11 Best Practices for Changelogs
As a vital component in product management and user engagement, crafting an effective changelog is crucial for keeping your users updated and engaged. Changelogs are more than mere lists of product updates; they’re valuable user communication channels that foster transparency and a shared vision between users and product teams alike. In this article, we have collected good changelog examples and best practices that stand out from the crowd.
For product-led businesses, communicating product enhancements and updates will bring your product’s evolution to the forefront and ensure that users perceive the efforts being made to improve their experiences. Inspiring your customers to engage with product updates, leave feedback, and celebrate your team’s achievements can significantly impact success metrics like customer satisfaction and product adoption. Let’s dive into some of the changelog examples.
Let’s dive into what makes a good changelog to learn how!
- Start with the latest version
- Determine the versioning strategy
- Date each release
- Use clear and concise language
- Categorize changes
- Provide links to relevant resources
- Use a consistent format
- Provide information about end-user impact
- Use bullet points
- Review and update regularly
- Automate changelog generation
1. Changelog Best Practices: Start with the latest version.
When it comes to changelogs, always lead with the latest and greatest. A newspaper will feature its top stories on the front page because they’re most likely to engage the reader. When it comes to product updates, your latest releases are your best bet for immediate engagement.
Unlike many newspaper stories, release notes are always good news. By starting with the latest version of product updates, you immediately grab your users’ attention and set a positive tone for the rest of the changelog, enhancing the overall user experience.
2. Determine the versioning strategy.
Deciding on a versioning strategy is not just about numbers. It provides a structured way to convey information about the evolution and changes in the software to both internal teams and users.
Using a consistent versioning approach in your changelogs fosters predictability and allows users to grasp the significance of each release quickly. The most common versioning strategies used by SaaS teams are:
- Semantic versioning (SemVer): Consists of three numbers separated by dots (e.g., 1.2.3) that represent major, minor, and patch versions. Major versions indicate significant changes, minor versions signify backward-compatible features, and patch versions denote bug fixes.
- Incremental Versioning: Version numbers are incremented sequentially (e.g., 1.0, 1.1, 1.2). Each new release represents an incremental improvement or addition to the previous version.
- Date-Based Versioning: Some projects use the release date as part of the version number (e.g., 2024.01.09). This approach provides a clear chronological order of releases but may not convey information about the nature or significance of changes.
- Codename Versioning: Instead of numbers, releases are identified by a codename (e.g., “Maverick,” “Jaguar”). This less common strategy can be used for marketing purposes or to give each release a distinct identity.
- Alpha, Beta, Release Candidate (RC): Used for pre-release versions to represent the stage of product development. Alpha versions are early releases with incomplete features, beta versions are more stable but may still have bugs, and release candidates are considered almost ready for the final release pending user testing.
Choosing the right versioning strategy depends on factors such as the development team’s preferences, the software’s nature, and the end users’ expectations. A clear and consistent versioning strategy helps users understand the significance of updates and makes it easier to manage software dependencies.
3. Date each release.
Dates matter. Providing a clear timeline not only informs users about the frequency of updates but also establishes a sense of reliability.
When selecting a date format, consider your audience and their preferences. For example, US-based customers are likely most used to an MM-DD-YYYY date format, which can confuse users based in countries where the DD-MM-YYYY scheme is more common. The key is to be consistent and make the information easily understandable, providing clarity without creating confusion.
Different date format options include:
- Long Format: Express the full date with the month spelled out, such as “January 9, 2024.”
- Short Format: Use a shortened version of the date, such as “Jan 9, 2024.”
- Numeric Format: Represent the date numerically, such as “01/09/2024” (month/day/year) or “09/01/2024” (day/month/year).
- ISO 8601 Format: Follow the international standard with dates in the format “YYYY-MM-DD,” which is both unambiguous and widely recognized.
If your user base is global, consider including time zone information to avoid ambiguity. Alternatively, use Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to provide a standardized reference point.
4. Use clear and concise language.
Clarity is key and users appreciate straightforward language that communicates product changes effectively. Even though some product updates can be very technical, your target audience might not be. Avoiding jargon and unnecessary detail can foster understanding and engagement.
To strike the right balance between information-rich and easily digestible content, answer the following questions before writing your changelog updates:
- What does this update communicate? Is it a new feature release, a product enhancement, or a bug fix? The language must be consistent with that of other updates in the same category.
- Who is the target audience of this update? Which user segment will this update impact the most or be most interesting to? If dealing with various audiences with differing style preferences, consider segmenting your updates to tailor the communication.
