Capturing the terms that make content findable: How Knowledge Centered Support (KCS℠) can help

Knowledge Centered Support is one of the most powerful tools you can use to improve your content for a wealth of reasons. By incorporating KCS principles into your knowledge workflow, you can increase the likelihood that your audience will be able to locate the information they need to address their issue or answer their question.

What’s the question?

First, you must place yourself in the shoes of the content seeker to try and anticipate what question they might ask to locate the content.  Typically, this comes from a customer or an employee.  Herein lies the first challenge.  If the person trying to locate the content did not write the content, how can you possibly know which words to type in the search box to maximize your chances of finding the exact content you are looking for?

The answer lies within the KCS practices

Knowledge Capture The first step in writing a piece of content is to “capture” it.  Usually, that comes from communicating with a customer about a question or problem.  People who are not practicing KCS will usually try to translate what the customer is asking or saying into what they think the problem is and then write an article about the translated problem.

This presents an issue because generally the people searching for the content (ie. other customers) think similarly and may describe the problem or question in a similar way.  Therefore, part of capturing using KCS practices is to also put it in the exact context as was described by the initial customer who reported it.

This is called capturing in the customer’s context.  If customers describe the screen as blue, but a more accurate description is azure, make sure blue is still in the article, preferably in the title (along with azure).  This will help someone else immediately identify the article as a possible candidate for the answer if they spot it in a list with one of the words they have searched on.


The next step is to structure the content.  Not only does it need to be accurate, clearly stated, and easy to read, it also needs to contain ALL the words that someone else might use to 1) describe the problem and 2) search for it.  This doesn’t always happen as the article is being written.  It is often an iterative process.  However, you don’t really want a support agent taking the extra time to think of all the words that could be used to describe say the word blue in the example above.

So many words

This is where a Knowledge Management tool with a built in dictionary can make things much easier to practice KCS and make things much more findable.  Instead of placing the words within each article, certain tools contain a global dictionary where you can add related words.  Again from our example above, if the article only contains the word blue, you could add this to the dictionary and list the related words like azure, turquoise, navy, etc.  Then, when a search contains any of those words, it will find all the articles with the related words and place them in the search results list.  And best of all, as new articles get added with any of those “blue” type words, they will be returned in searches and therefore customers and employees will have an easier time finding them.

Why search is so important

Inaccurate or incorrect search results will stifle KM adoption and content reuse even in the best of KCS organizations. The KM search engine must adapt not only to how users ask questions using natural language processing, filtering selections, content metadata, customer dictionary synonyms, and proximity/ordering of words in the users’ query, but also to who the user is and which content is of most interest and importance to them in real time. Additionally, having a strong KM analytics focused KCS program will enlighten KM administrators on exactly how users are searching, which content is being used most and least often, and perhaps most importantly, what content is missing from the knowledge base. When an organization intimately understands how users search, what content they are using, and what content they need, they can better configure their KM system to be more responsive and accurate, all while improving the overall perception, acceptance, and reliance on KM and the industry proven KCS practices.

This post was co-authored by Link Black, manager of the Knova KM product line for Aptean. Link has been working with Knova KM as a technical consultant and manager for more than 15 years and is based in Pittsburgh, PA.

The most valuable part of a map is being on it. Why Knowledge Base SEO matters.

You’ve got your customer support site squared-away, customers can reasonably find what they’re looking for. You’re fine-tuning the search, and leveraging keywords, synonyms, and white/black lists to help your results. That’s helping, but you’re still not seeing the “adoption” you’re looking for.

But “adoption” implies they’re coming back. We typically measure this by looking at the number of unique visitors or visits to the support homepage. But what if customers are finding your support pages and getting to them directly?

Stop control freaking

There is a real reason that companies aren’t or won’t open their support sites to indexing by search crawlers, control. Once you allow customers to access information directly, you lose sight of the internal paths they’ve taken to get to the information. You lose sight of who they are, and what products they may own. Opportunities for up sell or cross sell are sometimes lost. It may interfere with the way “call deflections” are calculated and the overall success of the site is judged.

Customers won't find what search can't seeBut do you as a customer yourself care about those things? No, you just want to find your answer and move on with your life.

The measure of a support site’s success shouldn’t be how many “calls” it has “deflected” but how many “answers” it has “served”.

Put ’em where they’ll look

Consider that your customer’s first stop isn’t your support homepage. And it shouldn’t be. Their first stop should be the page that answers their question.

Think about it, when you have a problem with a product or service, you don’t necessarily go to the company’s Web site and locate the “Help, Support, or Knowledge Base,” click them and enter into the world of intuitive information delivery. You search the Web!

There is a reason Google is the most popular Web site with 1.1 Billion unique visitors each month. With Yahoo! and Bing in the top 10… When people have a question, they go there first.

So, shouldn’t your answers be the first they find?

If I’ve got a problem with the Xfinity X1 product, where the remote isn’t controlling the menu, my first stop isn’t the Xfinity customer support portal…It’s Google.

My search “Xfinity X1 remote is causing search menu to come up” offers me a broader range of results from all around the Web than a narrow support search would. Forums, blogs, news, articles, announcements, etc…

The bottom line is that I can leverage the collective wisdom of the Web in far less time than I could in accessing your support site and navigating to, or searching for the same issue.

Strut your stuff

So why not fold your answers into the mix, build your support articles to work optimally within and outside of your support site!

There are practices that, if leveraged consistently, will improve your customer’s experience within your own support site as well as make your answers easier to find online.

Here are a few ways to help search engines like Google to understand the content of your articles and improve your customer’s ability to find them online.

  • Page Titles: Make sure they accurately describe the content of the page. They should unique, brief, and descriptive. Also, they should appear in the “Title” tag of the HTML of the page.
  • Summary or Description: The article should contain a unique and accurate description within the first two sentences on the page.
  • Images: Should not be used in place of text, but should be used to supplement or clarify text. They should also include Alt text that describes the image content.
  • Writing Style: The article should not contain any spelling or grammar errors and should be free of technical jargon and terms that are not familiar to your customer.
  • Common or “Preferred” Terms: Ensure that words that you use often are used consistently throughout your page copy and across all articles on your site.
  • Hyperlinks: Links within the page should include text that accurately describes the content of the page that is being linked to in concise terms.
  • Heading Tags: Use heading tags (H1, H2, H3) consistently and sparingly. This will help convey relative importance to the terms within.
  • “Chunking”: Ensure the article is centered around a single topic.
  • Uniqueness: Ensure the article content is unique and does not contain information that is duplicated in other articles.

Lastly, ensure that your site includes a Site Map that is made available to external search engines to index. Also make sure your site provides simple URL stings that do not change very often. Both of these will likely require some assistance by your IT team and/or your Knowledge Base vendor to achieve.

Watch ’em grow

Try doing some searches for your key support articles in the various search engines and record your results. See if they appear at all, if they do, great! Use the practices above to improve their relevancy. If they don’t appear, work with your IT team and vendor to ensure the site map is published to the search engines and that the URL strings are kept simple. Give it a few weeks and try your searches again and record the results.

Once your articles are available, track the page hits or views before and after. See what kind of lift you get. Also, if your pages have a “did this resolve your issue” question at the bottom, compare the results before and after your changes.

Remember, the whole point of putting support information online is to help your customers to help themselves. So let’s make sure we’re paying attention to how, where, and when they want to get help.