Content Strategy Can Help. Literally.

Christine Benson
‍(Image: "Help" by Flickr user LiminalMike (CC: by-nc-sa 2.0))

You’d be hard-pressed to find a reputable e-commerce site without some sort of help/support link in the header. But how many times have you clicked on a help link and found NOTHING helpful?  How did that happen? Everyone agreed that a help section was needed. They all knew the customers were going to go there.

But there was still a disconnect between putting the help link on the page and actually planning for that content. Determining what content should be there, how it should be organized, who will create it, and how it will be maintained are all central to the practice of content strategy.

For the sake of keeping this post short, I’ll assume that the product copy is already planned for.  If you’re creating an e-commerce site and you haven’t done that, you’ve got some serious content problems that a blog post probably can’t solve. Moving on …

Interface design is about the numbers. Great design supports the majority of interactions the customer comes to do. User testing uncovers error scenarios for those interactions. Then interface improvements are made to eliminate or mitigate the scenarios.

But there are exceptions. Sometimes people have questions or need additional support. An interface that tries to provide a solution for every exception usually results in something messy and less useable.

I’ve personally witnessed user testing where these outlier scenarios were uncovered. The facilitator asks, “Where would you go to answer that question?” 99% of the time the answer was “I’d use the help link.” Awesome, problem solved. The user found the help link. Test over.

But wait … What’s actually in that help section?

If you find yourself staring at a blank or non-helpful help section, here are a few tips to get your content back on track:

Identify the needs

Do new site users have the same questions as existing users? Are they in the middle of a task or looking for general information? Is this something that can be answered online or will they need to call customer service?  Answering these types of questions will help determine what content to include and how to prioritize it.

Make a plan to create the content

Someone needs to write the content. That someone will need source material. Make friends with the user experience and customer service people. As the front lines to the customers, they can identify what questions are being asked and the frequency of those questions. They can also explain the process needed to resolve the customer’s issue.

After the content is written, it’ll need to go through proofing, revisions, publishing, and other processes and checkpoints. Never forget that creating content is about more than writing.

Set style guidelines

How your content “speaks” should be in line with your brand, but a help page should not sound like a marketing promotion. Here’s a real life scenario: say you ask someone for directions and they start by telling you about their wonderful city or apologizing that you’re lost. You’d likely be impatient at best. Don’t do that. Answer the question directly and succinctly. Then be done with it.

Feed and care for your help section

Content is never done. Out-of-date content is not only embarrassing, but damaging to your brand. Your customer came to you for support, and your content didn’t deliver.

If you’re making enhancements to your site functionality, include a plan to review the help content. Things like changes to store policies or new product lines can also require updates to the help section. Determine a regular audit schedule to check for accuracy and information gaps (remember that part about making friends with the customer service reps?), then make sure the content gets updated.

And if you’re still stuck, call us. We’d love to help.