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Publishing Documentation Online – 18 Billion Reasons To Start

Posted by ClickHelp TeamClickHelp Teamin Technical Writing on 1/12/2013 — 5 minute read

So many reasons – too many for a bulleted list… And you wonder where this huge number comes from. Let’s find out together.

What Those 18 Billion Are?

This is the number of search queries people perform on the Internet per month in the US, according to comScore. This includes all major search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, and others. Nowadays, when someone has a question, they open a search page right away. Even when they could ask someone sitting near them, many people still go to the Internet to find an answer.

And this is not just 18 billion of searches. This is 18 billion of opportunities for a company to be found on the Internet! And we are not talking about the well-known SEO (Search Engine Optimization) approaches – more keywords and bigger fonts, more links to a page; that’s out of the scope of this article (even though this definitely works to some extent). We are talking about getting a bunch of new highly-relevant pages talking about your company, your products, and your services. The pages that link to your web site, driving additional visitors to sales-oriented pages.

A lot of new pages is great, isn’t it? But who is going to write them for you? Do you have to hire a copywriter? Is it expensive? So many questions, but the answer is simple – most probably, you already have a number of relevant pages at hand, even though you may not realize this. These are your technical manuals, or product documentation. You always thought those manuals were created for your existing customers, to explain things to them. But in fact those existing articles can also help you attract more visitors to your web resources.

Nobody Reads The Manuals…

Many people are still used to think that manuals their companies are creating, and shipping with the products are a waste of time. Nobody reads the manuals anyway! Well, that’s typically what the developers are saying when you ask them to create user documentation. Come on – we all know that developers are lazy, and this is a part of the reason why they automate things, re-use code, and … say that nobody reads manuals! We are just joking, of course 🙂

But the statement remains – people do read technical manuals. The quality of technical documentation is one of the factors some people are using to choose between several offerings. Many users of software products and services like to find answers on their own, without contacting Tech Support – this is faster, and brings more value going forward. It would be cool if all software products were such intuitive that it would not be needed to read documentation. But this would not eliminate the need for documentation.

In practice, almost no software company can afford the absence of technical documentation for their products. There are many valid reasons for this: industry requirements, product complexity or specifics, etc. So, technical documentation is still a very important part of any software product, or service. Significant resources are spent for documentation writing. Companies may expect real business effect from these investments. By publishing your documentation on the Internet, you have a good chance to increase this effect.

Documentation is Your Marketing Resource

As we mentioned earlier, you already have a bunch of articles talking about your company and your product. These are your technical manuals.
No SEO professional or copyrighter would give you the same benefit in the same amount of time. The reason is simple. Typically, any manual is highly focused on your software product or service, and uses the words that perfectly match your target audience. This means that every topic of your manual or a Help system has the right words and phrases to be easily found on the Internet by your potential clients. And this is where those 18 billion reasons come into play. If all your manuals were available online, you would multiply your company and services visibility on Internet with ease.

Even Better SEO Effect

With all the things that have been said above, you are probably a little bit more confident now regarding your technical documentation potential. If so, continue reading – we are going to highlight some interesting aspects of this question.

When you are publishing your documentation on the Internet, there are some things that are not always obvious right away. And it takes time before you start understanding the tricky parts of this process. Below, we will try to save a little bit of your precious time, and describe some of the things you need to be thinking about when making your documentation available online:

  • Human readable URLs.
    The words in the URLs of web pages play an important role for many web search engines when they determine how relevant a page is. If the links to your documentation look like numerical indexes, or random letter combinations, you are probably losing some relevance rating in search engines. When possible, it makes sense to give human-readable URLs to your online documents.
  • Links to your marketing resources.
    Links between web pages is something that is being analyzed by the search engines, and taken into account. So, if you are publishing manuals online, it makes sense to consider adding links to your main web site, and the marketing-oriented pages talking about your product. This may help you increase the relevance rating of both the online documentation topics, and the web site pages.
  • Availability to search engines.
    If search engines do not know about your online manuals, you are losing all the benefits here. We don’t want this, right?
    This discussion topic actually deserves a separate article, so we will not go into details here, and just give you some clues.
    The main thing you need to remember is that search engines rule the Internet nowadays. About 90% of all traffic is driven by search engines. If you cannot be found on the Internet, you are considered “invisible” to your target audience. So, the idea here is that you need to make sure that you have done everything that is needed for your online documentation to be indexed by search engines. If you are not sure what your actions should be, and how they are different for Yahoo, Google, Bing, AOL, and others, keep an eye on our web site – we will be talking about this in our future articles.
  • Built-in search capabilities.
    Technical documentation is something that may change often, and also this is something that needs to be searchable right after it is published. At that, by default, web search engines do not have an idea on when you need them to re-index your web pages to reflect recent changes. For example, this becomes a real issue when you release a new version of your product. You update thousands of help topics, but the search engines are not going to reflect those changes right away, as you want them to. Apparently, you don’t want to wait a week before your new content gets indexed and becomes searchable. In addition to making every search engine re-index your updated content through the SEO tools they typically provide, consider giving your clients a built-in search capability inside your online documentation, and on your main web site. If you have such built-in search tools, you can explicitly make it update its indexes to reflect the recent changes. When clients come to your web site to check the documentation for the latest release, they will simply use the built-in search capability to find the needed help topic. And the web search engines will also do their job a little bit later.

It is still a question whether technical writers need to be SEO specialists. For many technical writers, SEO is a scary abbreviation of what they hope not to do no matter what. However, the reality is different – we need to accept the fact that technical documentation is a very good marketing resource. To make it work efficiently, we need to understand, at least, basic principles of how Internet search engines work. And publishing the manuals online is the very first major step that needs to be taken in this direction.

Happy Technical Authroing!
ClickHelp Team
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ClickHelp Team

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