Introducing a new template system and live search analytics

It’s been an extremely busy couple of months with WP Knowledgebase. I’ve been working on a complete overhaul of the free version, while also laying the foundation for the PRO version.

I’m really excited about the future of WP Knowledgebase, as it’s shaping up to be one of the best plugins in the knowledge base market.

Let’s dig into what’s new so you can understand why I’m saying this.

Introducing a new template system

You may have noticed when visiting your knowledge base’s main page or articles that the interface looks slightly different than the rest of your site.

The differences aren’t extreme, however they are very noticeable. Different font sizes, different alignments, different colors, etc. This is because WP Knowledgebase uses custom templates to render the interface. Most similar plugins do the same.

This is great, because with custom templates one can add complex functionality that otherwise isn’t available by default in WordPress.

And with this, considering the plugin already has a template system (that powers over 4000 websites), the biggest question is…

Why a new template system?

In short, rigidity. The old templates have two main problems:

  1. The template files are monolithic. This essentially means that if you want to customize anything through code, you’d have to completely overwrite the entire template file.
  2. The CSS that styles the templates is extremely aggressive. It styles almost everything, leaving nothing to the theme. Because of this, knowledge base pages look out of place in any theme and, also, overwriting styles is a difficult task.

With the new template system everything is made up of smaller parts. And all of these smaller parts are put together in the main template files through hooks.

I know this may sound complicated if you’re not a developer, so think about it this way: if you have a car and want to change its wheels, with the old system you’d have to change the entire car, with the new one you only have to change the wheels.

To top that off, the new CSS file is less opinionated. It only handles some of the more sensitive aspects of the templates, leaving the bulk of the styling to the theme, thus making your site more cohesive.

A great secondary benefit of this is performance improvements. Because the CSS has been refined, it now consists of less than 500 lines of code, compared to the ~1100 lines the old file has. That’s more than a 50% reduction in the code that’s being loaded by the browser.

Why not modify the previous template system?

In terms of layout and overall aesthetics, the two template systems are relatively similar, so why not just modify the existing templates, instead of providing new ones.

Everything has to do with backwards compatibility. The HTML elements and CSS classes styling these elements were modified to match WordPress’ standards.

With the old templates, the plugin has its own standard, which doesn’t align well with the current best practices. And with over 4000 active installations, forcing these changes would have meant a lot of broken websites. All users that have added custom CSS code for their knowledge base templates would have suffered.

The alternative was a soft launch of the new system without forcing any changes. I know this will slow down adoption, however, with this approach current users can transition to the new system at their own pace.

For new WP Knowledgebase users, the new templates will automatically be enabled.

What happens if I don’t switch?

Nothing. Everything will work the same as before. My plans are to support the old templates for the foreseeable future (~1-2years).

However, I strongly recommend switching to the new system soon. The old one will not see any new updates (besides security ones) and you may not be able to benefit from some of the PRO features, that will be built on top of the new foundation.

How do I switching to the new template system?

If you’re a new user, you are already on the new system and there’s nothing you need to do.

If you’ve been using WP Knowledgebase for some time now, switching is easy, just follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to your WordPress dashboard > Knowledgebase > Settings and scroll down until you find the Knowledgebase Design section.
  2. Here, turn off the Use Legacy Templates option and then set the templates for the different knowledge base pages.WP Knowledgebase select template styles in admin interface

That’s it. Now, when you load your knowledge base, the new templates will be used.

Please note however, that if you added custom templates to your theme, to overwrite the plugin’s, those templates will still be used, so you will not see any changes.

What to do if things look broken with the new templates?

I’ve tested the new system with the most used themes available to make sure everything works properly. However, there are thousands of themes out there and with some issues may occur.

If your knowledge base articles break for some reason with the new version, I recommend navigating to your WordPress admin area > Settings > Permalinks. This will refresh the permalinks data and your articles should work properly.

If you’re still having problems with WP Knowledgebase and your theme, please contact me here and provide as much information as possible (screenshots and links too). I’m happy to inspect any issue and make sure everything is looking sharp.

What if I want to go back to the previous plugin version?

If you’re still having issues with the latest update or wish to go back to the previous version, please follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to your WordPress admin dashboard > Plugins > Add New.
  2. In the top right search field, type wp rollback. WP Rollback is an easy to use plugin you can use to jump from a specific version of a plugin to another one. Install and activate the plugin shown in the screenshot:WordPress admin plugins page, searching for WP Rollback plugin.
  3. With the plugin active, navigate to Plugins > Installed Plugins page. Here, scroll down to WP Knowledgebase and click the Rollback link under the plugin’s name.The Rollback link added by WP Rollback under WP Knowledgebase plugin.
  4. Select version 1.2.5 from the list, the latest update before 1.3.0, and click on the Rollback button.

If you’re having any issues with the previous version, I’d recommend doing another permalinks refreshed, as described in the previous section. I’m happy to assist you with any issues resulting from the update, so please make sure to contact me here and provide as much information as possible (screenshots and links too).

And now, to something extremely exciting…

Introducing live search analytics

I believe you already know users want answers to their questions right away. And you can’t really blame them.

If you are offering support, you can’t always provide immediate answers. With email, response times are hours (if you’re good at it). With live chat it’s minutes, but it requires active human resource.

A knowledge base, on the other hand, is there for your users 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as long as you have good content to serve. This is the hard part however, knowing what your users are struggling with, so you can build the right content.

This is where live search analytics fits in. If you have live search enabled on your knowledge base, with WP Knowledgebase PRO you can now see what users are searching for.

Search analytics in WP Knowledgebase

With search analytics you can:

  • view a list of the most popular search queries
  • view a list of the most popular search queries that did not return any articles to the users
  • view a list with the latest search articles, containing a list of articles returned for the user and showing the article the user accessed after the search

With this data you can learn what your users are struggling with and you can build content around the topics searched.

What’s next

The goal for the following months is to continue releasing features that help you understand your users’ needs and also features that help your users discover the information they’re looking for.

Here’s what you should expect next:

  • Article feedback: The next big feature will allow you to add an article feedback widget at the bottom of each article. Your users will be able to vote articles positively or negatively and also be shown a feedback form, where they’ll be able to provide more information on their vote.
  • Related articles: Some topics cannot be discussed in a single article and you may need to direct users to related content. With this new feature you’ll be able to add a custom related articles list for each one of your articles.
  • Table of contents: For longer articles, navigating up and down the content can be unpleasant. With a table of contents always available for users, they will be able to jump from one section to another easily.
  • Knowledge base: As the saying goes, “practice what you preach”. All of these new features will come with a learning curve. Even though my goal is to create an easy to use tool, I know some will have difficulties. I do my best to respond in a timely manner to support queries, however, I do need to sleep. So, the next best thing I’ll do is to build a knowledge base, of course powered by WP Knowledgebase.

Let me know what you think about these new changes, by contacting me here. Also, are you missing a feature that’s not planned? Let me know. Happy to discuss it with you.

Until next time!