10 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Online Product Documentation

Documentation of a product is an important area where customers get self-help. Such guides or Knowledge Base helps in reducing support requests by 70% and even help in getting more organic traffic to the product’s page. People usually think that the online guide is just to dump the manual to read, but they ignore all the excellent benefits of having a nice and easy to navigate guides. That’s why I recommend checking some of the best examples of online guides to implement the best practices in your product’s guide.

Guides are helpful in many ways but sometimes you may not be able to find the required or expected help there too.

As a customer of a very popular marketing product, I was browsing their guide and found that the guide was not up-to-date and even the options appearing on the panel were not listed in the guide. That was very frustrating and finally I raised a support ticket. Well, support representative was quick to help resolve the issue but if the document was up-to-date, I would have fixed the issue by myself.

Create beautiful and easy to maintain documentation or online guide using Documentor WordPress Plugin
Common Mistakes in Online Documentation

If you are creating a product documentation, I would suggest to take a look at these common mistakes that people do while creating a guide or a knowledge base.

#1 Product and Guide NOT in Sync

One should release a new guide or update the previous one after releasing a new version of the product. I have seen some online guides explaining the steps as per previous version of the product. If the update was not big enough or not having so many UI/UX changes, then it’s okay but for major updates, the documentation should be updated. Online guide is having the benefit of being up-to-date without much effort and cost.

#2 Only PDF Format of Guide

Most of the physical products come with a user manual or a printed guide. If you will visit the product’s webpage, you may find the PDF format of the same user manual available to download. Even for physical products, I would recommend having a detailed HTML guide as there are many benefits of having HTML page as compared to only PDF.

Here are some benefits of having HTML Guide as compared to PDF only

  • HTML pages get indexed on search engines like Google
  • Get more Organic Traffic in product’s page
  • Receive User’s feedback
  • Let Users forward a section to someone and have communication on that

#3 Missing Navigation or UI Problems

User Interface is an important element of a documentation. Provide better navigation e.g. link to the parent section or category page to let the user navigate easily. Also provide a link to the product’s page as well as contact page on the guide section.

#4 Spelling Error and Typos

Product documentation should not have spelling mistakes or typos. Such mistakes look unprofessional and also impact the conversion.

#5 Only Text, No Image

People visit the guide page for help on a particular issue or question. It is always better to explain the problem with relevant images or screenshots. Such screenshots allow people to visualize the location and easily follow the steps mentioned in the guide.

#6 No Space for Visitor’s Feedback

Like offline user manual, if company is not having proper HTML guide and only PDF is available, visitors can not submit a feedback about the guide. Feedback is very important as it allows you to understand if the document was helpful or not. Based on these feedback, you can take step and fix the guide or update it.

#7 Missing Guides for Old Versions

Most of the time we update the guide with the information related to the latest version of the product. What if somebody is still using an older version of the same product?

e.g. 0.5% WordPress users are still using version 3.0. It means almost 300,000 websites are still using WordPress 3.0. That’s why it is important for WordPress to have the documentation of 3.0 live so that users can still find the help online.

#8 Social Sharing Options Missing

If someone found a very interesting tutorial on your guide’s page and like to share that with friends, followers or client, a ready social sharing buttons will be helpful. Such sharing will improve the page’s engagement and may help in getting new customers. Make sure to have Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Reddit like social sharing and bookmarking site’s buttons present on the pages.

#9 Code Snippet without Code Syntax Highlighter

If you are having a software or web application as a product, chances are very high that the documentation will have good amount of code snippets. You can place the code snippets just like text but that will not look good and will not be very convenient copy and paste somewhere. Reason to put code snippet is that one can easily copy and use it somewhere. If you put the code snippet with a Syntax Highlighter, users will find the code easy to read and will be able to copy the entire code with single click. They can also find if any syntax error is there in the code.

#10 No Search Option

Search is an important part of the documentation as people will come searching for something and they should be able to put those keyword somewhere. Even if you have provided a very organized guide, there will e scenarios where people will not be able to directly find the relevant page. Search box will allow them to search and find what exactly they are looking for.

Conclusion

While publishing or releasing a documentation, you may have the idea to provide self help to your customers. The sole purpose of an online guide is to do so but there is more to that. Like the product’s reputation, you should maintain same kind of elegance and richness to the guide too. Above listed mistakes impacts the conversion directly or indirectly. If you like to publish and maintain the guides with a solid back-end where you can easily publish new section or page and also update the guide in no time, Documentor does the job for you. It is the most recommended platform to publish and manage online technical guides or tutorials. The platform is powered by WordPress so you get all the benefits of free WordPress Plugins and at the same time, you have an optimized product just to publish and manage a guide. With Documentor you don’t need to worry about above mistakes as these features come loaded with the plugin.

I hope you find the article helpful and avoid having such mistakes or errors on your product’s guide page. Have a nice documentation!

Sanjeev Mishra

An award winning serial entrepreneur running multiple online businesses. He co-founded Webfanzine Media, the parent company for WordPress products such as SliderVilla, Documentor, PurposeThemes. He regularly blogs on Internet Techies, WPOptimus and many other popular blogs. His love for WordPress started back in 2008 and till now has contributed in the development and release of 20+ WordPress plugins with 5,00,000+ downloads.