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Do Business Blogs Need Help Pages?

By Greg Balanko-Dickson

I was wondering what might happen if a blog or website had a set of help pages?

We expect help pages when using a software or web application. We see About pages and FAQ on blogs but how often do we see a set of “Help” pages on a business blog? Never?

Thoughts Driving This Idea

For all the hype around social networking applications and web 2.0, the social part of networking online only happens when two people connect in real time – during a synchronous conversation – happening at the same time. Examples of synchronous conversations include instant messages, in-person meetings, phone calls, and Skype calls.

Whereas, asynchronous communications do not happen at the same time. Examples include blog posts, commenting, voice mail, email, forum posts and comments.

In my opinion, no matter how many comments and social networking widgets we have on a business blog it is at best a lukewarm experience and asynchronous. It is only when a human reaches out to initiate a conversation with another human and they connect in real time is a real relationship formed – and an experience created.

Business Websites and Blogs Should Be More Welcoming

I think we still have a long, long way to go to make our blogs and websites a great, positive experience for our readers. One of the great shifts in business and marketing strategy is the increasing importance to add experiential ingredients to the customer experience.

Customers are quite observant, they notice when a business goes the extra mile, puts out a massive effort, or does something that just is considerate, visionary, and just makes sense. Which is what adding a set of help pages to our blogs will accomplish – impress the heck out of our prospects and customers.

So What Should Be On A Bloggers Help Page(s)?

We could invest in creating tutorials on the how, what, when, where, and why visitors should subscribe to my RSS feed. How to find the feed on a blog, explain what a feed reader is, and review different types of feed readers. Define my blogs comment and spam policy, how often I plan to post and the topics I cover.

I could even develop a tutorial about how to use the content and advice you find on my blog. Explain what types of people visit my blog and purchase my services/products. Another example, I could share information on how to get the most from my books and coaching services. How to get the most from the blog, how to reach me, and disclose my policy on customer satisfaction, returns, and refunds.

I wonder if this is a waste of time or an idea whose time has come, what do you think?


Greg is thinking about how adding help pages to The Remote Control CEO, Small Business Transitions, and help information about his business books might improve the experience for prospects and customers.

13 Comments

  1. Posted October 12, 2007 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has been a technical writer, web designer, and even a librarian, I can attest that most businesses will not take the time to do this. Especially once the marketing groups are allowed near the site. Sorry, but most of the marketing people I have worked with over the years have done more damage than good in their efforts. They will take all that is useful out of the tuorials in favor of Flash or marketing language.

    Sites that were acclaimed by customers and actually drove sales when developed by the people who were most like the customer base within the corporation were invariably made useless once a marketing MBA was allowed his or her way with the site. Not everyone is Amazon.com. And not every site needs to be such.

    That being said, I am all for tutorials, but, having written help for web applications, I can tell you it is not as straightforward a proposal as you present here. There are various operating systems, browsers, plug-ins, system niceties, etc., that can make any help less than helpful. You have to decide that you are only writing for some segment of the audience – or you will invest incredible amounts of time on a project with little to no ROI. No matter your industry, a surprising number of help desk calls are going to be over how to get the application/feed/etc. to work in regards to your particular computer.

    Forgive me if this is a bit rambling, but it is late, and I didn’t want to forget to give my feedback.

    Pax,

    MLO

  2. Posted October 13, 2007 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    @MLO, great observations and I know you are right, most people will not do the work and like you say the message will get watered down. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

    I agree that not every site/blog needs help pages, I can tell you from a customer perspective, I feel very well looked after when they are provided. ROI is an important point and yet I wonder how we could measure the ROI of a customer experience? It depends a lot on what the customer ‘values’ and how much it costs to deliver the experience.

    In the age of “me too marketing” setting oneself apart comes down to the ‘customer experience’ and answering the question, “Why not?”

    Greg

  3. Posted October 13, 2007 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    I think that yes, generally, most sites should have a ‘help’ section. My blog has a “How to use” page that briefly outlines how to find content, how to use the search feature and how to subscribe to the feed. Admittedly it could use an update/more detail, but it only took a few minutes to throw together, and it does get a couple of hundred views per month.

    If you have a site with an audience who may not be the most computer savvy folks in the world, I think the importance of a “help” section increases substantially.

  4. Posted October 13, 2007 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    Greg, I think it’s an interesting idea. Some people who come to our business blogs will be familiar with blogs and already be reading lots of them. So it’s easy for them to find their way around. For other people it might be the first time they’ve come to a blog based site – and I think it’s only courteous to offer some kind of explanation and introduction to how it works.

    I’ve recently added a very short welcome post that sits at the top, a page explaining how feeds work, a more detailed about me page, some ‘transparency’ stuff on how I approach links, comments etc – but I’m sure there’s still more that I could do to help people feel welcome.

