Knowledge bases are well-known for their potential to help businesses realize savings. Your knowledge base is a fantastic source of free traffic and also leads to happier customers, as 73% of customers would rather search online for answers versus phone calls or text.
On the contrary, setting up a knowledge base can be time consuming and resource intensive. In this article, we’ll explore the good, bad and ugly aspects of using WordPress Content Management System as a knowledge base portal.
Why you might consider using WordPress for knowledge base
It’s appealing to be able to keep your knowledge base in the same CMS if you’re using WordPress already. You don’t have to train staff in multiple systems or worry about integrations. It’s all done for you through plugins or themes.
Or, you might want to migrate over to WordPress for the first time for your knowledge base. And why not? It’s popular, it’s free and open-source, it works pretty well, and there are a seemingly infinite number of plugins or themes for your site. Being on open-source software, it’s easy to learn and get your questions answered from the community.
WordPress has a rich developer ecosystem, allowing you to customize almost anything about your site or your CMS by using a mixture of free and paid options. You can scale up and expand your website with themes and plugins, or change the theme to transform your whole site into a knowledge base.
The reason that people use plugins or custom themes for their WordPress knowledge bases is because knowledge bases have special functionality. The standard posts and pages structure of the WordPress site may not be directly suitable for a knowledge base portal.
A good knowledge base system should have these 7 essential characteristics:
- Search Engine Optimization (so you rank in Google)
- Image handling
- Search engine (ideally with predictive search)
- Good Analytics
- User feedback forms or ratings system
- Good Authoring experience
- Version control
- Back up for data (to address system as well as user errors)
Now, can you achieve all this functionality in WordPress?
The answer is yes and no. Why?
WordPress is very flexible, but restricted by the various plugins and themes available. You can only take advantage of what someone else has created within the WordPress ecosystem. There are some plugins and themes designed to convert your WordPress site into a knowledge base, and they all comes with their own pros and cons.
Let’s take a look at the available plugins and themes for knowledge bases.
Plugins are good if you’re already happy with your WordPress site and theme, and you just want to add a knowledge base without too much hassle. WordPress Plugins have the advantage of being completely integrated with your current WordPress CMS.
You’re probably familiar with the plugin repository on WordPress. If you are new, click “Plugins” from the left navigation menu. Then, click “Add New” and search for a plugin by entering a search keyword. For example, type in “knowledge base”.
There are literally hundreds of results to choose from (though not all are actually knowledge base plugins). You probably want to pick a plugin that is well-supported, which we’ll discuss later.
Let’s take a quick look at these top three plugins:
- Knowledge Base CPT
- Knowledge Base for Documents and FAQs
- WP Knowledgebase
Knowledge Base CPT
This one is free and optimized for SEO. It adds a convenient menu item to the sidebar so the knowledge base simply becomes part of your CMS.
Everything is in one place and you can easily add new articles and organise categories. You can create new categories that apply only to your help articles (keeping your blog posts and pages separate).
This is a basic plugin and we score it a 3/10 rating, low when compared with other knowledge base plugins.
Knowledge Base for Documents and FAQs
This plugin has average reviews of five stars and more than 4,000 active installs. It’s more sophisticated than Knowledge Base CPT, with options for managing tags, add-ons and configuring the setup.
There are even some limited options to change the layout and style to customize your knowledge base.
This is what your knowledge base will look like (depending on what theme you have installed):
Notice the handy search bar, with relatively basic search functionality. This plugin integrates perfectly with SEO plugins such as Yoast SEO, allowing you to easily optimize your knowledge base for search.
Knowledge Base for Documents and FAQs is a good free knowledge base plugin. They also have a support team and a thorough knowledge base of their own in case you run into any trouble.
This plugin has average reviews of four stars and more than 4,000 active installs.
Like the others, it adds a menu item to the sidebar in your dashboard for easy access.
It has a relatively large number of settings you can change to suit your needs such as search, sidebars, breadcrumbs and color.
Unlike the others, it has comment capability bundled in. It also has good support.
In contrast to a plugin, a WordPress theme will style your entire site like a knowledge base. You might consider taking this route if that’s the only purpose of your website, and you want more functionality than a plugin will provide.
In some cases you might want to create two separate WordPress installs – one for your main site and one for your knowledge base. This is possible, but you have to create all new users as the accounts can’t be shared without implementing some code behind the scenes.
The advantage of this method is easily changing how your content is displayed with different themes, without having to migrate your pages over to a brand new knowledge base solution.
Let’s take a quick look at these top knowledge base themes:
Flatbase is a knowledge base theme that costs $49 in a one-off payment, and comes with six months of support thrown in. The design is a scrolling homepage which looks sleek and upmarket. It’s easy to set up and the team behind it are very friendly.
It comes with lots of different style options while also being fully customizable. It features Ajax search which auto-suggests text for users typing in the search bar. This anticipates the content they might be searching for and speeds up the support experience. It also integrates with bbPress which means you have support for your customer Q&A forums in WordPress if you use it.
Go for this one if you don’t want to shell out lots of cash but want a sophisticated knowledge base theme.
HeroThemes has released a very new a knowledge base theme called KnowAll. It’s priced at $149 for a one-off sale bundled in with a year of support. For the price, you get a sleeker front-end UX and a more modern-looking knowledge base than their other themes.
It can be fully customized without knowing a line of code using the editor to alter layout and other characteristics. The design on the search bar gives a modern look to your knowledge base.
To deliver faster and more efficient service, the search feature has the capability to predict what users will type in the space provided. A widget allows you to add search bars to every page for a better support experience.
