When you’re looking for help when faced with some technology-related question, how do you find assistance?
Maybe you ask a person if you’re at work. Perhaps you fire up the help with the product, if it’s available. Maybe you visit the company’s web site and troll through the support section, looking for the answer to your question. But increasingly, I suspect that more and more users are typing the problem they face into Google’s search field because more often than not, it provides the most accurate and relevant results.
As a technical writer, if you’re posting content online that can be searched by search engines, it may be worth borrowing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics to make your content easy to find on the Internet. Some background: SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a web site using search results. So, for example, if you work as a technical writer in Seattle and someone types the keywords “Seattle technical writer” into Google, ideally your web site is one of the first to display in the results.
Now imagine that you generate WebHelp for your company and it’s hosted on a web server that can be searched by Google. As someone who has performed SEO and web analytics on a web site, here’s how I’d start to make the help “SEO friendly” so that it appears prominently in the search results.
(NOTE: This topic provides just an overview of “organic” SEO tactics. The other main way to improve your search results is by paying for them but I won’t deal with this method in this blog entry.)
1) Double-check that the tag of your online help is an accurate description. I’d include three elements of the title tag: company name, product name, and the phrase, “Online Help.” For example, “ACME RasterBlaster Online Help.” Ensuring the title tag is clear is one key way to help with SEO rankings.
2) Add lots of related hyperlinks that point to the help. Make sure that relevant web sites (for example, your support web site, forums on the product, related blogs) have links pointing to your help, which improve SEO rankings. Aim for quality links, not quantity.
3) Analyze keywords. Keywords are the terms that your users type when searching for help on your product, such as “configuring RasterBlaster.” When you know these keywords, make sure that you’ve liberally added the same terms to your “Configuring RasterBlaster” help topic. Adding keywords to your content is another key way to improve SEO results. Google AdWords is one tool that helps with analyzing keywords on a web site.
4) Add meta-data to important topics in the help. In the tag in the HTML code for an important help topic, make sure you add relevant synonyms that ideally match the keywords a user might type in a search engine.
5) After you’ve performed some of the previous suggestions, be patient. Results don’t happen overnight. After 10 days, type the identified keywords (for example, ACME RasterBlaster Online Help) into Google. Where are you located in the results? If you’re not ranked very well, perhaps you need to tweak your keywords, meta-data, or point more relevant links to the help system. In another seven to 10 days, see if your results have improved, based on your edits.
The SEO tactics that I’ve described are free and do work but they do not offer fast results. With some persistence, these ideas may just help your users find the answers they need.