Another emerging trend in technical communication is making sure our documents get found on Google. Search engines are where our customers turn to first for answers, yet most frame-based topics from traditional help authoring tools aren’t crawlable by search engines.
When technical documentation is available on the web, it can be a major sales tool and revenue generator. So says MindTouch CEO, Aaron Fulkerson, in The Evolution of the User Manual:
Fulkerson reports that for some companies, documentation is bringing in over 50% of qualified leads, through organic search results. At MindTouch, 70% plus of site traffic comes from organic sources, with the documentation generating more than half of overall site traffic. More impressive, MindTouch documentation drives over half of all lead generation.
Are Traditional Help Authoring Tools Holding Us Back?
In Search Engine Optimizing Your Help Content for Google, Tom Johnson provides an excellent analysis on the limitation of most frame-based help authoring tools, in making our content available on the web. He raises the question of whether we should abandon these tools:
As the importance of visibility on Google grows, and as companies recognize and treat their help content as an SEO asset for the online visibility and ranking (not to mention marketing) of their products, shouldn’t we put our help content on web-friendly platforms that will maximize their visibility in Google’s search engine results? Are traditional help authoring tools holding us back from realizing the SEO power of our help content?
Workaround for Frame-based Help
In the comments of Johnson’s post, Tony Chung suggests an interesting workaround for getting Frame-based help on the web. The proposed workaround would not, however, solve the problem of people linking directly to the help content because “for the most part, the location bar only displays the URL of the master frame and not the topic within it.”
Considering Alternative Tools
In the post Experiences with Reader Comments on the Atlassian Documentation Wiki, Sarah Maddox shows how incorporating user-generated content into a documentation wiki helps drive more traffic for her company, than the general web site. She discusses the importance of Google Analytics in measuring site stats, and in a follow-up post, she explains how she balances customer edits and documents, against other priorities (including ensuring the most sensitive documents remain accurate).
Help Docs as Community Hub
Returning to Mindtouch as an example, the Gilbane Group has written a case study, Managing Content for Continuous Learning at Autodesk: When DITA Flows into a Social Web Platform, showing how Autodesk has created a customer-centric community experience, around their help docs.
How important is it for our help topics to appear in search results? What do you think about Tom Johnson’s question: “Are traditional help authoring tools holding us back?” Are alternatives like Confluence and MindTouch, the future of technical communication? How do these approaches fit in with a more structured approach to documentation?
Finally, can the help docs not only help drive sales but also help reinforce our customer community? Would this model help unify communications across the various content disciplines?