How to Write Better Release Notes for SaaS
If you think about software as a service (SaaS) release notes, the first thing that probably comes to your mind is…BORING! 💤 Release notes are traditionally associated with tedious technical explanations, lots of details and documentation and something that bores customers and doesn’t really drive value. But is that really the case?
🚀In the futuristic year of 2022, you need to stand out from the competition and one of the best ways to do it is by showing your userbase your latest releases and improvements in an intuitive and easy to find way.
Your engineering and development teams work really hard to add new features, improve your product, fixing bugs and providing more value for your customers, so you simply can’t afford that all your important updates go unnoticed or get ignored.
Writing great release notes is not that hard: here are a few useful tips (like DOs and DON’Ts) that you can apply in your release notes process to make them attractive, engaging and fun. Want to know how to do it? In this article we’ll tackle release notes wholly, from the writing process to the customer screen.
These are our suggested release notes best practices for SaaS in 2022:
The right way to write release notes?
What’s the “right” way to create engaging release notes for your SaaS product? It depends on your brand but at the end of the day they need to be one thing: effective.
Release notes have several purposes:
- Inform: Release notes need to inform what your team has changed and updated so they have the relevant information they need. Make users aware about new improvements, notify about bug fixes, feature enhancements, product changes, new services, etc.
- Educate: Teach customers about how to use new features, to make the most out of your service, provide links and access to more in-depth resources. Every new release can change the way users engage with your service or platform, make sure that they know how to face those changes and entice them to see each launch as a great opportunity.
- Engage: Keep your userbase interested in becoming or remaining long-term customers, increase the usage of your service or platform. Release notes need to let them know that your team is working hard to improve your product. Customers are loyal to services that demonstrate that they care about them. Show that your team is busy working for them, and allow them to participate in the process.
Even though not every single release can achieve the three purposes at once, try to incorporate them each opportunity you can. Make informative notes also educational, or educational notes also engaging.
Now that we have our goals clear, you may be asking how can I use release notes to better communicate and engage with customers? How to write great release notes?
We’ll answer in two different ways: one related to the release notes themselves, and one about how to deliver them to your customers.
The release notes template.
Release notes are like letters your team sends to your customers about known issues, a release date, company news, a future launch, software improvements, feature enhancements, product changes, etc. Whats the first step for writing a letter? Sure, writing.
Of course you need a punchy title and well redacted content, but there’s more elements in the project of writing good release notes that you must keep in mind. In this section, we’ll explain what we call the “release notes template” a series of tips and extra elements to include in your release notes to make them effective. Release notes are more than documents, they support your communication with your userbase. The release notes template is the scaffolding that we’ll use to create great release notes. So let’s begin!
Keep the release note simple.
With technology and new features and updates, it’s hard to keep it simple sometimes. You want to go into every detail and with a lot of documentation you really need to. But the attention span of the average reader these days, even the technical ones, is shorter than it used to be.
Users have become experts at scanning, and are more likely to read and digest something that is organized and simplified. Organization will allow even those readers that quickly scan the page for interesting keywords to get a sense of what the post is all about.
When writing release notes or any other product documentation, make sure it is well segmented with good use of headings and sections that allow the reader to process the document and get the info that interests them out of it, just a gist or the whole details.
If you can, making documentation digital and easy to navigate directly on your site without having to download. It’s a great way to release notes actually helpful.
You can also include a good overview and an issue summary, keywords, tags, categories, taxonomies and other data (and metadata) will help human and machine alike to get useful information.
Do – be concise and focus on the end value to users.
Make your updates as concise and to the point as possible. Focus on sharing the end value for customers.
What can they do now with your new feature or update? Let them know how their work has improved and show them how to use it – that’s all you need.
Users are customers and they’re always interested in what a new feature or release does for them specifically.
They don’t necessarily care about the update or feature by itself. When trying to get their attention and introduce your release, lead with the core value for them and then get into the details of how it works and what it does; first let them know how things will improve when the new product or feature is released.
