Choose the optimum keywords to tag your knowledge base articles for search

Catherine Heath | May 11, 2021

We talked in a previous post about how important it is to categorize your knowledge base effectively, since this is one way that your users will look for content. The whole point of a knowledge base is to enable users to find the content they need in order to self-serve their own problems. 

Even more important, however, is optimizing your knowledge base content for search. When your users type a query into the search bar, relevant and useful content must come up. If you don’t have a good search functionality on your knowledge base then eventually you will have too much content for users to navigate effectively.

The end result of poor or absent search is that customers will spend hours looking for the right content, give up and contact support, or churn completely. All of these outcomes defeat the purpose of your self-service knowledge base.  

How search works

Without going into the details of search algorithms, search works by matching the input of the user - in this case, a search word or phrase - with the content of your knowledge base articles. Your knowledge base then displays relevant content in the search results. 

Here’s an example from the KnowledgeOwl support knowledge base: 

Your software is hopefully sophisticated enough to match your user’s search terms with the words in the body or title copy of your content without having to do much manual setup. However, you should also be able to tag your content with keywords or phrases.

It's often helpful to add variants of the words or phrases used in your copy which users might also search for. You could do this using a feature like KnowledgeOwl's search phrases, synonym library, or keyword/tagging functionality.

Understand the psychology of search

Similarly to Search Engine Optimization in marketing, knowledge base search is an art, not a science. There are no hard and fast rules for search that you can apply every time, but a thorough understanding of human nature can help you optimize your content for search. 

Moz explains how people actually behave when searching for information online. This behaviour can be grouped into three action categories:

  1. Do
  2. Know
  3. Go

In the case of using a knowledge base, users engage mostly in the first behaviour. They want to do something, such as choose which groups should be able to view an article, or disable comments on their articles. For this reason, it is helpful to name articles with action the user wants to take, like "Disable comments on articles". 

Make your search bar prominent

No matter how well-optimized your content is, sometimes your search bar itself is the barrier to customers finding the answers they seek. If your search bar isn’t big enough or hidden away somewhere, users might assume that you don’t have the ability to search your knowledge base. 

If customers mistakenly think your search bar doesn’t exist, they’ll revert back to manually searching the content or may even have to reach out to your support team. This means your knowledge base is not fulfilling its purpose in helping customers to help themselves. 

Make sure you proudly display your search bar at the top of the homepage. This allows users to immediately search for content when they land on your site. If you can, anchor the search bar on every page so customers have the option to execute a new search if that content wasn’t helpful to them. Prominently showing your search bar makes for a better user experience for your customers and leads to a higher likelihood of successful self-service. 

Use keywords in article titles and page content

When a user searches for a query in your search bar, they type in the key terms and press enter. These search terms are sent to a server which searches the website for matching content, and returns a list of links for the user to choose from. 

To improve this process you should make sure you include keywords in article titles and the article body. Keywords are words or phrases that define a particular topic in your knowledge base, such as “create new user”. The keyword in this phrase is “new user”. 

Your knowledge base will be far more searchable if you can make use of keywords. When you use words and phrases that are known to your customers, you have a better likelihood of matching the queries searched in your knowledge base.

Account for variations in search terms

You’ll probably have a particular term or phrase that you use internally for performing actions in your software, such as ‘password reset’. 

However, you need to account for the fact that your users will use other variations in their search for the same action, like ‘lost login’ or ‘pw change’, which you might not have expected. These might not be picked up by your search engine since it doesn't use the term 'password', so here is where a tagging or keyword feature (like KnowledgeOwl’s search phrases or synonyms) might come in handy.

By tagging your articles with keyword variations, you can dramatically increase the likelihood of your users’ searches generating relevant results. 

Focus on long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are more targeted than general keywords. They contain more words and relate to a very specific subject. Fewer users will be searching for long-tail keywords but these are searches with high intent.

Let’s take a look at an example. “SEO” is an example of a general keyword. A long-tail keyword would be “Getting started with SEO for my knowledge base” which is a far more specific topic and we know exactly what the user is looking for. The site may contain dozens of articles relating to SEO, but there is only one getting started guide. 

Apply this principle to your knowledge base. If you include long-tail keywords in your content, you make your content more findable by anticipating these detailed search terms. 

Using hard data to improve search

To get an idea of how your users think, it's helpful to look at what they are typing into the search box so you can account for how they actually behave rather than how you think they will behave.

Analytics can come in very handy here because you’ll be able to see in the results what keyword phrases your users are searching for. Use this valuable data when updating your content by adding often-used keywords. 

SurveyGizmo Documentation Coordinator Bri Hillmer explains in another post how to use Google Analytics to refine your search strategy. She combs through the metrics that you’ll find useful when deciding which keywords to add to your content and what changes you want to make.

Setting up Google Analytics in your knowledge base is easy, and you can enable site search metrics with a few clicks.

KnowledgeOwl also comes with a  “Searched with no results” report. Our customers use this to figure out what keywords don’t have results and where they might want to add content, tags, search phrases, or other terminology in their articles.

Your turn!

Take a step back from being a documentation writer and take the time to get to know your users, again and again. 

Keep in mind what your customers are trying to accomplish when using your knowledge base. Better yet, ask them what they would like to see from your content on a regular basis. 


KnowledgeOwl provides the capabilities for all this. Learn about about our knowledge base software today!

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