I've often wondered how many users visit the help once and then never come back. The statistics would likely be sobering.
There are a ton of reasons why this might happen. Perhaps users can't find the answers they need. Or maybe they just don't understand the purpose of help, or how it should be used. Maybe they've never touched the Help menu to know what options are available.
These are all problems help authors should work hard to address. Here are a few ideas for making help stickier, so users will return again and again.
- In your Welcome topic, add content that sells the help to users by listing benefits and features. Then link to tutorial content for using the help. By putting the benefits first, users will be more likely to invest the time to learn how to use help.
- Provide immediate answers. Don't make your users dig around to find solutions to their problems. Use context-sensitive (F1) topics to provide relevant information and then link to appropriate procedures.
- Clean up your design. Make your help easy to read and navigate so users can focus on the content. Learn CSS and learn the fundamentals of graphic design. Think CRAP - Context, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. Read books by Robin Williams (the designer, not the funny guy) such as the Non-Designer's Design Book.
- Implement favorites and comments. Let your users write notes to themselves in their favorite topics. By doing so, you give them the ability to customize help to their needs and create a personal investment in the content.
- If your product displays a Tips wizard to new users, talk to your development team about adding a tip describing benefits of the help
- Link the help to forums, wikis, knowledgebases, and other resources. By making these available from the help, users are more likely to see the help as a starting point for all of their information needs.
While these tips won't give your help the suspense of a Stephen King novel, they just might entice users to visit the help a second time. The key is to keep them coming back. To do that, you have to spoon-feed them relevant and helpful information.