BetterDocs is a new knowledge base (KB) plugin for WordPress. It gives you the ability to add a knowledge base or FAQ area to your website. BetterDocs comes with a large number of features and allows you to create a help section similar to what you have seen on vendor sites using help desk software. There are services for hosting a knowledge base, but you can avoid the monthly subscriptions by hosting it yourself. There is a free version in the WordPress plugin directory and a premium version that adds more features.
Who Is It For
We see this type of documentation library typically on site of software and software service vendors. BetterDocs obviously makes sense for such use cases. However, it is so flexible and has so many customization options, that it can also serve for creating other types of knowledge bases. For example, when I was managing an IT team, we were challenged to keep track of important server configuration information, code snippets, network diagrams, and so on. One staff member kept an 80+ page Word document and others saved information in spreadsheets. BetterDocs would have been a huge boon for our IT department and would have allowed us to save, organize and search for important information.
You can download the free version from the WordPress plugin directory.
You will definitely want to go to the product website because it has an extensive … knowledge base. Appropriately, this is a very well documented plugin. In fact, when you click the “Demo” call to action button, you are taken into the KB for one of the company’s other products. The company behind the product, WPDeveloper, is using the plugin for its own products.
The premium version is an addon to the free version, so if you go pro then you will have both installed.
There are several features that the premium version adds:
- Drag and drop Articles and Category Organizer
- Instant Answer bot
When you install the free version and active it, you are greeted by a wizard that walks you through the process of setting up your KB.
The first page of the wizard asks to allow usage tracking.
The second page of the wizard lets you select the slug for the documents Custom Post Type, enable Instant Answer (if you have the pro version), and use the auto generated landing page for docs.
If you don’t use the built-in docs page then you will need to use a shortcode for the starting page.
“Instant Answer” is a chat type of bubble where visitors can search for help docs on any page.
The third page of the wizard gives you links to create categories and articles.
The fourth page gives you a link to the Customizer for styling or the settings page.
The last page gives you a finish button and an option to go to your docs starting page. Note, if you haven’t created any pages yet they nothing will show on the docs starting page.
However, if you install the premium version first then you don’t get the wizard. That’s not a problem because the wizard basically walks you through the setting tabs. You are going to want to visit the settings even if you did the wizard.
Whey you activate the plugins you get a BetterDocs menu section in the WordPress admin. This is where you create articles, manage categories and tags, change the settings, and check analytics.
Going to the Settings menu, the General tab gives you the option to disable the default built-in documentation page. I left this enabled. You can also change the slugs. The “Analytics From” gives you the option to limit analytics to Everyone, Guests only or Logged In users only.
There are a lot of options on the Layout settings tab. Most of these relate to how the help articles and categories will show. You can let people send an email from the KB if they cannot find the information they need. I disabled the option for comments on the KB articles and the option to show BetterDocs branding.
The Design tab just has a button to take you into the Customizer. There is no reason to go there until you have created content, so save that for last.
The Shortcode tab is where you would grab the shortcodes if you wanted to manually do the layouts or use the shortcodes to integrate parts of the KB in other areas of the site.
The Instant Answer tab is where you configure the answer bot. There are a number of options to customize the wording and icons. You can use magic tags to seed the subjects that show in the bot by default. There is also a code snippet that you can use should you want to enable the answer bot on another website or sub-domain and link into your KB.
Demo Site Overview
I created a demo site using the Astra Pro theme. The site is for a bird watching organization that gives tours for its members. Note the menu item for the “Member Information.” That is the area we want to populate with our KB.
Creating KB Articles
When you go in to create a new article you are just taken into the WordPress page editor. So, you can use Gutenberg, the Classic Editor, or Elementor (or other page builder). This means that you can include videos, images, and any blocks or widgets that you want. The secret to having a good KB is to organize your articles by category. Note the categories for my test site in the screenshot.
BetterDocs has its own categories and tags for the KB separate from those used for Posts. The categories area is enhance with the addition of an “Order” box, where you can put in a number to order the category display, and the option to upload an image for each category.
Drag and Drop Ordering
When you click the All Articles menu item you get a cool interface where you can reorder the articles. When you move them between categories the category assignment automatically changes. You can also move them up and down in the list under each category. There is an option there to return to the old default All Article list if you need to.
Now that we have content, we can go into the Customizer to style the KB. On the top level of the Customizer we get a new item for BetterDocs. When you click on that the submenu has 5 items.
At the top of the Docs Page Customizer options area you can choose the default layout. I’ve chosen the more detailed one, but there is also a simple one that doesn’t show the articles until you drill down.
You can customize just about everything on this page, including the background (color or image), all of the content widths, padding, fonts, colors, the icon colors, the count circle, the article list, and the category buttons.
Single Docs Page
When you are customizing the various pages, you need to click through to the one you are changing in order to see the changes in real time.
The Single Docs area of the Customizer gives you the option of three different default layouts. It is basically different ways of styling the Table of Contents.
In addition to picking a default layout, you can also fully style the breadcrumbs, the table of contents margins, the title, fonts and spacing. There is also an option to show social share buttons. Of course you can style the share buttons also. Note the share buttons in the lower right corner.
The third submenu is for customizing the sidebar. This is the navigation bar on the left side of the single doc. In this area you can customize all of the colors, padding, font sizes, and counter heights and widths.
The archive page is the page you see when you are looking at a single category. You can change the background, background image, set the colors, margins, and padding for the icons, items, and titles.
The last submenu is for Customizing the live search bar and results view. You can change the search bar background, icon size, padding, and colors as well as the size and colors of the results box.
Here is a view of the Docs Page:
Here is the final archive page:
And the final single article page:
Here is the Instant Answer bot.
In addition to searching, you can also fill out a form on the Instant Answer bot to send an email:
There is a simple analytics page which shows the number of overall views. It would be nice to be able to see a list of pages ordered by number of views. There is the option on the answer bot for people to click a mood emote. I didn’t see how to enable that in other places, but it is a metric on the chart. It would be nice for the option to enable mood emotes on single doc pages just as we currently have the option to enable or disable comments.
Another report that would be helpful would be to have a list of searches that returned no articles. This way we could see where users still have questions that are not currently addressed in the knowledge base.
Summary and Conclusions
Overall, I am very happy with BestDocs. However, unlike the actual KB features, the analytics seem very minimal and need to be made more robust in order to be useful. The analytics seemed to be the most under-developed aspect of the plugin.
I was pleasantly surprised at the number of features and options that the plugin offers. The Instant Answer bot is a very nice option for sites that don’t already have a chat bot. It provides a help interface but without the need for constant monitoring. For sites that do have a chat bot already enabled, it seems like having two similar widgets would be problematic and confusing. There also isn’t a way to specify where it should show … it is all pages or none. However, you can enable it on another site or on a sub-domain, which is nice if you have some related sites.
The BetterDocs templates and extensive styling options in the Customizer provides options and control for the design of your knowledge base. The drag and drop Articles and Category Organizer is very cool. It makes managing and ordering the KB articles much easier.
If you want to add a knowledge base to your website, BetterDocs has everything you need and then some.