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  1. #1
    SitePoint Wizard DoubleDee's Avatar
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    What makes a *great* Help section?

    So, I am wrapping up v2.0 of my website - and being the masochist that I am - I have decided to try and create a well-thought-out Help section?!

    But I have no idea of where to begin?! (And considering that I am tired, burnt out, and cranky when it comes to my website, I want to do a good job, but not linger too long on this!!)

    So, can you guys help me figure out what would be the most effective...

    1.) Content Structure

    2.) Content

    ...to make a "Help" section for my website?


    For example, I don't know if creating FAQ's is enough?

    Or should I be pro-active, and address issues before they happen (i.e. educate people so I don't need FAQ's)?

    Or should I write Moby Dick?

    Something else?

    Finally, I am *hoping* I can do this all on one static HTML page, so I don't end up spending another month or two building so elaborate Help section...

    Sincerely,


    Debbie

  2. #2
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    If you want to do it on one page, I suggest you go with a FAQs section. Actually, most FAQs sections are pro-active and try to answer questions before they are asked. I think the best FAQs are structured in one of two ways. The 'old school' way is to write all the questions and bookmark the answers. However, this method makes for either a lot of scrolling for the visitor or a "back to top" book mark after every answer. I tend to favor the javascript drop down method where the visitor clicks on the question and the answer drops down under the question. Of course as with all javascript, the negative side is those who don't allow javascript in their browser.
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

  3. #3
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    If you do decide to go for an FAQ-style page, I would agree with Shyflower that a Javascript "drop-down" method is the most convenient. In other words, the visitors sees all the questions in a single list, then clicks on the one they're interested in, at which point the answer drops down below the question.

    It's true that this will require the visitor to have JavaScript enabled (you might be surprised at how many don't). My general solution to that is to put a friendly message at the top of the page, to the effect: "To get the full benefit of this page, please enable JavaScript in your browser." By wrapping that in <noscript> tags, you can ensure it will only appear if JavaScript is not enabled.

    Regarding your point about whether you can get away with a single page of Help, that will surely depend on how large and compex the site is, and how much functionality it has that's not obvious to the visitor. In general, I would favour keeping the Help as short as possible, but that must be consistent with properly covering all the points.

    Mike

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    A FAQ page is just that: a list of questions you think people are going to ask over and over, and you would use this page to direct them to an answer. "Just see the FAQ page at ...." will be your answer in email and forum responses.

    If you think some areas of the site may be hard to find, you can put answers about those there too. "Where are the shipping rates?"

    You can order FAQs according to the content, like a series of questions about your shipping policies.
    Steve Husting

  5. #5
    SitePoint Wizard DoubleDee's Avatar
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    Follow up questions...

    1.) Is a Help section or a FAQ section even necessary?! (One article I read basically said "No" because the author felt that if you had a clear design for your website, that you shouldn't need to invest time telling people how to use your site?!


    2.) Any good Tutorials/How-To-Guides on building a FAQ or Help section that you would recommend? (Could be from SitePoint or some other source.)


    3.) How necessary is it to have "Searchable Help"? I'm sure that is nice, BUT it is also an enormous amount of work...

    Sincerely,


    Debbie

  6. #6
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    1.) Is a Help section or a FAQ section even necessary?! (One article I read basically said "No" because the author felt that if you had a clear design for your website, that you shouldn't need to invest time telling people how to use your site?!
    Good point. You could argue that if you need Help, then the site isn't as intuitive as it should be.

    But wait a moment. Are we talking about helping the user navigate the site and use its features? Or is it more a question of helping them as customers of your business - what are the methods of payment, how long will they have to wait for delivery, why do they need a password - all that sort of thing? If so, then that information is definitely needed, and it should be fairly prominent.

    2.) Any good Tutorials/How-To-Guides on building a FAQ or Help section that you would recommend? (Could be from SitePoint or some other source.)
    Don't know. Sorry.

    3.) How necessary is it to have "Searchable Help"? I'm sure that is nice, BUT it is also an enormous amount of work...
    Sounds like over-kill - unless you have a huge amount of Help text. Better to aim for just one or a few pages, clearly laid out in a logical way. That's easier for the developer, and easier for the visitor.

    Mike

  7. #7
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    I agree with Miki. I think searchable helps are more appropriate for applications, such as office or photo editing, than for websites. So, I would stick to a FAQs.

    FAQs are best used to reach a goal for your website. For instance, SitePoint's FAQs set out the dos and don'ts to serve as a reference for our members. We also have a How to that answers some extra questions which was written to save staff time in answering repetitive questions.

    As far as tutorials, I Googled "writing FAQs" and if I were going to write a FAQ list, I would first read the top four to get ideas and tips.
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

  8. #8
    SitePoint Wizard DoubleDee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikl View Post
    [FONT=verdana]
    But wait a moment. Are we talking about helping the user navigate the site and use its features? Or is it more a question of helping them as customers of your business - what are the methods of payment, how long will they have to wait for delivery, why do they need a password - all that sort of thing? If so, then that information is definitely needed, and it should be fairly prominent.
    That was the main thrust of my OP.

    The "Help" hyperlink I have displayed in the Page Header could really be a plethora of things...

    Restated:
    I have decided to try and create a well-thought-out Help section?!

    But I have no idea of where to begin?!

    So, can you guys help me figure out what would be the most effective...
    1.) Content Structure

    2.) Content

    ...to make a "Help" section for my website?

    A "Help" section could entail...

