Young woman sitting on the floor of her new home next to a cardbox with new furniture as she reads the instruction manual in a DIY and renovation concept.

As technical writers, we usually think that we are creating content for post-sales applications. For example, installation guides or reference guides. These are things that people use after they’ve bought the product. Or are they?

For years, we have been watching the buyer’s journey. As time has progressed, we know that online research prior to purchase has been gaining more and more traction. At the end of 2014, RetailingToday found that 81% of shoppers conduct research online before buying a product. There is nothing to suggest that this trend is going to reverse any time soon.

If your company publishes technical content online (and don’t almost all companies do this nowadays?), there is a high likelihood that prospective customers are reading it, not just people who already have your product. In the 2016 TechComm Industry Benchmarking Survey, The Content Wrangler found that 51% of survey respondents acknowledged prospective customers as one of their audiences.

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What does all of this mean?

It means that your content needs to be more than “just” good instructions. Your content needs to be of high quality. It needs to be consistent. It needs to be easy to read. It needs to be pleasing to look at. It needs to be on-brand and on-voice.

Of course, it needs to be accurate. Technical content has always had a mandate to be accurate. As a sales tool, it needs to be technically accurate, grammatically accurate, semantically accurate, and visually accurate.

It needs to be easy to locate. Technical information on the whole needs to be easy to find. It also needs to be easily searchable within. Your reader (whether pre- or post-sales) needs to be able to use a search engine to locate your public content quickly. And that same reader needs to be able to search for specific topics of interest within the content just as quickly and easily.

Is this different than it’s always been?

Some would argue that all of these things have always been true. That technical content has always needed to be high quality, consistent, and so on. Yet, over time, as budgets have been slashed and technical writing has become offshored and commoditized, I have seen a degradation in the quality of what we produce.

Every day, I evaluate content from a linguistics perspective. Using the Acrolinx software, I measure and record how well content stands up to established rules for grammar and style. And I have to tell you, most content isn’t very good.

If your content is used to attract customers, the content needs to be well-organized, well-written, well-thought out and well-laid out. Otherwise, your customers can just as easily look at your competition’s content and buy their product instead.

Want to know how your content stacks up? We offer a free content health check that provides objective metrics about your content. Just click here for more information.

 

Val Swisher

Val Swisher is the CEO of Content Rules. She is a well-known expert in global content strategy, content development, and terminology management. Using her 20 years of experience, Val helps companies solve complex content problems by analyzing their content and how it is created.

When not blogging, Val can be found sitting behind her sewing machine working on her latest quilt. She also makes a mean hummus.

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