Organizations have a wealth of information that could be used to boost employee efficiency and improve customer experiences. The problem is, that knowledge often gets siloed, stuck in email chains or locked away in employees’ brains.
A centralized knowledge base can fix this, providing one source of truth for employees or customers, and helping your business run more effectively.
In this article, we’ll explain what a knowledge base is and why you need one. Then we’ll take a deep dive into how to set one up.
What is a knowledge base?
A knowledge base is a self-service library containing information about your products, your services or other topics relating to your company.
There are two main types of knowledge bases: Internal (employee-focused) and external (customer-focused).
What is an internal knowledge base?
Internal knowledge bases are employee-focused information hubs that contain the company-specific knowledge needed to operate. They are a knowledge management system that allows employees to easily search and access relevant information when they need it.
An internal company knowledge base might include:
Company documentation (benefits and compensation, company strategy, etc.)
Training and onboarding material
Organizational structures, teams and who to go to in certain circumstances
Technical help (how-tos, guides and video demonstrations)
Templates for documentation
Policies, procedures and protocols
What is an external knowledge base?
Companies also use knowledge bases to address customer needs and issues. These external knowledge bases are outward-facing information hubs that customers can easily access and search without the need for an institutional account.
For example, an external knowledge base could give customers access to FAQs, how-to guides, onboarding material, best practices, information about billing and shipping and other customer service resources.
Not only is this a great way to improve your after-sales service, but it can actually help potential customers find out more about your products too.
7 benefits of a knowledge base (and why you need one)
Comprehensive knowledge bases can provide tons of value to your customers and employees. Here are seven key advantages of building a knowledge base:
1. Increased productivity
Knowledge bases help employees access time-sensitive information when they need it. For example, when a sales rep is conducting a sales demo or answering a product-related question. A knowledge base lets them find the answer quickly, helping them close more sales.
The value of knowledge bases doesn’t start and end with sales, however.
According to a study by Panopto and YouGov, employees spend an average of 5.3 hours per week waiting on information. These delays have a big impact on productivity, with respondents reporting that 66% will last up to a week, and 12% will last up to a month or more.
With a searchable internal knowledge base, you cut down on delays. When employees can access the knowledge they need, when they need it, you’ll see faster, more efficient work.
2. Reduced training time and lower costs
Knowledge bases can help employers deliver training to new (and existing) employees, improving the onboarding process and allowing them to up-skill as required. By providing all necessary materials in a knowledge base, employees can revisit them at any time.
This means faster onboarding, but it also helps provide support for different learning styles. Since knowledge base content can be included as text, images, video and any other medium, new employees can easily learn the ropes in the way that works best for them.
3. Preserved internal knowledge
When employees leave your organization, you risk losing the knowledge that they acquired. That creates problems for those who take over their work, meaning they need to learn everything from scratch.
With an internal knowledge base, employees can team up with subject matter experts (SMEs) to thoroughly document their tasks, content and protocols. This streamlines the process of transferring tasks and bringing new employees up to speed.
A knowledge base ensures that whenever an employee leaves your organization, the knowledge they built up isn’t lost.
4. Improved collaboration
Helpful resources and ideas that are sealed in Slack conversations or email chains can’t be leveraged by everyone. Subject matter experts in your organization miss the opportunity to share their expertise and other teams miss out on learning what works well.
Internal knowledge bases help break down these silos to get the most out of your knowledge and improve communication between teams.
For example, your customer service team will be able to use the content to provide better outcomes to customers, product development can track feature requests and your sales and marketing teams will be better aligned.
5. Empowered remote employees
With more people working from home or working remotely than ever before, it’s vital to ensure that those employees have access to everything they need to get their tasks done effectively.
With a knowledge base that’s cloud-based and mobile-friendly, your remote employees can access key information from wherever they need it.
6. Faster self-service for customers
Research shows that most customers will try to seek their own answers before reaching out for help. A customer-facing knowledge base makes this much easier, providing your customers with an always-on “answer base” to help solve their problems in less time.
Not only does this self-serve format help your customers get answers quicker, but it can also help you avoid over-stressing your support agents with time-consuming tickets that could be resolved quickly.
7. Useful insight generation
If your knowledge base is based on your website or support team’s reporting capabilities, you can use it to find actionable insights about your customers.
You can learn the most common questions, the most-visited pages and any gaps you might have in the knowledge base. You can then use those insights to improve the knowledge base, level up your customer success or customer support team and fix common issues with your products.
Further, a knowledge base on your website can actually boost your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts by targeting highly searched keywords. This means that in addition to helping users, you’re also bringing in new customers.
