Dynamic Help Center and Documentation

Filed Under: Blogging, Documentation & Help Manuals, Google, Google Help, Google Products, Language & Translation, Technical Communication/Writing, Technical Writing Trends, Writing Content
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I’ve been quite busy over the past few weeks getting ready for the launch of a new product and help center. This is the first time I get to build a brand new help center from scratch, so it’s been quite a learning process figuring out how to design/configure a help center. So while I’m a technical writer, I don’t just write articles all day long. Matter of fact, the bulk of my time is spent meeting with different people on the team (product managers, content experts, support team, marketing), playing with the product, logging bugs, brainstorming ideas, working with tools, configuring the help center, etc. But that’s a topic I’ve already covered in the past.

What I’d like to share today is how much fun it is to build a Google help center. Documentation is no longer static like it used to be in the old days. The trend is moving from printed manuals to digital formats (e.g., PDFs, CHMs, online/web help, video tutorials, etc). At Google, we take that to the next level and make documentation dynamic. What that means is that help contents are customized so that users see/find what they need when they need them.

For example:

  • User interface tooltips: Tooltips are place throughout the product UI to provide quick guidance to the users as they use the product.
  • Guided help: Dynamic in-product help that walks users through a specific task or feature demo and points them to relevant/in-depth articles.
  • Personalization, customizations, and signals: There’s a lot we know about our users that browse our help centers, such as the browser/OS/device they’re using, the country they’re located in, their browser language setting, which Google products they’re using, their account settings, what keywords they’re searching, etc. With that mind, we can customize the help center so that users see only contents that are most relevant/applicable to them. 
  • Regions/languages: Some features are applicable only to certain countries/regions, so instead of translating/showing everything, users see only contents that are applicable to them.
  • Demos: Some articles have embedded links/buttons that take users directly to the product UI to perform the specific task. 
  • Announcements and notifications: We can showing specific messaging on relevant help center pages (e.g., homepage, search query, specific articles, etc.) announcing or promoting various things. This is particularly useful for announcing training sessions, hangouts, new features, release notes, known issues, etc.
  • Autocompletion: When users search the help center, we help users complete their search queries based on the help center contents that are available. This is particularly helpful because traditionally, when users search via the index, you won’t find anything unless the first search keyword matches the first word in the index (if it was indexed at all). 
  • Related articles: We provide a list of related/relevant articles on the side as they are browsing through various articles.

There’s so much more I haven’t covered, but alas, I’ll save it for another day when I feel inspired to blog again. Today, I just wanted to provide some insights on the cool things Google technical writers do make our help centers user friendly.

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