How Microsoft and Oracle are using online Help to improve their SEO

The UAEurope 2011 conference last week comprised many great presentations and a lot of useful information. One interesting piece of news was that both Microsoft and Oracle have been including their online Help content (and other forms of User Assistance) as part of their SEO strategy.

By publishing the Help on the Web and optimising it for the search engines, these Help pages now appear at the top of Bing and Google. This has boosted the overall performance of both companies’ Web sites, and it has meant that users are going to the “official” information when they have searched for answers to their problems.

Google +1 and what it means to your website

You may notice we’ve added a Google +1 button to our blog (It’s on the left above “Recent Posts”)

According to Google’s Matt Cutts, Google’s +1 button is going to be a ranking signal. In other words, it will be used by Google as one way to assess which sites should appear at the top of the Search Engine rankings. Those sites that have the +1 button, and have many “votes”, may be ranked above those that don’t (all things being equal).

It works in a similar way to Facebook’s “Like” button. If you like a page or web site, simply click on the +1 button on that site.

For more information, see

If you’d like to try out the button, please feel free to +1 this page!

UK Technical Authors reveal 5 business benefits of Web-based Help

Having your online Help published on the Web could do wonders to your business. Here are five business benefits:

1. Marketing SEO benefits

The search engines love the type of information-rich content that online Help contains (more information), because the content is valuable and other Web sites link to it. The result is these pages appear high in search engine rankings ( See Using Web Analytics in Technical Documentation: interview with an expert).

This improvement could also lead to an increase in leads from your Web site.

2. Reduce stress on your Support line

Many users begin by looking for answers on the Web before they call the support line ( see “Digital Natives” and the end of traditional hotline support and our support call cost reduction calculator). If they find the answer on the Web, then they won’t need to call the Support line.

3. Better customer service

There’s a new generation growing up who are shying away from telephone-based support in favour of text-based support (more information). By delivering assistance in the way they prefer, your providing better customer service.

4. Greater brand loyalty

You can allow your user community to add to the content. They not only improve it, but they also get a greater sense of belonging to your brand (more information).

5. Improved product development

  • You can get a better understanding of where users struggle with your product.
  • Web Analytics can tell you how many thousands of people are reading the Help and what they are searching for.

3 questions to ask when creating Web-based user documentation

If Web-based user documentation can improve a company’s Web site ranking, then it makes sense for technical writers to take advantage of this fact.

So if you’re writing Web-based user documentation, how willing are you to change your writing style for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) considerations?

  1. Would you decline – arguing for the purity of your words and the SEO value of text that has a natural flow?
  2. Would you agree to include certain key words in your headings and body text to improve keyword density?
  3. Would you agree to use black hat techniques, such as using hidden text? After all it’s not illegal.

Indeed, do SEO experts and copywriters know how to write Web based content better than a technical author?

We would suggest you agree with your sponsor for whom you’re writing. Is it for Google (and your search engine ranking)? Is it for your end users (and support call reduction) ? If you know the audience and the purpose of the documentation then you’ll be able to verify if the writing approach you adopt will meet their requirements or not.

Using Web Analytics in Technical Documentation: interview with an expert

This is a 10 minute extract from a 45 minute interview we carried out with Dr Chris Bose, a Web Analytics expert, on the topic of using Web Analytics in technical documentation.

It’s also a test of another way to publish a screencast – as a MP4 video. This format means the interview can be embedded into this blog. Please note, this format does not allow you to click on the tabs or to click onto the next slide. Chris’s office is actually a converted church, so the audio is a little echo-y. We’re still working on ways to improve the audio on these interviews.

We recommend maximising the video screen size when you view it. 

In this extract, we discussed:

  • What is Web Analytics?
  • Why is Web Analytics important?
  • Should technical people treat it differently to marketing people?
  • Can we use technical documents to improve a Web site’s Google ranking?
  • What do people learn from analytics?

In addition to the topics above, the full interview covered:

  • How do you add analytics to a page?
  • Should you spend money on chargeable analytics software?
  • What are the mistakes people make?
  • What can you do with the statistics?
  • How do evaluate any changes you make?
  • Is Google AdWords relevant for technical writers?
  • How do you deal with searches containing misspellings?
  • Why are landing pages important?
  • Do you treat other pages differently?
  • Do people really search using long phrases?
  • How do you dominate you niche?
  • What do you do with pages that few people read?

We’ll be making the full interview available at some stage in the future.

This is the second interview we’ve published. You can view the first interview with Anne Gentle (The Social Web for Documentation, collaboration and community) here.

Let us know your experience of Web Analytics.

So you want to publish your user manuals on the Web, but don’t want everyone to see them

We often hear from Technical Authors who say they (or their bosses) have concerns about publishing their user guides on the Web. They are worried their competitors might read them, the manuals might stop a prospect from buying the product, or that a client might not buy a support contract.

On the other hand, there are many reasons for publishing user documentation on the Web and having it indexed by the Search Engines. Apart from a better “after sales experience” for customers, it’s great for improving a company’s Search Engine rankings, as Google loves information-rich content.

The good news is that Google does offer a possible solution for these two opposing pressures to be resolved, called “First click free“. According to Google:

While the first article can be seen without subscribing, all clicks on the article page are “trapped.” This means that if users click anywhere else on that page, they’ll be prompted to sign up. This allows our users to view the article of interest while also exposing them to your site, encouraging an actual subscription.

However, it might not be perfect for you. People can potentially go back to Google, find another article from the same site, click to it from Google and read that.

Google is offering additional options for content appearing in Google News search (called Subscription and Preview), but these aren’t available in the main Google Search Engine. Whether they will be added as options for non-news content is unknown.

You can also have content on your Web site that is hidden from Search Engines. Google’s Robots Exclusion Protocol options (robots.txt files or the meta robots tag) offer automatic exclusion from indexing by Search Engines. You can also hide content behind a login screen.

For more information, see Josh Cohen Of Google News On Paywalls, Partnerships & Working With Publishers.

Will SEO be replaced by AEO (Answer Engine Optimisation)?

Internet psychologist Graham Jones has just posted an interesting Blog called “Search is on its deathbed…bye, bye SEO“.

In it he states:

“They (Search Engines) would like us to think that we are constantly “searching” for things online – but we aren’t. We are “locating” stuff we already know about, a lot of the time.”

“We are merely locating things that we want to find following some offline trigger… Add to that the fact that people are now seeking answers to questions rather than searching for general information, it means that traditional search engines are going to have their work cut out in the months ahead.”

This sounds an awfully lot like the behaviour of people using Help files – typically they know WHAT they want to do, but they don’t know HOW to do it. They ask questions, in many cases. Navigating and locating become more important than searching.

Perhaps this means the strategies and technologies adopted by technical authors when creating Help files should be adopted by Web developers. Content may need to focused on answering questions, as people migrate towards “answer engines” rather than search engines, such as Google. For software companies, this may simply be a case of adding the content of their Help files to their Web site.