Getting your knowledge base up and running
Creating an effective knowledge base takes a lot of preparation, but it’ll be worth it in the end. You’ll need to work out your audience, decide on a tool, establish your guidelines, generate your content and then review and update articles when needed.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Consider what kinds of content you will need
The first step is to consider what needs your knowledge base is going to fill. In other words, what is the purpose of your knowledge base?
For example, do you want the knowledge base to support your employees or to help customers when they have questions about your products?
Ask yourself the following questions to help work this out:
Who needs the knowledge base?
What information do your employees or customers need most often?
How long does it take for you to respond to customer queries?
Is there any information that isn’t being shared effectively between departments?
Are your employees struggling to find or access particular knowledge?
Will any serious gaps in knowledge arise if certain employees suddenly left?
What information and content have you already produced?
Your answers will help you work out what content to prioritize in the creation of your knowledge base.
2. Choose your knowledge base architecture
From simple document-sharing systems to dedicated knowledge base software, there are several ways you can implement a knowledge base. To begin, you need to consider the user experience (UX), design and features you will need.
At the very least, the right knowledge base software will make it easy for you to create and share useful content with employees or customers. Make sure it has the following features:
A search function. Even if you have the best content organization, people will use the search bar. It’s the easiest way to find relevant content.
Feedback and analytics. Your software should tell you who’s accessing what content and when. It should also be able to help you determine customer pain points. Without analytics capabilities, you’ll lose vital insights that can help you improve your content and service.
Content management features. These are the features you will use to create, revise and publish articles to your knowledge base. The more intuitive these features are, the easier it’ll be for your writers, editors and administrators to manage your knowledge base.
Integrations. Many knowledge base tools integrate with other software, like analytics tools or a chatbot that can converse with users and direct them to the page they need. The number and type of integrations you use can boost the effectiveness of your knowledge base.
Take some time to research the best knowledge base software for your needs as it’ll be hard to switch to another provider once you’ve launched your knowledge base.
3. Come up with an effective design
A knowledge base isn’t just about storing information, it’s about storing it in a way that makes it easy for visitors to access the content they need. It’s vital to prepare a knowledge base structure that helps users easily navigate your articles.
There are many ways to organize your knowledge base, and the ideal structure will vary depending on your company and use case.
Some core elements you should include are:
FAQ section. This is the first place users will look if they have a question. Here, you should cover all rudimentary customer questions and include links to key articles.
Search bar. This makes it easy for users to search for specific topics.
Support page. No matter how good your knowledge base is, users might not be able to find what they’re looking for or may require further help. A quick link to related articles or customer support ensures that they can find what they’re looking for.
Consider how you can organize your content into hierarchical categories and subcategories. The trick here is to put yourself in your user’s shoes. If you knew nothing about the knowledge base, would you still be able to find the right article every time?
For example, you could categorize the content by:
Department or user roles. If you have several different types of users, organizing the knowledge base by role can be effective. For example, someone in sales could easily access the “Sales” category which is then broken down into pricing, product information and so on.
User activities. Organizing your knowledge base by activity type helps when there are several activities that your audience might be performing. For a product like customer relationship management (CRM) software, you could create designated sections for adding users, implementing workflows or automating tasks.
The user’s stage or experience level. When you categorize by stage in the customer journey, you help your users access the content that is most relevant to them. You could organize content by user needs or actions like “Getting Started”, “Product Tutorials” and “Advanced Tips”.
At the end of the day, your knowledge base needs to be user-friendly. Designing your knowledge base ahead of time means you can organize your content more effectively and maintain it as your knowledge base grows.
4. Create the content and publish your knowledge base
The next step is to create and optimize all of the content you will be featuring on your knowledge base. Step one should have given you a pretty good idea of the content you need to create.
To start, designate who will create, edit, upload and maintain content on your knowledge base. You might want to consider designating a knowledge base manager who will take the lead on its creation.
The knowledge base manager will be responsible for outlining the purpose of content, tone of voice, use of keywords and call-to-action (CTA).
Depending on your content, you may also want to designate subject matter experts, along with an editor, tasked with developing high-quality, consistent and effective content for your knowledge base.
Once these roles are established, it’s time to begin creating content. Here are some tips to get you started:
Develop a template for your knowledge base articles so that different authors can provide consistent content.
Use descriptive titles so that people can find exactly what they’re looking for.
Optimize for SEO so your text-based content will help your website rank on search engines and make it easier for customers to find.
Provide links to helpful or related resources and help users find all the information they need.
Include media elements like images, infographics and videos to help explain content.
For example, all of Pipedrive's Knowledge Base articles are laid out the same way, with a table of contents on the side for easy navigation and videos and gifs to further demonstrate topics.
When you have a sufficient number of articles, it’s time to hit publish – but that’s not the end of it. You’ll need to keep creating articles as they’re required, and much of your content will need to be periodically reviewed and updated.
