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How to Create a WordPress User Guide for Sites

user-guide

In a previous article I discussed some strategies for preventing clients from causing damage to the sites you have built for them. WordPress is a great blogging system for allowing non-technical users to post and update their own content but when clients have too much power, it’s easy for them to break their own sites.

One of the easiest ways to prevent this from happening is to provide clear instructions on how to perform basic functions with the site. A basic user guide is essential for clients who aren’t familiar with WordPress and also necessary if you have built in advanced functionality or use plugins that require additional explanation before use.

In many cases, a basic user manual will provide clients with all they need to know and if you’re offering WordPress site packages to clients, you should factor in the time and cost of creating this into your quote.

It’s a good idea to create a basic template document that you can then edit for different clients and update when required, which will save you a lot of time in the future. You may also wish to provide coaching to your clients (either charged on an hourly rate or included in your total package price) to give a run through of the site and give the opportunity for your client to ask questions.

What to Include in a WordPress User Manual

In your user guide, you should ensure that you cover all basic functionality that clients will be using in the site. This may include:

  • Adding new pages and posts
  • Editing existing content
  • Adding and removing menu items
  • Adding and editing sidebar elements (widgets)
  • Updating the homepage

If you’re not offering a maintenance plan for updating and maintaining the site and handing over full control of the website when you complete the project, you should also include:

  • The basics of WordPress security
  • How to backup and restore the site
  • How to assign new users and permissions
  • How to update the WordPress core code and plugins/themes
  • Links to WordPress tools and resources for further information
  • Documentation for themes and plugins used within the site

How to Write a User Manual for WordPress

A simple user manual can be created in Word, Google Docs or any other basic word processing package. There’s no need for it to be a fancy document but if you want it to look more professional, you can always outsource book layout and graphic production to a freelancer.

You don’t need amazing writing skills to create an effective user manual but if English is your second language or you just don’t want to spend your time writing, you may consider outsourcing the whole task to a freelance writer, preferably one who specializes in technical writing.

Whether you choose to write the user guide yourself or outsource it to a writer, make sure you compile a list of all actions to cover before you start and include lots of screenshots of the WordPress dashboard to illustrate your instructions.

For corporate clients and sites that will have a lot of backend users, it can be helpful to create a version of the manual as slides using a program like Powerpoint or SlideShare. This type of demonstration can work very well if you’re asked to provide training to a large group of people and the company may wish to use the slides in further staff training.

Video WordPress User Guides

video-user-manual

Another option is to create a video user manual. This can be great as a “getting started” guide as it allows users to follow along with the video and can be a lot clearer than trying to follow written instructions.

If you choose to provide videos, make sure they’re broken into short sections of no more than a few minutes long – this makes it easier for users to review, rather than trying to find the appropriate point in a long video when they need to know how to perform a specific task.

For anything more than the basics, it’s always best to provide a written manual in addition to video training for reference. Videos are not always accessible as quickly as looking up something in a printed document.

Creating a screencast is an easy way to produce a video manual – simply record your screen so that your clients can watch you navigating around the site and WordPress dashboard and record a voiceover explanation.

There are many screencast software programs available, many of them free. You probably don’t need premium screencast software for preparing basic video tutorials so check out Screencast-o-matic, Camstudio, or Open Broadcaster Software and try them out before you invest hundreds of dollars into professional software that you may not need.

Pre-written WordPress Manuals

If the site you’ve built doesn’t include a lot of custom functionality, you can save yourself a job by using one of the pre-written WordPress manuals available. There’s an official WordPress user manual in the works, but until it’s available you also want to consider the easy WP manual or WordPress made simple

There are also pre-created WordPress video user guides available such as this premium WordPress video training plugin, or these video WordPress manuals.

Updating and Editing a Draft to Create WordPress User Guide

Once you’ve written or recorded your user manual, it’s a good idea to ask your client to go through it and get back to you with any questions or clarifications needed. Often clients will think in a different way to you, or may try to perform tasks in a different way, and may have questions about things you haven’t covered because you thought they were obvious or they simply didn’t occur to you.

You can update your template user manual based on the feedback from your client and use it as the basis for the manual for your next client site.

Remember to review your template user guide when new versions of WordPress and any plugins you use are released. It’s likely you’ll need to update screenshots and instructions so that they match the new version.

Conclusion

Creating a user manual either in text or video form will not only be helpful to your client and help you to provide a premium service that goes above and beyond expectations, but will also cut down on your support time allowing you to take on more projects and get more real work done.

As this is a task that’s easily outsourced and there are lots of free resources to get you started, there’s no reason why any WordPress developer shouldn’t be providing a user guide to every client they work for.

 Photo credits: antgirl / blhphotography

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