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. Following release notes best practices, following the template, and keeping the release notes format consistent can really drive value for customers. For a deeper dive into what is release notes and why they are needed read our blog “What are Release Notes? Explanation & FAQs”.
You need to stand out from the competition and one of the best ways to get your customers excited is by showing them your latest releases and improvements in an intuitive and easy-to-find way. See below some of the release notes templates that work.
Your engineering and development teams work hard to add new features, improve your product, fix bugs and provide more value for your customers. You simply can’t afford that all your important software releases go unnoticed or get ignored.
Writing great release notes is not that hard: here are a few useful tips (like DOs and DON’Ts) and release notes template and formats that you can apply in your release notes process to make them attractive, engaging, and fun.
In this article, we’ll tackle release notes wholly, from the writing process to the customer screen, and will hint at some good release notes software.
These are our suggested release notes best practices for SaaS in 2024:
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.
The purpose of release notes.
Release notes serve several purposes like:
- Product release notes to inform about the launch of new features or the latest version of a product.
- Periodical in app announcements to keep users aware of the regular changes in your product and development cycle.
- Reports about technical details to sustain brand trust like bug fixes, performance improvements, security issues, and other tech improvements.
Great release notes keep users up to date.
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. Ideally, you should follow the release notes template and have the same format to keep them consistent.
Write release notes to educate customers.
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.
Writing release notes to keep users engaged.
Keep your users 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 all the release notes can achieve the three purposes at once, try to incorporate them each opportunity you can. Make informative release 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 distribute release notes to your customers.
The release note template.
Release notes are like letters your team sends to your customers about known issues, a release date, company news, a future new version launch, software improvements, feature enhancements, product changes, etc. Whats the first step for writing a letter?
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. Unlike social media posts or a common blog post, there’s some special qualities to the release note format to take into account.
In this section, we’ll explain what we call the “release notes template” a series of tips and extra elements to include in your own release notes to make them more effective. Release notes are more than documents, they support your communication with your users. The release notes template is the scaffolding that we’ll use to create great release notes, ideally with the help of a release notes software. So let’s begin!
Keep the release note simple.
The first lesson of the release notes template is simplicity. 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 (that usually includes lots of technical jargon) 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.
Do – write easy-to-read release notes.
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 read release notes scanning 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 a brief summary, with good use of headings and sections, bullet points, and paragraph breaks. 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, make all software release notes easy to navigate directly on your site without having to download any file. It’s a great way for release notes to be actually helpful.
You can also include a brief overview and an issue summary, keywords, tags, categories, taxonomies and other data (and metadata) that will help human and machine alike to get useful information.
Do – be concise and focus on the end value to users.
Make your release notes as concise and to the point as possible. Focus on sharing the end value for customers. Hey! Even try to make your release notes fun.
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, latest version or release does for them specifically: What am I getting out of this?
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 users can now do that with your user segments feature 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 in plain language what’s new? Technical jargon should have a place but not where you generally present updates for all your users.
Most technical roles these days really wear a lot of different hats and blend into other roles like marketing, product managers, account manager, customer success manager, and sales. They are interested in the value to the business and the bottom line as much (or even beyond) as in the code.
But not all users are tech-savvy, so when delivering release notes, think very well about how you present information according to who you are presenting it to.
For example while presenting a release note about bug fixes, a tech-savvy reader may be interested in the tech’s details; the full lengthy explanation of the issue that was fixed; the process, strategy, system or software that was used to fix it.
Less technical user would be better off with the key points or an overview of the issue fixed, how the fix changes what they consider familiar, and the end user impact. Distributing release notes is all about who your target is.
In the later case, leave the technical details and additional information for other profiles (like developers) somewhere else. It’s best to keep this in a different part of your website (maybe a dedicated release note section?) 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 your releases 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. If you engage users, the user flow goes up 📈.
Add photos, GIFs, infographics, in app screenshots, 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, add relevant links.
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.
Tell the story of your new feature or update visually. In a video, you can show a quick tutorial on how to use a new software product. Screenshots and GIFs are great for simple changes, bug fixes, and small features. Visual elements can be beneficial in explaining your product release 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 relevant 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 distribute release notes without including a CTA. Users will often read and even be interested in your new release note but a CTA will give them a next actionable step to take.
Do – direct users to some more information.
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. Customers are much more likely to take action if you do.
- Offer a CTA to lead users to other relevant or related feature releases, or extra information.
- Offer a CTA right to the new features for other users so you can encourage engagement.
- Offer a CTA to get to in app features that you want the to check out.
- Offer a CTA to get their opinion about your release note and close the feedback loop.
- Offer a CTA to compare a release note with previous release notes to communicate the full magnitude of your improvement.
The release note pipeline.
Now you know the best practices on 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 product release notes in the world, but without a platform – or release notes software – 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.
Keep your release notes well organized and easy to explore and search. You don’t want just one release note all by itself or a heap of documents thrown together on your site.
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’ll be able to instantly check the whole evolution of your product, and you’ll 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. However, if your announcement occurs within your product they can check it out right away.
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 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, besides using the release notes software, 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’ll 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.
Do – Use Beamer.
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 and provides some great release notes formats for you.
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. It is important to keep the release notes format consistent, and we recommend to develop and stick to the release notes template. 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 best practices 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 format 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. The best practice here is to come up with several release notes templates to address different user segments.
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 and relevant.
Don’t – send emails to everyone about every single update.
As mentioned before, don’t send constant emails. The release notes best practices and a rule of thumb: you don’t want to bombard your users with update emails and notifications every time you push a change. They’ll 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. Once again – follow the same release notes format, be consistent.
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.
Write great product release notes with Beamer and follow release notes best practices. Try Beamer today.