5. Implement a review and update the schedule
Knowledge bases should be dynamic. Information can quickly become outdated and new content will need to be created as things change within your organization. For example, you may have implemented new company policies that your employees need to know about, or launched a new product that your customers need help with.
Keep your subject matter experts in the loop and have them review your articles periodically. Your actual update schedule will depend on your industry, company and products, but once a quarter is a good place to start.
Also, make sure that you’re listening to your customers through customer support queries and web analytics to stay aware of new topics that you should add to your knowledge base.
With a standard procedure and update schedule in place, you can be sure that your knowledge base will remain current and useful for your users.
5 high-level tips to optimize your knowledge base
Getting your knowledge base up and running is only the first step. Here are some best practices to keep your knowledge base relevant, effective and useful.
1. Track your knowledge base’s performance (and make data-driven decisions)
For external knowledge bases, it’s important that customers get what they need from your articles. By tracking specific metrics for each page, like the time on page and number of visits, you can see which parts are performing and which aren’t.
Another easy way to seek feedback is by providing a one-question customer survey at the end of each page that asks “Was this article helpful?” or “Did this article answer your question?” Next to this, you can provide users with the option to submit a support ticket for further help if needed.
With these insights in hand, you can update underperforming articles or write additional content to fill in any gaps you find.
For internal knowledge bases, tracking performance is a little more difficult. You’ll have to seek regular feedback from different parties to see what needs updating and what doesn’t.
For instance, if you use your knowledge base for training purposes, consider surveying new employees on the effectiveness of the material. You could also add a link at the end of each article asking “Does this page need updating?”
Another thing to look for is how often team members are searching for or sharing information. If certain questions are frequently being asked, they may not be sufficiently addressed in your knowledge base.
2. Make your content discoverable and accessible
Discoverability is crucial if you want your knowledge base to be effective. To make your content more discoverable, make sure it’s well-organized. When categorizing your content, you should begin with the highest level categories and work your way down.
Take a look at the screenshot from Zapier’s help center page. They begin with the major categories “Create”, “Manage”, “Troubleshoot”, “Account & Billing” and “Apps”. Clicking any of these will expand a range of topics within that category. If that fails, there’s a search option to find articles based on keywords.
Note: Don’t forget to make your content accessible. The WC3 Accessibility Standards Guidelines outline several focus areas that you should aim to achieve. For example, your knowledge base should contain alt text for images and videos, have large, clear fonts and not use contrasting colors that make seeing text difficult.
3. Write easy-to-read, digestible content
To ensure that your content is clear and easy to understand, focus on these things:
Clarity. Explain all technical terminology in clear, easy-to-understand language. Make sure headlines help your audience understand at a glance what your article is about.
Readability. Ensure that your sentences and paragraphs are short and snappy. Break up blocks of text with headings, subheadings, bullet points or numbered lists. Make sure that visitors can easily scan your articles to find the key information.
Engagement. Use images, videos and infographics to increase engagement and help explain your content.
Utility. When writing content, ensure that it answers the question at hand. If you miss a key step in a how-to article, people are going to leave frustrated. Likewise, ensure that you link to related content and further information where possible.
Value. Your knowledge base should offer solutions and insights to the readers that help them fix problems or get more out of your products and services.
4. Focus on design consistency
Since your knowledge base is part of your organization, it should reflect your branding. This is especially true for customer-facing knowledge bases, as providing a consistent experience helps customers fall in love with your brand.
To ensure consistency, you should use a style guide to inform your content creation processes. In the style guide, focus on nailing down your tone, brand voice and colors as well as your website’s page design.
If you already have a style guide, update it to include the formatting and writing guidelines for your knowledge base. As contributors change, your knowledge base will remain consistent and represent your brand well.
This is where knowledge base templates come in handy. Come up with a universal design for your articles that content creators can use to make consistent, branded material.
5. Consider other mediums
We’ve covered the tricks behind creating text-based content as well as the importance of adding helpful visual elements like infographics and videos. However, you can also make use of other tools and mediums to improve the quality of your knowledge base and provide value to your customers.
For example, use video hosting services like YouTube to upload video tutorials, or use voice- and screen-recording software like Loom to record helpful guides.
By combining multiple mediums, you not only add value, but also cater to users with different learning styles.
A good knowledge base will help scale your customer service and help desk efforts, reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction and boost your revenue. Similarly, an internal knowledge base can improve your employees’ productivity and ensure you keep vital information safe and secure.
While there are many ways to create a knowledge base, you should begin with your user’s frequently asked questions. From there, keep an eye on what your readers search for most often on your website or within your knowledge base and build a comprehensive self-service library.