You get analytics, user feedback forms, and integration with your other help tools for a seamless support experience. You can restrict access only to users who are logged into your knowledge base in case you want to keep it private.
Here is an example of a company using KnowAll:
The knowledge base looks stylish and professional out in the wild.
If you’re not convinced by the theme, they also sell a plugin called Heroic Knowledge Base in case you just want to tag it onto your existing site. It’s priced at $129 for their basic plan for one site.
Choose this theme if you’ve got a bigger budget and you want a professional, modern-looking knowledge base.
KnowHow is another slightly older theme sold by HeroThemes that costs $59, with the option to pay for support and hosting for $19 a month.
WordPress theme KnowHow is a good design if you want to display your site’s Information Architecture on the homepage.
Here’s an example of a site using KnowHow:
It’s possible to rate the helpfulness of each article so you can see which of your content is performing well and predictive search is included. It’s not very helpful if you type in a keyword that is not found or misspell a word, because you get no results.
The platform design is a little dated and sometimes the items are a little clustered together. Nevertheless, it’s a simple solution that works as a basic knowledge base.
Choose this theme if you want a basic knowledge base that shows all the articles on the homepage.
HelpGuru looks clean and professional, with the ability to drag and drop your articles and categories to help organise them. It has handy predictive search and related articles to improve UX. It probably looks a little basic and the long lists of articles you end up with are unwieldy.
If you’re looking for flexibility in your knowledge base, HelpGuru is not the one for you but it does make it very easy to set up and get going.
Choose this knowledge base if you want an easy set-up and if you don’t worry about the design.
SupportDesk is geared towards WordPress customer forums run on bbPress. This means you can search the forums as well as the help content in your knowledge base. If you enable customer Q&A, this has the advantage of the discussions then being available for future customers as an archive.
Support is very extensive if you have customisation queries and you don’t have to include the forum functionality.
This theme has been around for five years and you will be able to use predictive search and display how many articles are in each category.
Choose this option if you want to base your knowledge base around a user forum.
Live Support costs $49. It’s a bit lacking in good User Experience and looks amateur, but it is also meant to double up as a regular website theme.
It also integrates with bbPress forum plugin and BuddyPress, social network plugin. If your site is based around any of these plugins then Live Support could be a good choice.
It also includes a ticketing system based on a third party plugin which is great if you want to facilitate user enquiries. This makes it stand out from the other themes which do not enable ticketing.
Live Support is strong on functionality but a little lacking in the design department.
Choose this theme if you want to save money and have your knowledge base double up as your website.
Helper costs $32 which is on the cheaper side for a knowledge base theme. It supports bbPress and there’s an option to embed Live Chat. Helper also integrates with Google Analytics so you can track the performance of your knowledge base.
It’s not possible to make your knowledge base private and a lot of the customisation depends on your ability to code in PHP.
Here’s an example of a site using Helper:
All in all, this theme looks basic and is not suitable for a professional brand.
Choose this theme if you only have a small budget and you want a simple knowledge base for a personal website.
Techdesk is a WordPress theme costing $44 with extended support (of good quality) for $12 that lasts for twelve months.
WordPress theme Techdesk optimized for SEO and has numerous customisation options. These include pre-programmed widgets for common features like categories, recent posts, and popular posts.
It allows user login and comments, but has no support ticketing system (like most other knowledge base themes).
Here is a site using the Techdesk theme:
It has a corporate look and feel with thoughtful use of colour to distinguish separate sections.
Choose this theme if you if you want a very professional looking knowledge base that is very easy to manipulate in the back end.
Analysis of using WordPress for your knowledge base
Here are the main drawbacks of using WordPress for your knowledge base:
- It may not be suitable if you have a lot of help content (hard to manage and organise) so categorising and scaling your knowledge base is difficult
- There is a lack of commenting features which are available only in premium themes
- These plugins limited by the search functionality included in the theme
- There is no approval process in case you need to manage a team so this limits the workflow in editing and reviewing before you publish
- You’re responsible for hosting and maintenance of WordPress and if you have a lot of content then your hosting costs will start to increase
- You can’t set up different access rights for your pages (you won’t be able to keep some of your content private, for example)
- Limited by the URL taxonomy of your theme and this may not match the URLs you want to use for SEO or branding purposes
- With plugins, you can literally have a knowledge base up and running in seconds, but there’s not a hugely discernable difference between a knowledge base page and a regular page.
- A plugin may not work overly well with your site’s existing theme. Achieving a consistent style and look across your main site and your knowledge base may require some custom styling. This negates the point of a free plugin if you then go down the customization route (unless you are a whizz with CSS yourself).
With WordPress themes, you must be prepared to make your whole site a knowledge base and this may not fit with your business. Of course, you can only use a WordPress theme or plugin if you are willing to work entirely in the WordPress platform.
The advantages of a SaaS knowledge base
On the other hand, if you’re going to set up a whole new site just for your knowledge base, you might want to think about taking an easier route – a SaaS knowledge base.
The advantage of a Saas solution versus WordPress is long-term product support, which you don’t usually get with a one-off purchase or a free plugin. Your knowledge base software actively developed over time with feature requests and to stay up-to-date with current trends.
Your knowledge base will have an option to host alongside your main website and can be fully customized to match your company branding. They are also built to integrate with other popular customer support software like LiveAgent or Zendesk, which is a must for a busy support team.
SaaS solutions in most cases custom-designed to help you organize large quantities of content in a way that scales effortlessly. Workflow systems are more sophisticated so you can control how you publish your content. The SaaS company behind the solution will manage everything in the back end so you never have to worry about maintenance or hosting.
Your documentation needs a tailor-made house to live in. Think about investing in kick-ass standalone knowledge base software like Document360.