Product documentation as a Marketing asset

You’ve got to love an article that starts:

It’s important to understand what clever technology developers and open source leaders have known for years: Great product documentation isn’t loathsome — it’s marketing, and darn good marketing at that.

Mike Puterbaugh, VP of marketing at MindTouch, has a great read at Mashable titled 5 Reasons Your Product Documentation Is a Marketing Asset. In it he lists five things about quality product documentation that can make it a strategic resource for finding and keeping customers.

Here’s a quick summary, but it’s worth reading the whole piece.

1. Credible Language vs. Marketing Lingo

Should your documentation look or read like marketing copy? Of course not. Documentation is decidedly not marketing copy. It should be credible, and absent the jargon and salesmanship that customers and prospects have come to expect from the marketing kind.

2. Search Engine Optimization

Documentation should be keyword-rich, densely linked and expertly structured. Importantly, it doesn’t raise the red flags that other types of content might.

[ I disagree somewhat with Mike’s approach that documentation should be seeded with SEO keywords. Good documentation will already have all the keywords necessary for it to score well in search results. ]

3. Cross-Functionality

First and foremost, documentation responsibilities should probably fall within the CMO’s duties because that’s where its effect starts and stops.

[ I have experienced this firsthand. The doc departments that I have run within Marketing groups have been the most effective in producing good documentation. ]

4. Community Building

Although documentation has a bad rap for being wonky, realize that it can actually present an opportunity for community and customer congregation.

5. Identifying Needs

Documentation is a very effective way of identifying unmet customer needs. It holds a wealth of information that your product team will drool over, and yet that feedback loop is seldom taken advantage of. What are the most commented-upon items, for example? The most viewed? The most cited?

[ Fortunately, modern tools and publishing make it much easier to track this sort of information. ]