    Joanna

  5. Posted October 13, 2007 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I think for something like a blog, a FAQ often serves several purposes, help being one.

    Side Rant:
    If the business blog has marketing people like MLO describes involved in it, it’s hopeless and ruined. Blogs lay down the new rules of marketing — they don’t follow the old rules, and anyone who doesn’t know the difference is in for a world of frustration.

  6. Posted October 13, 2007 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    @Ross, good for you. The interesting next step might be to ask the readers for feedback on what they would like to have seen on your page.

    @Joanna, I have been thinking that we bloggers could get more creative and in the process really improve the readers experience.

    @Micahel, I ignore FAQ pages because they seem so impersonal, they all seem the same, and are boring. They present just the facts whereas I am thinking adding a bit more personality and thought would improve the experience and help them too.

  7. freshspot
    Posted October 14, 2007 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    Several things that I think are very important and often overlooked before the help pages are even started:

    1. A great “About” page with details on who is writing the blog and why, affilations, links, contact information, how to pitch information and stuff like that.

    2. A “best of” or “go here first” place with the “greatest hits” posts. The reverse chronological aspect opg blogs means that the most recent post is at the top. But we need to point first time visitors to what’s best.

    Cheers,

    David Meerman Scott

  8. Posted October 14, 2007 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. However, my business blog on its own has been so effective at bringing in business I actually just don’t have the time to get around to it!

  9. Posted October 14, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle, I think this is a fantastic idea. True, not every business needs to do this. It’s really a question of context, but I can think of quite a few businesses where this would be about as important to the success of a company blog, as the blog itself.

    @remotecontrolceo, I can see your point regarding FAQ pages. Maybe you could elaborate on what you mean by “a bit more personality”? Again, to me, it’s all contextual. The problem with FAQ pages isn’t impersonality per say, it’s that most people don’t realize they have questions. And if you don’t think you got one, you won’t go to the FAQs.

    On that point, that is precisely why this is such a good idea. Most people don’t know they have questions about blogs and/or blogging.

    P.S. Nice “what do you think?” to close off your post. Tsk tsk. :)

  10. Posted October 15, 2007 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I maintained a “Help” page on my personal blog for a long while. It was a practice in earnest to fight the good fight. I tested browser compatibility and noted errors with specific browsers. It helped me…never my audience. I think I gave up after reading “Don’t Make Me Think.” Ultimately, that is really the mindset and the answer. If I have to provide a help page, perhaps I’m doing something wrong. Perhaps I’m not making that personal connection with people because I’m ostracizing them through some personal elitism. I remember when DHTML was really cool and working with the DOM in unique, arcane methods was more a resemblance to the occult than anything Web 2.0 represents today. We’ve all grown up on this stuff. Internet adolescence is over and it’s time to get a real job; move out of your parent’s basement (no offense to you 30-somethings living in your parent’s basement). So I don’t have a “Help” page anymore. I try to offer help in more constructive ways – ways that a “Help” page can only make excuses for. Besides – who actually takes the time to read a manual, let alone my blog manual?

  11. Posted October 16, 2007 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    I think that some help is appropiate, but too many things to click on, however loved by Google and Co. are diverting your visitor from the actual content.

    Having said that, I must admit I will do one too when my I am done theming my weblog. Question is, as to which topics you cover in the help pages. I intend do explain just what a weblog is, how people can register, why they should register, and how to use RSS. My place is going to be a portfolio slash keep up with me slash agenda kind of place, it leaves one to ask themselve what functionality is needed.

    I think weblogs should be simple, as simple as possible. And that corporate or business pages should be just what they are, appealing yet to the point.

    In this day and age I think one of the things for businesses’ online presentation, is that is does not have a zillion links, like a lot of weblogs (I stash too I admit it).

  12. Posted October 16, 2007 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I’ll agree that many sites are way too busy, with way too many links. But I also think that at least a basic Help page is a good thing. My site is very new and pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve provided a Help section with info on how to contact me, how to suggest books for review, etc. I think having a Help page – no matter how basic – contributes to the personalization of a blog or website, helping the user to remember that there’s a real person on the other end.

  13. Posted February 9, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle -

    I am having one of those “Duh!” moments. This obviously makes sense. I have a couple fo blogs to do some work on…

    Thanks!

    Kermit


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Internet, Spread your Wings and Fly

    I used to be one of those elitist programmers that sought out the most obscure uses of the DOM or unknown HTML tags. Hell, I used to only use VBScript, and throw out angry comparisons of my pure VBScript solution to a JavaScript one.

  2. […] Do Business Blogs Need Help Pages?: Regular contributor, Greg Balanko-Dickson, asked my readers if their blogs needed “help pages”, a page to help visitors understand how to explore their blogs. This sparked a lively debate and renewed interest in adding such pages, and how, to blogs. […]

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