The Now of Documentation From “click okay to continue” to “document or perish”, product documentation has come a long way.
Many years ago, when I had just begun my career, technical writing was something that had to be done but done almost grudgingly. It was typically something that people worked on after the application was developed and was nearly ready for shipping, but the customer wouldn’t buy the application unless the documentation came with it.
Companies had to document their software; so, they did. But that was pretty much it.
Those days, documentation used to be installed with the application and was available only to paying or registered users. Also, it was—more often than not—offline. Consequently, software documentation served no purpose other than helping users work with that specific piece of software. And that was its job.
We all know that people do not necessarily like to read the documentation. They like to figure things out by themselves. And the better they get at an application, the lesser they use its documentation. And documentation just sat in its program folder and was rarely used.
Documentation for Sales
Cut to today and you can see that most product documentation today is online and accessible to all, regardless of whether they are paying or registered users of the application. Documentation is an entity, an artifact, in itself, and has a lot to offer the organization and its customers. Documentation—and the quality of the documentation—has actually become a criterion for deciding whether or not to purchase an application. I have seen multiple instances where buyers stated that they bought an application because they liked the documentation. They reviewed it, found it useful and easy to follow, and decided to go ahead with that application.
Documentation as Marketing
Also, let’s look at it from the buyer’s perspective. You may not have access to the application, but when you read the documentation, you can see exactly how the product is structured, what it does, and how you can use it to further your business interests. That is substantial input to the decision-making process. If I can see how the application behaves, how easy it is to use, and how it can help me solve specific business problems, then the probability of my buying the application understandably goes up. In effect, therefore, quality documentation today strengthens marketing; but it doesn’t just stop with that.
Documentation can now be integrated with the company’s website, its blogs, its marketing collateral, and vice versa. Documentation today is now in a position to extend marketing into the technicalities of the application and interconnect a company’s branding and positioning to the actual product on offer.
Think about documentation in terms of the content that it contains. Documentation is by default content-rich. It is full of what Marketing calls keywords, something Google is very fond of! It is rich because it focuses on the actual tasks that the application can perform, and as such, raises the rank and visibility of the pages, driving traffic to the parent website. Couple documentation with short how-to videos on a video-sharing site like YouTube, and you can see how documentation can expand your marketing outreach, especially so when you factor in social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
This is not to say “Use documentation for marketing” as it is to say how far documentation has come in the past twenty years or so. Any business that looks at documentation today as merely a last-minute need-to-have does so only at the cost of its profitability.
Iteratively Interactive Documentation
Another important aspect of documentation is the customer’s side of things. Customers often write to documentation teams pointing out limitations and issues in their documentation. And that helps the Documentation team improve their output while providing an iteratively interactive experience for the customer.
Also, we know that some of the main users of our applications are developers, and they often extend the application to do a variety of things, and that leads to a thriving developer community. Documentation teams have now begun to use insights gleaned from the community to enhance documentation, making documentation that much more current, relevant, and hands-on. Documentation, therefore, no longer covers only the cut and dry procedures that people need to perform; it can also contain interesting usage scenarios, technical best practices, relevant links, and so on, and these can really galvanize users’ perspectives of what they can do with the application.
Documentation For Quicker ROI
And then, of course, there is the phenomenon of examples and use cases in the documentation. There was once a time not so long ago when use cases would be part of marketing collateral. However, as applications grew more and more intricate, it became increasingly pertinent to include use cases and ready-for-deployment examples in the documentation itself.
With the rapidly enhancing toolsets that we have at our disposal, our use cases and examples today contain videos, animated GIFs, step-by-step instructions, samples for download, and so on. These tell prospects exactly what they need to do to solve specific problems. Use cases and examples, thus become an important segue into telling users how they can get the most from an application even before they have purchased it.
In many scenarios, users can actually purchase the license, download sample files, connect to their DB, make a few adjustments specific to their need, and they’re good to go!
Documentation today no longer just provides information about an application; it can actually help your customers quickly get into overdrive with your product, and derive ROI from their investment faster than they ever could in the past.
Find out how you can make your documentation more impactful and profitable. Get in Touch with Us.