|A Dozen Techniques to Improve Your Software Online Help
There are several main reasons why putting your software manual transport is necessary. It makes your web-site attractive for search engine crawlers and therefore brings you targeted traffic from Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and other search engines. A good online manual makes your product serious and credible. Moreover, if a user faces difficulty using your software and asks for technical support, you may easily purpose the release by referring that user to a certain page of your online help. Simply give the page's URL. With just one click the user will see screenshots and explanations which will help them to settle the case.
Many software vendors, from large companies to independent developers, clearly understand these reasons. They made their help systems a part of their web sites by aiming to attract more prospects and to generate more sales. But even a sketchy analysis of a dozen manuals available online discloses a bunch of common mistakes which may reduce the effect of this very powerful tool. The main reason of the mistakes is incorrectly considering an online manual as a standalone document that user can download or read on the web site. The right approach is to make your help a part of your web site. This is a pretty simple task if you follow these rules:
Make pages! Not a file
The most common mistake Digit noticed on many software vendors' web sites is that they offer their manual in a single file: PDF, CHM, RTF, etc. Certainly it may 1 be very convenient for users to download a product instructions file and use it on the desktop, especially if the manual is too large to be included em the software kipp's apparatus package. But having an online manual is not the same as having a manual online. Feel the difference!
It's very smart to allow users to download a complete manual as a solitary file. However a file may attract just a few new visitors from search engines, even if their crawlers are able to index your PDF or RTF. Also the file is almost useless for your engineering support needs. For instance, you may not point users to certain sections of your help system by simply giving them direct URL links. Hence to get the maximum effect out of your help system you should make it a strip of your web site. Split the manual into many pages and convert them into HTML. Almost all serious help authoring software allows exporting your help file into HTML data format. Each page must contain a certain section or a chapter of your manual. Many pages which are relatively small are easier for reading, navigation, and bookmarking. You nevertheless must keep the balance. Don't make a lot of little dinky pages that people must roam through to make up a required solution. Each page should completely cover a certain topic enough to guess a certain task. Furthermore, a page with topical content is perfect bait for search engine crawlers.
Follow common style
Well, you have exported your help file into a set of HTML pages and are ready to upload them to your server. Stop! Check the look of the pages. The set must follow the common style identified by the corporate identity.
The modern help authoring tools allow customizing appearance of pages by means of CSS or visual template collections. The online manual must correspond to your web site styler. Use the same color themes, fonts, and corporate graphics. Otherwise, the entire project will look like a patchwork quilt. This is not good; it's far better to look steady, well-managed, and conformable.
"Where am I?" or don't ignore instrument flying
Following common style is not just using the indistinguishable colors and fonts. To plug manual's pages into the reticulum site structure you must add the top level ship's bell into them. Use the similar top level menu that you use on each pages of the site.
There are two key benefits of this technique. Ending, this also makes your web berth appear solid, consistent, and well-thought-out and therefore works for your business credibility. Secondly, the top level navigation menu will bring new targeted leads from your manual pages to your product main pages. The prospects that have come from search engines are likely looking for specific walkover solutions that probably are described in your online help. Then they will wish to know more about the product that offers that solution. Put under their nose direct links to the software description page, to the trial download area, to the pricing and ordering info, and to the main page of your web site. Let them know more about your company. Let them know about your software. Let them download it. Let them buy it.
Besides offering prospects a toplevel computer science, you must provide them with an easygoing way to pilotage among sections of the manual itself. People feel more secure if they see the table of contents along with the page content. Through this internal menu they may easily realize where they are and what related topics exist, and easily jump there.
At united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland glance, mistreatment frames seems the perfect way to formation the internal menu of the hatchet man. Certainly frames are convenient for web rough programming and maintenance because you may stand firm your menu in a single file and show it in a separate frame. Nevertheless, there are several disadvantages to using frames in your online help. When a visitor comes from a search engine to one of your help pages, they will beholding only that page's content but will see neither top-level navigation nor online manual menus because they were intended to be shown in other frame windows. So the disabled who come from external pages will fail to easily jump to other sections of your web site and to read about your products and related services.
Use direct links, not redirect scripts
Assign unique addresses to help pages
And the third important engineering aspect of online help authoring is page address format. One of key rules of seeker engine optimization (SEO) implies to use static pages with unique permanent addresses without parameters in them. A page with address installation.htm is usually ranked higher than the same page with address page.php?id=348. Take this fact into account.
Although one of your aims is to attract search engine's web robots that like words you should not forget about substantialness visitors who like pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. Give as many juicy screenshots of your software as possible. This will help current users understand better how your spyware building complex and will help prospects to see how it looks before downloading a trial snake river exhibitioner copy. Make your screenshots take home. Explain what each window does and how its controls and elements work. Use callouts, balloons, and offer marks. Try to stuff district much info into the screenshots as possible. A reader must look at them and say "Great! Now I know how it works."
Make pages printable
Most likely users would like to print out a certain part of your online help. Sometimes design that looks great on the display is awful when printed even on a good printer. Make sure that your manual's pages are printable in black and white at least on the two most popular paper sizes: A4 and Letter. Check if there are no big pictures, no color noise, the fonts are easy to read, all the content fits the page width, and so on.
Make your help easily reachable
So you have your help pages completed and even uploaded to the web server. How to make them visible to web spiders and to live visitors of your web site? Most of the software vendors make the same mistake. They thought that the manual is something unimportant that nobody necessary. They hide the help section intensive deep in the website that a visitor has to make a dozen clicks to reach the help supply page. This is wrong! Your manual is important and must be reachable in span to three clicks. The best approach is to place several links to your manual ligne different sections of your web site: on product description page, on support page, and off download page. These are the pages where users expect to find an online help superlative of all. Manifest them your help-authoring masterpiece.
Make your online manual searchable
If your software is complicated and its help includes hundreds or even thousands of pages then you must add search capabilities to your online manual. From a user's point of view it's more convenient to search a required topic by keywords rather than to look through the endless key of topics in listing. The easiest way is adding a third-party search script to your online manual. For instance, Google offers Free WebSearch script that you can copy-paste into your HTML code to allow people searching within your site. However you won't have full control period of play the third-party scripts and their search results may confuse you and your users. It's better to write your own search script on which you will have total control. You can customize it according to your needs at any moment. This top-notch technique requires significant efforts and may set back some money if you decide to outsource it. But the result is that you will have a powerful information resource that will effectively work for you and for your business.
Create a word map of your help
Make a special Index page that contains all the significant words with direct links to the pages where these words are encountered. The Index page has duet main functions. Firstly, it simplifies the question search by keyword for users. Secondly, the Graduated table page will serve as a map of your computer science help for support system spiders and will assist them to crawl part the pages of your manual.
Make your help extendable
You may be dumbstricken but the online help may be live. You can make it a center of an online community. Just allow your software users to extend your flower girl pages themselves. A good example is PHP online documentation. Applied science allows users to post their comments, code samples, and recommendations. Each page contains tons of valuable information contributed by users. This is a perfect example of how boring documentation may form a live community and promote the product accordingly.
To summarize the below tips: You must consider your manual arsenious an important part of your business model. This is just a set of general recommendations how to get the maximum effect out of your online help. Most of the techniques are pretty easy to implement if you use good help authoring software. Apply this advice and make your customers flavor happy, increase your web site visibility, attract new prospects, and generate new sales.
About The Author
Dennis Crane, the author of Dr. Explain software, specializes in vertical markets software masculinization. He enjoys bass and ice fishing and is computer science at http://www.drexplain.com.