Making Walkthrough Videos for Help Documentation

Leads and customers land on your knowledge base to find answers. They actively want to become successful with your product. And the reason you write them at all is to guide them to get there, right?

My top tip when starting with a knowledge base is to write everything down. A customer has a generic problem? Write down the solution. A lead needs some extra info? Write that down too.

Fast forward a few months and you’ve got a good set of docs people can refer to. No more repeating yourself.

But it seems writing down is only half of the solution.

According to Pearson 65% of people are visual learners—quite the chunk. That means over half of the people that make it to your knowledge base are struggling to digest your information.

The next step to level up your docs is to add video. But unfortunately it’s not that simple. First off, you need to take the leap and get in front of the camera. The first time sucks for sure, I hate being in videos—but it does get easier.

Secondly, you need to work out how to produce them. What software should you use and what style? Customers are visiting your docs for information, not for entertainment. Although, a little bit of humor does help like the video below by Asana.

Last of all, there’s knowing when a video is even needed and if so, which type. It doesn’t make sense to have a long video for something super simple, but then having a short one for a complicated action will leave people with more questions than they started with.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far diving into the world of video and using them to provide information in our knowledge base.

The tricky first step: Getting the camera rolling

The first time I got in front of the camera and pressed record I immediately forgot what I was meant to say. My throat closed and I started to sweat. I beat myself up about it.

This is pretty normal unless you’ve had training. If there’s something I’ve learned recording videos it’s that you will get comfortable pressing record if you do it enough times.

So if you stuff up the first 10 or 20 times, don’t worry. Just keep going and you’ll find yourself becoming less nervous.

Another problem I found myself in was overanalyzing my video. I was worried what people would think—would they notice my hair wasn’t right, that my voice was high, or that I went off track slightly? In the end it was obvious that people care that much. Particularly on your knowledge base, seeing as they just want some assistance.

Finding the right strategy

Like us, you’ll likely want different types of video on your knowledge base. Some docs are super long and complicated, whereas others are only a few paragraphs long.

If you’ve got a big team and product, you could invest in creating in-depth videos with a lot of editing involved. Then there’s whether you create personal videos as if talking to the customer directly, or simply provide a voiceover for explanations.

Our docs are usually short. When we notice an article is starting to become a long read, we try and split up long articles into separate pieces with a subcategory above.

With this in mind, I decided to split videos into two categories:

  1. HelpVids. Super short and to the point GIF-like videos. These usually just show one thing happening, like locating and clicking a button or inserting something. For these there is no audio.
  2. Help Tutorials. Longer videos with a person in front of the camera and an audio/visual walkthrough of the steps. We wanted these to be personable and approachable.

It’s worth analyzing your docs and seeing where and how videos might fit in before you start properly recording video. It could save you a ton of time.

For the Help Tutorials which involved me being on camera, I decided to still introductions and explanations. I went straight into explaining what I was going to show them and then running through the steps. This meant the videos were shorter and hopefully easier to digest.

ScreenFlow & Soapbox

As I mentioned earlier, I created two types of video.

HelpVids were super short and simple, like locating a button or filling in a form. For these, I used Screenflow and hooked it up to my Vimeo account. Then, I simply recorded my screen, adjusted the frame, added zoom animations and exported them to Vimeo. The whole process only took around 10 minutes.

Pro tip: if you add ?background=1 to the end of your Vimeo embed, you can remove any play buttons to make it loop. This makes it look like a high quality GIF đź“ą

The second type of video—Help tutorials—were a little more involved. They were for more complex actions, like setting up an integration or enabling multilingual.

To begin with I considered using Screenflow for these too. I’d simply record some audio on top of a screen recording. But then I heard about Soapbox, a new tool from the team at Wistia.

With Soapbox, you’re able to record your screen and yourself at the same time, then edit it afterwards. This made the videos a lot more friendly and meant less time altering and fiddling about with timelines.

Where to put videos in our docs

Making sure help documentation is readable shouldn’t be an afterthought. When users get stuck the last thing they want to do is try and figure out what’s going on in your article.

So with that in mind, it was time to think about where a video should go inside a doc. In most of our docs we have step-by-step instructions using our ordered lists. It made sense to start there as if to give users a choice: video or text?

In the end I went for video before the ordered lists. I think it’s useful for users to know that there is a video available if they want it before reading the instructions.

A look towards accessibility

Ever scroll past videos that don’t have captions when you’re silently browsing Facebook? Me too. Providing captions for people with disabilities makes your content far for accessible, but it also helps users who have their sound turned off.

With YouTube’s automatic captioning, it’s now easier than ever to create accessible video. Unfortunately, Vimeo still lags behind with this technology, but I’m hoping they’ll introduce it in the near future.

I imagine we’ll be adding captions to our videos in the near future, using a service like Rev to get our videos captioned.


I’m still new to this whole video thing, so if you have any tips yourself I’d love to hear them in the comments below.