A well-organized knowledge base is a critical piece of your customer education strategy. It serves to reduce or eliminate support requests by enabling people to self-serve information. This allows them to move quickly toward a solution without having to wait for a response from a chatbot or callback.
The value goes beyond simply saving support costs. Empowering your customers to successfully resolve their own issues through your knowledge base, without contacting your customer support team, is one of the most important ways to boost your Customer Effort Score and, ultimately, to increase customer loyalty and retention.
Despite this value, it is not uncommon for some companies to question whether their knowledge base should be publicly available. This article explores whether to make your knowledge base public or private.
4 ways support articles are good for your business
Companies often make their knowledge base articles private out of fear that competition will use them to gain access to proprietary information. However, these concerns should be weighed against the value a public knowledge base provides. Here we share 4 key benefits of making your knowledge base public and then describe some ways to advocate for taking this action.
Great for SEO & organic traffic
1. Ungated articles remove friction from your customer experience
You want your customers to find the answers to their questions as quickly and easily as possible. If it is difficult for your customers to access your knowledge base they will be unable to use the content to resolve their issues.
By making your support articles public, you remove friction from your customer’s experience. This leads to greater customer loyalty and increased customer retention.
On the other hand, making your knowledge base private creates a wall for your customers and makes it more difficult for them to resolve their issues. It increases the likelihood of higher support ticket volumes and longer wait times for your customers. These are all factors known to increase customer churn.
2. A public knowledge base improves discoverability
The first place most people go when they need help is Google. They will search for your brand name and the issue they are experiencing. Making your content available on Google is part of a broader strategy called discoverability.
For your customers to be able to access your knowledge base content directly from search engines, your site will need to be publicly accessible. Gated pages are not indexed by search engines. As well, by making your knowledge base private, you create an opportunity for competitors to target these words with their own content. There are cases where competitors will use the lack of support articles to offer discounts or make comparison pages that suggest their support is better.
Oftentimes the customers searching for help or facing an issue are the most susceptible to churn. Making it hard for them to find content presents an opportunity for competitors to edge their way into your workflows, undermining the whole point of gating articles in the first place.
3. Public support articles are great for SEO and organic traffic
Making your knowledge base public can be an important part of your SEO strategy. Support documents are more than a user manual. They are highly relevant to your brand and provide a great channel into your website. They also have a huge amount of highly desirable terms that can be used in SEO. Making your knowledge base public allows search engines to index pages and promote this content in search results. It is a great source of organic traffic, and helps boost your domain authority and search engine ranking.
4. Support articles can drive conversions
For many products, customers do extensive research prior to ever making contact with a solution provider. If they are unable to find the information they need, or cannot verify the compatibility of a solution, they will often move on without truly having considered your product.
Your knowledge base is an important resource for potential customers who are in the consideration stage of their buyer journey. When designed effectively, support articles on specific topics or related to certain solutions can be a bridge that brings people over to a sales conversation. By allowing potential customers to see your solutions in action or identify specific places where it adds value, you increase the likelihood of moving a potential customer to a paying customer.
Gated vs. Ungated Knowledge Bases
A “gated” knowledge base is where a user needs permission to view support articles. An “ungated” knowledge base is where users can view articles freely, without first logging in.
Gated knowledge bases diminish the value they provide to your business. Customers expect to find information online, so their user experience can be significantly degraded when these articles are not discoverable.
There's a great article about perspectives on gated content by ReferralRock.
How to advocate for making your knowledge base public
Some companies are view support articles as a competitive risk. A common concern is that other companies will use the product information they contain to their advantage. While your external knowledge base may contain detailed information on your product, it is rare that proprietary information is at risk.
If some members of your team are concerned about exposing competitive information, we recommend using the following approach to get more value from your knowledge content.
Use a tiered approach to content
Use a tiered approach to your content. You accomplish this by making a subset of the pages on your knowledge base private rather than gating all of the content. Most knowledge base platforms offer different privacy settings for individual pages within your knowledge base. This allows you to make large amounts of your content easily accessible to customers and available on public search, while still restricting access to some pages on your knowledge base.
The process for accomplishing this is as follows:
Create or export a list of all your knowledge base articles into a spreadsheet
Make a column called “Risk”
Make another column called “Notes”
Make four options for the fields in the Risk column:
1 - None
2 - Text
3 - Image / Video
4 - Multiple
As a team, review each piece of content and select the option in the Risk column that corresponds to the existence of proprietary information. If the perceived proprietary information is just in text, then select Text. If it is in one of the images or videos, select Image / Video. Etc
After identifying potentially risky content, consider isolating these to the gated area
This solution will help you accomplish two things. The first is clarifying what your risk teams considers proprietary information. This will help you appropriately categorize these pieces of content in the future and can be used to cleanse the way you build new articles to avoid the risks. Secondly, this approach may help your risk team see that the magnitude of content containing perceived proprietary information is relatively small.
A compromise we do not recommend
A solution we have seen companies that we do not recommend is to remove content such as images or to dilute the context in articles. By doing this you may render the content unusable or ineffective. If people are unable to find comprehensive and accurate information in your knowledge base, they are less likely to find the answers they need and more likely to contact customer support. Or, even worse, churn.
For example, in an attempt to limit visibility to competitors, some companies have elected to not include product screenshots and other product visuals in their knowledge base content. Including product screenshots, and other product visuals, is one of the most important elements of building knowledge base content that helps your customers to self-serve. Your content only has a few seconds to make an impression on your customers and including product screenshots, and other visual cues, is one of the most important ways to make your knowledge base content more interesting and engaging. Product Screenshots also immediately communicate to your customers that they are in the right place to resolve their issue and allow your customers to digest your knowledge base content in a more simplified way. A good example of a company focused on improving knowledge base content by automating product screenshots is LaunchBrightly.
When deciding whether to put a gate around your knowledge base content, or to make it available publicly, the most important factor to keep in mind is ensuring your knowledge base helps your customers find what they need as quickly and easily as possible. Ultimately, the decision to make your knowledge base public or not will depend on your company's unique needs and priorities. By carefully considering the risks and benefits of each approach, and implementing appropriate security measures, companies can create a knowledge base strategy that maximizes accessibility and viewership while minimizing the risk of sensitive information being exposed.