For example, don’t say “we’ve added advanced segmentation” right away. Instead, say “engage your customers with better focused content” and then talk about how your userbase can now do that with your feature or update and the specifics behind the new technology for those who are more technically oriented.
Don’t – get too wordy or technical.
Think about your audience when writing release notes and update messages. Do you average user really wants to know about the technical details or do they just want to know what’s new? Longer, “jargony” information should have a place but not where you generally present updates.
Most technical roles these days really wear a lot of different hats and blend into other roles like marketing and sales. They are interested in the value to the business and the bottom line beyond the code. Sure, but not all users are tech-savvy so think very well about how you present information according to who you are presenting it to is important.
For example while presenting updates about bug fixes, a tech-savvy reader may be interested in the tech’s details; the full description of the issue that was fixed; the process, strategy, system or software that was used to fix it. On the other hand, a less technical user would be better off with an overview of the issue fixed, how the fix changes what they consider familiar, and the end user impact.
in the later case, leave the technical details and additional information that is necessary for other profiles (like developers) somewhere else. It’s best to keep this information in a different part of your website so you don’t lose the interest of your end user. Learn more about how to write release notes for different users.
Images are impactful.
Let’s face it: users usually don’t have time to go through pages and pages of documentation and release notes can be really boring. That’s likely why they don’t normally get a ton of attention from readers unless they need to find some important information.
Audiences want to understand what you’re talking about right away, and there’s an easy way to do it: you can change this if you write and present release notes in an appealing way.
Add photos, GIFs, infographics, or short demo videos to help solidify the information, set an example, and make it clear what improvement has been made and where they can find it.
It’s a lot easier to digest the information if you include some visual context. Anyone will be more inclined to take a look which is what your team wants.
By adding visual elements, you can make release notes more interesting and engaging as well as help better explain what updates your team has made. However, there’s good and bad ways to do that.
Don’t – include a lot of text without visual elements.
With new releases, there can be a lot to say. But you want to do it in a way that is effective, gets the point across, and is interesting and engaging for your SaaS customers.
Don’t overload your release notes with text that readers will just skim through and not get any real value out of. Make sure that the point of the update is clear with visual elements that catch attention.
Do – use clear images, videos, and GIFs.
Instead, clear illustrations, graphics, videos and even GIFs can help you better tell the story of your new feature or update. In a video, you can show a quick tutorial on how to use a new software product. Video is better for more complex features and changes that need more explanation. Screenshots and GIFs are great for simple changes, bug fixes, and small features. Visual elements can be beneficial in explaining your update and help you keep text to a minimum.
Release notes as links.
Calls-to-action or CTAs can be really helpful for getting customers to where you need them to be. Being intentional is important for feature discovery and feature adoption.
Make your release notes “actionable” with clear prompts and links that readers can follow to get more details or where they can find more information. Learn more about feature discovery and using it to improve SaaS user engagement.
Don’t – expect users to take action themselves.
Don’t just make announcements and not include a CTA. Users will often read and even be interested in your new update or feature but a CTA will give them a next actionable step to take.
Do – direct users to some more information or the new update or feature.
When you do include CTAs, make sure they come with an actionable next step and take customers to where they need to be to take action. Offer a CTA to more information for developers. Offer a CTA right to the new features for other users so you can encourage engagement. Customers are much more likely to take action if you do.
The release note pipeline.
Now you know how to create effective release notes, but there’s another job to do. What are releases without a public? what’s a document without a reader?
Yep, you may create the best release notes of the world, but without a platform to get them from wherever you’re storing them to your customer, they are useless.
Customers won’t search for your release notes, so we need a way to deliver them, and that’s the “release note pipeline”. In this second and last part of the article, we’ll share with you a few old and new ways you can get your release notes noticed.
Release notes organization.
