Which is better – apple or orange, iPhone or Android, wordpress knowledge base plugin or theme? It is indeed not easy to choose sometimes even if you only have two options! So let’s go over the the benefits of using each one (and I’m not referring to oranges now).
If you’re selling any product or service that requires customer support – I feel your pain. Customers asking simple questions, complex questions, many questions – but most importantly – same old questions, over and over again. You can store the frequent requests as text snippets and become copy-paste ninja, but do you really have to?
Of course not. In this case, you probably can benefit from using knowledge base software. It helps you to store all the information related to your product or service in a single place, nicely categorized, allowing customers to find answers in seconds.
Luckily, today there are many knowledge base solutions available, including dozens based on WordPress – the world’s favorite content management platform. WP is easily the best CMS available right now, with thousands, if not millions text and video resources dedicated to it and incredible amount of talented developers who really know how to make anything using it. In a word, its reputation is well deserved.
But should you use wordpress plugin or theme for your knowledge base? I say let them fight and we pick the winner!
Please meet, in the blue corner,
WordPress Knowledge Base Theme
In WordPress Universe theme is the most important piece of software, that almost completely defines how your site looks and functions. There are thousands of both free and premium themes available, both multipurpose and for any niche you can imagine.
Typically premium themes come with extensive options panel, that significantly extends the base wordpress functionality. You can customize typography, colors, choose from multiple header and footer templates, use sliders, portfolios, etc. Some themes are so huge you can rightly call them the dinosaurs of WordPress world.
Independent of your main site. If you are experiencing heavy loads on your site, you can move knowledge base to subdomain and balance the load between resources.
Ease of modificaton. It is easier to modify theme templates than to customize plugin output via filters and actions. That is, if you know what you’re doing.
Custom features. In wordpress ecosystem, theme certainly is higher in hierarchy, than any plugin. With extensive option panels in premium themes you can control headers, footers, colors, typography, sidebars – almost everything.
So, integrating knowledge base on theme territory – like in menus or in header – is certainly easier done inside of the theme. Plugins that offer flexible shortcodes, though, can sometimes compete with themes in this area.
Perfect for subdomain. If you must have your documentation on subdomain (non-WP main site, capacity problems, etc.) and don’t want to spend much time on both theme and plugin configuration, dedicated support theme is probably a good option.
Impossible to use on same domain. This is the main problem. If you already have a working site and you need to add documentation to it, you’re out of luck with themes.
Price. It is typical for premium themes today to add support for everything to justify the higher price tag. Seriously, are you going to use WooCommerce inside you knowledge base? Nope, but you just paid for it! 🙂
Learning time. As wordpress premium themes are becoming more and more complex, it certainly takes a lot of time and effort to learn ins and outs of at least one and use it effectively. If you’ve learned to create cool headers and footers using theme X, you probably don’t want to learn to do it with theme Y – and then dozen more themes – you’d better stick to X. Which combines with the next issue:
Limited use. Most themes designed for customer support can not be really used for anything else. So if you are a developer who just spent two weeks tweaking blog, header and footer of kb theme for your client, tens of your next customers probably won’t need this part of your expertise.
Different looks. Typically you need to put significant extra efforts to make your kb theme on subdomain look at least close to your main site, which is critical to overall user experience.
But enough of themes for now, let’s look at the other side. In the red corner we see…
WordPress Knowledge Base Plugin
Plugins, on the other hand, are typically used for solving some specific issues or adding extra functionality. They usually do one thing and do it (hopefully) well. Just like these guys:
Typical wordpress knowledge base plugin adds custom post type for articles and custom categories for grouping them together, as well as offers live search, number of widgets, shortcodes and possibly even a page builder.
Perfect for SEO. As plugin lives inside your main site, all your articles are part of your domain. This can be used effectively to greatly improve your site rankings. And everybody needs good rankings, right?
Focused on one feature. Plugin only does what it’s supposed to do and it does not include a gazillion of half-baked features you will (probably) never use.
Portability. If you’ve decided to change theme, your content just stays where it was. No problems here. Also, if you need to copy content from one site to another with different theme, you just need plugin installed on both servers.
Use any theme. Sometimes the site is using some theme already, and you (or your customers) really want to add customer support functionality to it, as opposed to using subdomain. Perfect use-case for plugin.
Price. Plugins are typically less expensive, than themes.
Integration. Can be tricky to integrate with existing theme. Good wordpress knowledge base plugin should have enough options to fit in, though.
Customization. Themes are typically easier to customize for developers, because template hierarchy is probably the most documented feature of WordPress and most developers have more experience with themes.
Main site and plugin share the same resources, so if your hosting is barely breathing, adding documentation to it can increase load and overall response times. In this case you can move the docs to separate domain or subdomain.
I recommend increasing capacity, though, as servers are becoming cheaper with each year.
So, who won? It is up to you, of course and in reality it is best to choose for each specific case. I recommend to choose theme over plugin if you only need documentation on subdomain, don’t really care about how it affects your SEO and can live with your knowledge base looking different, than your main site.
If you, however, want help articles to improve your main site search engine positions and you want your visitors to have same experience on all your web resources, consider using wordpress knowledge base plugin instead. It probably can do everything a theme can as a customer support solution, but it gives you only the features you need.
And just in case you need knowledge base plugin, you really should check MinervaKB – knowledge base plugin for WordPress. You can check all the available features on a testdrive, too. 🙂
That’s it, go ahead, choose your winner and tell us your opinion in comments.