At around this time last year we started work on a new knowledgebase. It has been a lot of hard work but it is starting to take shape. This blog post covers some of the challenges we faced, as well as what we have in the pipeline. It is also a call for feedback – we would love to hear your thoughts.
Out with the old…
Historically, our knowledgebase hasn’t been that great. Until a few years ago we had a fairly extensive knowledgebase but many articles were dated. Writing documentation is one thing, but you also need to keep everything up to date.
Rather than trying to update all the articles we decided to use “off-the-shelf” videos that covered various topics. We quickly learnt this has a couple of disadvantages. The most obvious issue with videos is that it is not so easy to update them. If the design and/or functionality of a control panel changes then you can’t simply rewrite the text and replace one or two images – the whole video has to be replaced. And secondly, videos are often not the most suitable medium. With text, you can quickly search a page for that one bit of information you are looking for. You can’t do that with videos; you have to instead watch the entire video and hope that it includes the information you want.
In with new!
In October last year we decided to go back to square one and start a new knowledgebase. Our aim was to write articles that are genuinely informative for as wide an audience as possible. One of the difficulties with writing support articles is that we have a rather broad audience. There are customers who are starting out with a WordPress website, highly skilled developers who run containers on a VPS or dedicated server and everything inbetween.
We love all our customers and so we cater for everybody. The knowledgebase currently has 14 different categories. People who are new to web hosting hopefully find categories such as Getting started and cPanel useful, while developers might want to check categories such as Networking and Server management.
Another consideration was the level of “content depth”. There is an odd irony about online documentation. In the olden days, before the advent of the world wide web, finding content was time-consuming and often involved a trip to the local library. Nowadays we got a wealth of information at our fingertips, but if we don’t find what we want within a few seconds we angrily try a different Google search. Short articles that answer a specific question are in high demand.
At the same time we don’t want to add content that already exist elsewhere. cPanel, for instance, has extensive documentation, and there are links to support articles within the cPanel interface. There is little point in duplicating that information. Instead, we try to dive a little deeper than the average guide. For instance, we not only show you how you can add redirects in cPanel, but also how they work in the background. If you run into a redirection error then the article should help you debug the issue.
Similarly, we try not to skip over jargon. Articles about the advantages of InnoDB storage engine over MyISAM often mention row-level locking and foreign key constraints in passing. We like to spend a bit of time explaining these concepts, with some relevant examples. The aim is to give you a little extra information, without writing a dry manual.
As with any project we ran into a few technical challenges. We use WordPress for our website and, much as we love WordPress, the content management system isn’t as flexible as the likes of Drupal (which lets you create custom content types and views). The knowledgebase needed quite a bit of plumbing and there are still some minor bugs we need to iron out. For instance, we now have articles about topics such as databases and WordPress in various different categories, and it makes sense to add those article to new Databases and WordPress categories. That triggered a curious bug which the next code commit should fix.
Another challenge is time. Writing documentation is time-consuming and sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day. Reviewing and updating old articles can be equally laborious. And even publishing articles can take a fair bit of time. We use the Yoast SEO plugin to make sure articles are written in a consistent manner. Among others, the plugin looks at things like the length of sentences and paragraphs, the number of transition words and the number of sentences that use the active voice. It forces you to write simplified English, which is tricky when writing technical articles. But, it also helps ensure that the content is accessible to a large audience.
Where we are at
The current knowledgebase covers most of the basics. It is not finished yet – web hosting is a very broad topic and things change all the time, so we will keep adding and updating content. We are also looking at writing longer, more in-depth guides.
So by and large we are happy with the how the new knowledgebase has come along. If you have used the knowledgebase, we would love to know what you think. Were you able to find the information you were looking for? Was the information useful? Did you spot a typo or error? Is there content you would like to be added? Let us know! The knowledgebase aims to be a useful resource for our customers, so please do send us an email if you have any feedback for us.