Whereas other types of companies need to actively look for content ideas, software companies have something they can always write about: product updates. New features, bug fixes, and improved functions are all things to share with your audience and if you approach them correctly, they can even give you an SEO advantage.
In this post, we’ll discuss how you can create great product release notes that drive traffic and we’ll include some product release examples as inspiration. We’ll also list some best practices to follow for writing great release notes, and we’ll share a simple product release notes template you can use.
But first, let’s get clear on what product release notes are.
What Are Product Release Notes
Product release notes are publicly shared summaries of what has changed within your product since the last release note. They include information about things such as bug fixes, product improvements, and new features. While they’re primarily meant to inform existing customers, new feature announcements specifically can also serve to turn leads into customers.
How to optimize product release notes
As product release notes introduce something new that might get updated or replaced at a later stage, they are non-evergreen content, thus they are not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of SEO content. But that doesn’t mean they need to become dead weight on your site once their newness has faded.
Below is a list of things you can do to get more from your release notes as well as how to handle them once they’ve become outdated.
1. Follow basic on-page best practices
As with any page on your site, your release notes should follow on-page SEO best practices.
- having a standardized, short, and concise URL structure, e.g. /product-name-release-date/
- avoiding long, convoluted, and random URLs such as /blog/november-product-release-enhanced-blended-learning-🎉/
- creating an eye-catching H1. Use a standardized structure such as “Product Date – Benefit”, e.g. November Product Release: Enhanced Blended Learning
- having just one H1.
- including at least one optimized image.
- linking to related posts and pages.
- using clear headlines.
- keeping paragraphs short.
You’ll also want to include your main keyword in the URL, H1, post title, meta description, one H2, and in the first 150 words of the content.
2. Optimize for branded traffic
Main keywords for product release notes typically include your brand name. Especially when you’re announcing a new feature, it’s a good idea to dedicate a blog post to it that is optimized to capture branded traffic. Say your HR SaaS company is rolling out an exit interview feature, then you may want to optimize for “companyname exit interview”.
3. Categorize intelligently
Create a blog category just for your product release notes. This allows you to easily display all of your release notes in one place (your category page). It also means you could easily exclude your release notes from your normal blogroll should you wish to do so.
A good example of this is the Thrive Themes Product Updates page.
The page has a short intro at the top and then simply lists all of Thrive’s product release blog posts in chronological order.
4. Deindex after a set period
When you organize your release notes in their own category, you can periodically clean up that category to avoid years-old updates dragging your site down. Either you simply delete and redirect the oldest updates, or you can also deindex them if you’d like to keep them online as historical records.
Before you delete or deindex a post, do first check that they’re not getting traffic anymore.
5. Create supporting content
To further increase your chances of guiding traffic to your new feature, you can create supporting content in the form of how-to blog posts and videos that show your customers how they can benefit from the new feature.
A good example is this post by Tailwind on how to hide hashtags on Instagram.
At the time of writing, this post ranks for over 4,000 keywords, of which more than 130 rank on the first page of Google. When you read the post, you’ll see that it includes many options to hide hashtags on Instagram using a Tailwind feature. The posts also includes GIFs that show readers exactly how to do this within the app, as well as links to other posts about Instagram on the Tailwind blog, and to the app itself.
Another way to create supporting content for your product updates is by staying on top of industry trends and changes. When Google announced that it would be adding Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor, Thrive Themes decided to optimize its software products accordingly.
It could have simply done this and released the updates when they were ready, but instead, Thrive published an in-depth post explaining to its users what Core Web Vitals are, how they will affect their websites, and which actions Thrive is taking to help them do well after the algorithm change.
With this post, Thrive provided additional value to its users while creating a piece of content that guides users to Thrive updates and product pages through internal linking.
How to Write Release Notes Users Will Read
Product release notes have a high risk of turning into dry pieces of unintelligible content only the developers among your audience will want to read. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take when writing release notes to avoid this and to ensure all of your users stay engaged with what’s going on with your product.
1. Focus on the value for the user
You may be proud of all that work you’ve done under the hood, but users will want to know how a product update affects them. Avoid giving a ton of technical background and instead focus on what the changes mean for your users. Good release notes are customer-centric and help users see your dedication to giving them a great experience.
2. Avoid technical jargon
It’s crucial to translate your development work into plain language when you write release notes. That way, your users will actually understand what you’re talking about. If you have a customer voice, brand voice, or similar document, this can help you share your product announcements in a way that resonates with your users.
On this note, the term “product release note” itself is quite technical and you may want to consider changing it to something more conversational such as “product updates” or “product changes” on your website.
3. Illustrate with images, GIFs, and short videos
Images, GIFs, and videos are great to show users what has changed and how they can continue to use your tool after the update. It’s better to include several short clips in an announcement than one long video. Only very loyal customers will want to watch a 20-minute product announcement. The exception is a video tutorial that acts as the kind of supporting content we mentioned above.
4. Explain the “before and after”
Not all of your customers are power users that need all of the functions of your tool every day, so don’t just show what our product looks like after the update, but also what it looked like before. This will make it easier for users to understand what exactly has changed.
5. Specify which plans are affected
If you have customers on different pricing plans, your release notes should specify which plans each update applies to. If you clearly mention that a new cool feature will only be available to premium users, that might persuade someone on the basic plan to upgrade. But if you get that same person all excited about this new feature and then they need to find out on their own that they don’t have access to it, it’s likely to leave them frustrated.
6. Include release dates and version numbers
While you can send out an email about your latest updates and share your product release notes on social media, chances are a large part of your customer base won’t read them the day they’re published. That’s why it’s important to always include the timing of the update as well as which version of the product it applies to.
The latter matters especially for companies that offer downloadable products and things such as WordPress plugins and mobile phone apps. Users don’t always immediately update to the latest version, and so when there’s a bug fix, it’s useful for them to know if the bug is present in the version they’re currently running or not.
7. Anticipate user questions
Your users don’t have the internal knowledge about your software product that you do, and so things that are obvious to you, might not be to them. Try to look at every product update from a user’s perspective and imagine what kind of questions it may raise for them. You can then cover those in your product release note.
Even if you think hard and long about these, there’s a chance that you’ll miss some. Don’t leave your users hanging and give them a clear point of contact they can turn to for more information.
8. Use a product release note template
Once you’ve decided on a structure for your product release notes, it’s a good idea to create a template that you just need to fill in each time you need to write a new release note. This will help you include all the necessary information.
Product Release Notes Template
Whether you’re writing a product release note that covers multiple updates in one article, or you’re writing a dedicated new feature announcement or product update post, there are a few items you’ll always want to include:
- a descriptive title.
- an overview or high-level summary of the update(s) addressed in the article.
- a “before and after”, including visual elements.
- a summary of what the changes mean to the user.
If you’re covering multiple updates in one release note, try grouping them together per type under separate headings. Headings could be:
- bug fixes.
- product improvements.
- new features.
- new integrations.
Alternatively, you could also group together small improvements, big changes, and important new features.
Release Notes: Use Them Wisely
Release notes are often overlooked when it comes to SEO, yet they can help you drive traffic to other pages on your website and keep your users excited about your product. Follow the tips in this post whenever you need to announce new features, bug fixes, product improvements, or other updates to create a release note that will get your users excited to jump back into your tool.
And if you’re not sure whether your release notes are organized in the best way for SEO, reach out to discuss how we can help you with that.