    - Simple Q&A via a FAQ section

    - More like a "User Training Manual" with detailed screen-shots and detailed descriptions of how to do things

    - It could truly address FAQ, i.e. helping people figure out common stumbling blocks (But doesn't that mean the site should be improved in those areas?!)

    - It could give user a high-level overview of how to use Features of the website

    - It could walk people through different Process Flows (e.g. How do I create an Account? How do I reset my Password? etc.) (I suppose that is FAQ?!)

    - It could get more philosophic and talk about... "Why do we require strong passwords?" "Why must my avatar be unique?" "Why can't I post comments using HTML?"

    - It could be simple Text and Hyperlinks

    - It could be more elaborate Screenshots

    - It could even be interactive and use Flash and Video

    - It's goal could be to Teach and Train Users on the System

    - It's goal could be to Help Users who can't figure things out on the website

    - It's goal could be to help people understand why the website is designed the way that it is.

    - It's goal could be to educate people on all of the neat Features and Functions of the website

    - It's goal could be to educate people on the *Business* and what the company is trying to achieve

    - It could do lots of other things too...

    So when you click in the Help link in the page header, what would YOU expect to see next??

    Hope that makes sense!


    Debbie

  9. #9
    SitePoint Wizard DoubleDee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shyflower View Post
    I agree with Miki. I think searchable helps are more appropriate for applications, such as office or photo editing, than for websites. So, I would stick to a FAQs.

    FAQs are best used to reach a goal for your website. For instance, SitePoint's FAQs set out the dos and don'ts to serve as a reference for our members. We also have a How to that answers some extra questions which was written to save staff time in answering repetitive questions.

    As far as tutorials, I Googled "writing FAQs" and if I were going to write a FAQ list, I would first read the top four to get ideas and tips.
    All good points, except my OP asked about "What makes a great HELP section?"

    I suppose you could make your entire "Help" section consist of FAQs, but that seems one dimensional to me.

    FAQs most likely are a sub-set of a "Help" section, but a "Help" section most certainly is not a sub-set of FAQs.

    I think I'm starting to get some ideas, but I'll share later after you guys respond to my latest posts.

    Thanks,


    Debbie

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoubleDee View Post

    So when you click in the Help link in the page header, what would YOU expect to see next??
    Debbie
    As has been stated, if I feel the need for help that means something has confounded me. My expectation would be the ability to enter a 'search string' and get a list of related results.

    On that same page you could include a "top ten" list of the more common questions. They can be either things people have actually asked (searched for) or your best guess on what will be the most common misunderstandings.

    You could crawl-before-you-walk with something like Google Site Search on your site.

    :2cents:
    Don't be yourself. Be someone a little nicer. -Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)


    Git is for EVERYONE
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  11. #11
    SitePoint Mentor silver trophybronze trophy
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    Good points from Linda and ParkinT. I would only add that I would advise against making it searchable. Or, rather, I would not make it only searchable. It should also be possible to browse in an unstructured way.

    The reason I say that is that visitors often don't know exactly what they want to ask, or they are unable to formulate an effective search string. Some users prefer just perusing the available topics in the expectation of coming across something useful. If the Help content is particularly large, it might be worth adding an optional search feature, but I wouldn't make it a priority.

    What's more important is to include plenty of hyperlinks to related topics, perhaps listed under a "See also" heading at the foot of each page.

    Mike

  12. #12
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    Put yourself in your visitors shoes, and try to think "what kind of help would I need if I were them" and then you will come up with this question on your own. Maybe a FAQ section, be very detailed, and if all else fails have a contact link

  13. #13
    SitePoint Mentor silver trophybronze trophy
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    Quote Originally Posted by styleskvx View Post
    ... if all else fails have a contact link
    You should always have contact details. It's not an "if all else fails" thing. Especially if it's a business site, the customer must have an easy way to contact you. In some countries, that's even a legal requirement.

    As far as the Help is concerned, the contact details really is a last resort, becaue if the customer needs to ask you a question, then the Help has failed. That said, there are always people who will rather fire off an email or make a phone call rather than take the trouble to find the answer for themselves.

    Mike

  14. #14
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    If you are using a CMS it would be a breeze to create/update/add FAQ section. But if you are using a static HTML site then you need something backend to process these FAQ. Because as time goes your site grows and sameway FAQ/Tutorial grows. You need to prepare for it.

    Do a search on Google for 'faq script php'. Install one and create FAQ section.

    .

  15. #15
    SitePoint Mentor silver trophybronze trophy
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    Quote Originally Posted by radhika_m View Post
    If you are using a CMS it would be a breeze to create/update/add FAQ section. ... Do a search on Google for 'faq script php'. Install one and create FAQ section.
    How could that work? How can a script actually write the FAQ for you? The script can't know what questions a visitor is likely to ask, or what the best way of answering them is. I guess the best it would do is to organise a sort of FAQ template for you, and leave it to you to fill in the blanks. Or am I missing something?

    Mike

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikl View Post


    How could that work? How can a script actually write the FAQ for you? The script can't know what questions a visitor is likely to ask, or what the best way of answering them is. I guess the best it would do is to organise a sort of FAQ template for you, and leave it to you to fill in the blanks. Or am I missing something?

    Mike
    Mike, I am not talking about 'Content'. OP has also asked 'Content structure'. For that I mentioned an easy way to maintain the structure of FAQ section.

    .

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by radhika_m View Post
    Mike, I am not talking about 'Content'. OP has also asked 'Content structure'. For that I mentioned an easy way to maintain the structure of FAQ section..
    That's what I thought. Thanks.

    Mike

  18. #18
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    I agree with Miki. I think searchable helps are more appropriate for the applications.


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