your customers and staff can access the information they need, wherever they are (Internet access required and your help must be hosted on a web server for remote access).
Online Help is Quicker and Cheaper to Update than Manuals
Modern online help tools have content re-use features so that writers don’t have to keep writing the same content in multiple places; they write it once, in one file. For example, in MadCap Flare, I could write a task in a snippet file. If I wanted the task to appear in seven different topics, I just embed the snippet – there’s no need to write the same content seven times. And if I need to change the task, I change it in the snippet and it automatically updates wherever it is embedded.
However, to use content re-use features effectively, you need writers that understand how to plan a content strategy in this way. They also need to be careful when writing content that is going to be re-used; it often needs to be more generic so that it is correct, no matter where it is embedded.
Online Help Gives your Customers a Better Experience
Online help is often easier to use than a traditional user manual. Using a computer, tablet, or smartphone, your customers can quickly search for the information they want, can follow links to related information, and can watch videos that are integrated into the help pages too.
One of my favourite features of help systems like MadCap Flare is synonyms. It is really useful in industries where customers and staff use lots of different terms for the same thing. For example, on a project I worked on, the term ‘doctor’ was used in the documentation, but I also created synonyms: GP, Dr, Clinician, General Practitioner. This meant that if a user searched for ‘GP’ (or any of the other synonyms), the ‘doctor’ pages would be returned in the results, just as if they had searched for ‘doctor’. Clever, eh?
A better end-user experience will help to promote your brand, increase confidence in your products, and encourage customer loyalty. But only if your help is well-written, clear, easy to use, and comprehensive.
Online Help Can Enhance your Presence on the Web
With web-based online help, the pages are just like any other web page. And that means you can optimise them for search engines, like Google and Bing. Imagine how much extra, relevant, content your web site can contain if you add your online help to it!
To optimise pages for the web, you need a writer that understands Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and not just the SEO features that are included in the help tools. Why? Because Google takes a whole load of factors into account when ranking a page, and careful consideration is needed when wording headings, links, and content (and that’s just the basics). Luckily for you, I am a qualified SEO copywriter too, and as a VIP member of Heather Martin‘s Success Works SEO program, have lifetime access to the latest SEO guidelines for writers.
Online Help is for Any Product or Service, Not Just Software
Don’t assume online help is just for software – it can be used for just about any type of product, process or service. It is an ideal way to present any sort of information, including:
- Conceptual information
- Processes (task flows)
- Training content
- Tutorials, including video tutorials.