- What pain points does this update address? What challenge or problem does this release resolve? If addressing a frustration previously voiced by users via feedback, make it clear.
- What is the value proposition of this update? What benefits will users have from this change in your product? List all of the potential results that it can generate, from how it will impact user experience to how it will benefit end users.
By adopting this best practice, you ensure that your changelog is accessible to a broader audience, including those with varying levels of technical expertise.
5. Categorize changes to align with changelog best practices.
Organize chaos by categorizing changes. This practice not only adds structure but also aids users in quickly finding relevant updates. By categorizing changes, you create a user-friendly changelog layout that facilitates efficient navigation, ensuring that users can easily locate and comprehend the updates most relevant to them.
Avoid over-complication by having few and straightforward categories. For example, using tags like “added,” “changed,” “deprecated,” and “removed” will quickly signify the type of change being made.
6. Provide links to relevant resources.
Connect the dots for your users. Including links to additional resources empowers them to explore more information about specific changes, contributing to a richer understanding of your product’s updates.
Providing extra resources can also have a significant impact on product or feature adoption. When releasing new features, help users take the next step of activating them with resources that show the feature in action.
Relevant resources can vary from developer documentation and technical tutorials to blog posts and webinars. Other than educating users and helping them adapt, these resources can also be valuable product marketing materials that highlight your product’s benefits, use cases, and value proposition.
7. Use a consistent format.
Consistency breeds familiarity. Using a consistent changelog format not only enhances readability but also establishes a recognizable style that users can quickly adapt to, creating a cohesive and user-friendly experience.
Rotten Tomatoes, the movie and TV show review platform, is a great example of consistency leading to success. The website uses visual elements to indicate ratings: a whole red tomato represents a good rating and a busted green tomato a bad one. This consistent way of communicating has become second nature to its users, which has contributed to its success as a reliable source for user-generated reviews.
To ensure that your team is staying true to the right formatting, create style guides and release note templates (or use one of our own).
8. Provide information about end-user impact.
Your users want to know how changes will impact their users. When you fail to communicate end-user impact in your changelog, you can expect your inbox to be filled with questions from concerned customers who care deeply about providing a seamless experience to their end-users.
By clearly articulating the end-user impact, you address user concerns and foster confidence, strengthening the relationship between your product and its users. As a B2B product or service, you want end-users to succeed as much as your own customers.
9. Use bullet points.
Using bullet points to succinctly provide information goes hand in hand with being clear and concise. Breaking down information into bullet points not only simplifies complex details but also provides a visually appealing format that is readable and easy to understand.
Enhancing readability in your changelogs will keep your audience engaged with what’s important. Instead of wasting time and brain power to decipher what you’re going on about, users can focus on exploring changes, leaving feedback, or further educating themselves.
10. Review and update regularly.
Accuracy and consistency are your allies and one of the favorite changelog best practices across the industries. A changelog is like a window to your shop: the examples of the best changelogs are regularly updated to showcase the latest and greatest updates in your collection. Not only will it inspire your loyal customers to keep coming back, but also invite prospects to explore what more your product has to offer.
Regular reviews allow you to maintain your changelog as a reliable source of information, catch inaccuracies, incorporate user feedback, and stay aligned with the evolving nature of your product, ultimately enhancing the credibility and usefulness of your changelog.
11. Automate changelog generation
Keeping a consistent cadence of updates is a challenge for high-velocity teams. With all the tasks included in shipping product updates, it’s easy for the changelog to be deprioritized.
From maintaining the changelog to responding to user engagement, automation can significantly improve your team’s workflow. It allows you to focus more on the strategic aspects of product management while ensuring the accuracy and efficiency of your changelog updates.
With a platform like Beamer, for example, product teams can create and publish changelogs with no engineering effort. Beamer Changelog can integrate with any tool in your tech stack via API, webhooks, and native integrations.
Here are some ways you can leverage automation in your changelogs and maintain changelog best practices:
- Use Zapier to connect your changelog and your socials to announce new updates
- Combine Segment and Zapier to send a personalized email to leads who interact with your changelog
- Launch an in-app chat via Intercom when users leave feedback on your changelogs
Or create custom automated flows using our API or webhooks!
Build better changelogs with Beamer, see our changelog examples, and follow changelog best practices.
Now that you’ve learned what makes a good changelog, it’s time to put these all changelog best practices to the test. Implementing these practices will not only enhance your communication strategy but also deepen the connection between your product and its users.
Remember, a well-crafted changelog is not just a list of updates; it’s a powerful tool for building trust, transparency, and user satisfaction. Keep innovating, keep communicating, and watch your product thrive in the ever-evolving SaaS landscape.