You want to keep your release notes well organized and easy to explore and search. You don’t want them to just be a heap of documents thrown together on your site. This will not boost engagement or help users find helpful information about the progress of your product.
A great way to make sure your updates are always relevant and your users can always find them is by keeping them all in one central place, or in-app changelog.
The first advantage is that users will know exactly where to go when they want to find out your latest updates. They will be able to instantly check the evolution of your product, and you will be able to show them how committed your team is to improve it.
Secondly, the updates will be intuitive and in context. Many products are still using emails or blog posts to communicate product changes, but they are usually ignored and engagement is really low. Someone checking their email may not be intrigued by your new update. However, if your announcement occurs within your product they can check it out right away.
If your update is in context to what they’re doing at that moment, you’re much more likely to get higher engagement.
Don’t – have them hard to find and overwhelming.
You don’t just want a “release notes” section on your site with various long documents and paragraphs of information. This is overwhelming and not friendly or engaging to your end users. It will end up ignored outside of the occasional developer looking for some technical information on a new update you pushed. You want to be more strategic than that.
Do – have them available in an organized, central place.
The best way to organize release notes is to have an easy, in-context place for quick updates and then a documentation section with access to longer documents, technical details, more information, etc. Beamer is ideal for sharing the quick updates that are interesting for end users. You will also need a separate page for longer documentation with all the technical information and legal notes as well.
Making release notes available.
You’ve done a great job so far! You have implemented a changelog and kept your release notes simple, value-driven and visual. Now you have to make sure they are actually noticed by your users; calling your users’ attention.
A great and easy way to do it is by using Beamer. Beamer’s star product is a changelog and release notes tool that opens up right within your app’s interface or on your site when users click an icon. It opens up a rolling feed with all your updates in chronological order.
With this service, you can create release notes, announce new features, company news, bug fixes, etc. You can make your updates really visual with videos, GIFs, photos, and screenshots so that they are engaging and more explanatory and add CTA to make your updates more engaging.
Beamer has different options in term of notification types. You can just implement the changelog that will show the number of unread release notes for each user, or you can go one step further and use in-app notifications like pop-ups, top bar, snippets and tooltips to catch your users’ attention for your most important announcements.
Aiming for end user impact.
You have to get in touch with your customers to let them know you’re making changes. Your release notes are basically the landing page for that a lot of the time. How are you using emails and push notifications to keep users updated and are they set up to truly boost engagement?
To get more relevant and in context with your release notes you need to segment users based on what they’re seen from you, how long they’ve been a user, and what they’ve engaged with in the past.
You can do this using Beamer. With Beamer, you can segment you updates and enable push or email notifications only for certain announcements, just for the most relevant users. For example, you can send your eCommerce customers an update that show them how your latest feature helps them maximize engagement.
You can make your release notes very specific and relevant to your users this way. They are likely to react much more positively to your updates and new features with segmentation.
This way, you can ensure you’re only sending notifications when it’s an update that is going to be relevant to users. This way, release notes stay powerful.
Don’t – send emails to everyone about every single update.
As mentioned before, don’t send constant emails. You don’t want to bombard your users with update emails and notifications every time you push a change. They will stop being interested and disengage from communication with you.
Some discretion is necessary. Excessive communication like this will not bring users back to your product but numb their sentiment towards your brand.
Do – be selective and segmented about what you send.
You want to be intentional and make the experience personalized. Only send notifications that are going to be interesting to the right users. Segment your release notes as a way to re-engage, not annoy.
Release notes can boost engagement, drive users back to your product, and keep users informed about the progress of your product. Implementing these tips will get you even more user engagement.
It’s still important to keep your users in the loop with all the information as your product develops and grows so they feel like they know what is happening. When you do it using the tips above in ways that are intuitive and interesting, release notes and updates will actually be a benefit to you and not a burden because it will be a way to re-engage users with product changes and gain loyalty as you show they you are improving your product. For an easy way to keep users updated and boost engagement, try Beamer today.