The Importance of SEO to Your External Help Center

June 23, 2017 by Alex Yamamoto

Step into your customer’s shoes for a moment and imagine them going to Google and searching for your return policy, or basic product functionality, or some other support question. But organic search results leading to your customer-facing help center are nowhere to be found. That’s a huge problem.

According to Forrester, Web self-service use increased from 67 percent in 2012 to 76 percent in 2014, and is only rising in 2017. Aircall adds that 91% of people said they would use a self-service knowledge base if one were available.

The trend is clear: consumers increasingly want to solve their problems by themselves first, and speaking with an agent is a last line of defense. One often overlooked implication of consumers’ preference for self-service is the crucial role search engine optimization (SEO) plays in ensuring content in your external help center occupies the top of organic search results.

How improved SEO makes your customer experience better

What are the benefits of improved SEO? It all comes down to reducing friction, making it easier for your customers to find the information they need to solve their problems. According to Forrester, 73% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing companies can do to provide them with good customer service and self-service plays a role in doing so.

When customers search Google to solve a problem with your product they will expect to find a result directing them to the correct article in your help center. Adhering to proper SEO standards can ensure your help center articles are rising to the top of organic search.

One interesting feature Google has added to search queries is called the featured snippet.

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The above image is a simple example of the power of featured snippets. After searching for “How do I create an ad campaign in Facebook?” this is the first organic search result that shows up. A user would potentially not even have to click-through to Facebook’s help center in order to have their question answered, which helps reduce friction and improve the customer experience. But more importantly this type of query can be directly correlated to increased revenue.

So what kinds of content should you include in your self-service help center? The best way is to take a look at the most popular question your support agents are fielding and turning them into help center articles. Adding these common (and usually simpler to solve) queries can free up time to allow your agents to troubleshoot the harder problems your customers may have. Your external help center is essentially a 24/7 support line without having to staff actual agents, so it’s important to ensure your customers can find the helpful content you create.

How SEO and self-service can improve your key support metrics

An effective self-service help center built to SEO standards can help improve your team’s key metrics like:

Reducing ticket volumes for agents and increasing productivity

Common support queries (ie- resetting a password) should be published to your external help center so your support agents can focus on troubleshooting the most complicated issues that your customers have. According to DestinationCRM, 45% of organizations with self-service report measurable reductions in phone inquiries and 39% report less email traffic.

One thing not to underestimate is how a world-class self-service help center boosts agent morale. Answering the same simple ticket requests over and over again can quickly make your agents apathetic to your customer’s issues. When they are not overloaded with multiple simple ticket requests but instead are tackling fresh, interesting challenges everyday you are ensuring your agents are maximizing their efficiency and productivity.

Increasing customer retention

Customer support is not a cost center, but a revenue generating function. According to Bain, just a 10% increase in customer retention can generate a 30% increase in company value. The risk of your customers churning goes up with every added step you make them take. When your customers are easily able to find your help center’s content, you are helping to solve their problems in a quick and convenient manner. The benefit of which is creating loyal customers that are easier to acquire and who spend more.

How to Check the State of Your Knowledge Base or Help Center’s SEO

There are a couple ways to conduct a health check on your knowledge base or help center.

The best high level grader is Hubspot’s Website Grader. This will give you a grade based on the most important elements of SEO and website performance. Hubspot also provides a few articles to help with any lacking areas, but as a technical SEO, you won’t find the best ways to fix the issues. By the way, Guru’s Site Publishing Feature gets our customers to 100%.

A more thorough battle test is GTMetrix. (We scored an A on our report card. Our parents are proud.) This scanner will put your website through the ringer and let you know exactly what is awesome, and what is terrible about it. Whoever is in charge of development for your site should know how to go from red to green in areas where help is needed.

Some SEO Rules to Optimize Your Knowledge Base

SEO is a very complicated and in-depth topic, but there are some basic rules that any site must adhere to if they would like to please the search engine gods. Here are a few that will set you on the right path:

  • Use a short and descriptive page title that explains the problem the article solves. Stay between 50-60 characters. (ex: How to Create a Guru Card)
  • Always use a meta description that gives the reader as much information and value about the page in no more than 160 characters. Somewhere after 155 the sentence(s) will become truncated in the search results.
  • The use of heading tags is still semantically important to search engines. One single H1 tag at the top (and always the first heading), followed by h2’s and h3’s is the most natural format. Don’t stuff headings. Use them naturally.
  • Use ordered and unordered lists in the article. Google’s Knowledge Graph may want to push these up to the featured snippet area if your click through rate metrics are good. And this is a HUGE win for any knowledge base or help center.
  • Link to other help articles on your site to show the search engines that your taking the reader down a path of problem solving.
  • Give your images some relevant alt tags. Images are searchable too!
  • Verify your site with Google Search Console. To them, this step is an important signal of legitimacy. If you are using a third party tool for your knowledge base or help center, the easiest way is to add the meta tag to the head of your site.
  • Every site needs a sitemap. If you verified your site with Google Search Console, make sure to submit the sitemap.
  • Your site needs to be responsive and mobile ready. (This should be a no brainer by now)
  • Google really does favor the speedy. Anything you can do to decrease the time it takes your page to load will have an effect on search results. This includes:
    • Browser caching
    • Minifying your CSS and JS
    • Page and asset compression
    • Optimize and serve scaled images
    • Removing render blocking assets like CSS and JS files from the head (hard to do but something we focused on from the beginning for our clients at Guru
  • Bonus: An SSL certificate. Google loves HTTPS.

There you have it! SEO will only continue to grow in importance for your external help center, so with these tips we hope you are armed with the tools you need to improve your SEO game.