Since I recently received certification as an Inbound Marketing Certified Professional, as well as certification as a technical writer, the topic of how Inbound Marketing principles relate to technical documentation in the Web 2.0 age has been on my mind a lot lately.
What is Inbound Marketing? According to Answers.com:
Inbound marketing is a style of marketing that focuses on getting found by customers. This sense is related to relationship marketing and Seth Godin’s idea of permission marketing. David Meerman Scott recommends that marketers “publish their way in” (via blogs etc.)
So, wait, what does this have to do with technical communication? Documentation isn’t marketing, right?
When you have a problem with a software program or a hardware application, in today’s day, what do you do?
Do you grab a manual? Press F1? If you’re like me, the first thing you do is search Google!
According to the Pew Internet & American Life project, search is often the first place people – particularly Millenials — are going in order to find information (including support). “Millennials’ devotion to the internet has greatly shaped the way they approach research process. In many cases, they start projects by going online,” according to Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
All too frequently, however, your company’s help, knowledge base, support forum, or PDF manual doesn’t show up as the first result on Google. A principle of inbound marketing is that you need to create content to get found. One such type of content is documentation – whether it’s a manual, WebHelp, knowledgebase, or How To video on your company’s YouTube channel (you do have one, right?)
For example, if I want to learn about styles in Microsoft Word, does Microsoft control the message or does someone else’s content dominate?
It’s not a question of FrameMaker or RoboHelp. Google and other search engines can index PDFs, just as much as HTML output. Major webhelp authoring systems, such as Adobe RoboHelp and MadCap Flare, can create search engine optimized (SEO) web help. The current tools are adequate to create SEO optimized documentation. So, why is it not happening? Why is Microsoft #4 in Google — meaning their customers are going to get (possibly inaccurate) help from somewhere else?
My guess it that most companies and technical writers don’t yet understand the need for well written, properly-formatted, SEO-optimized help. Can your technical writer also do keyword research? Create a good metadescription and also write usable documentation?
Does your company understand SEO and SMO strategies to “get found”?
Even if you have the best written documentation, it’s not good enough if your customers aren’t finding it. And yes, they probably have one-click online help or the PDF manual, but that’s just not how people – particularly Millenials – find information today. If your customers are finding potentially inaccurate documentation or forum answers created by others, that’s not helping your bottom line … or your users.
Besides the most important components of excellent writing, formatting, and accuracy, so that it’s understandable and helpful to your users, today’s documentation needs to incorporate Inbound Marketing Principles such as SEO, so that it can get found by your users … just when they need it most.
Does your documentation institute Inbound Marketing principles? When your customers are looking for help, is your documentation the first results that appear in Google?
If not, why not?