What is a Knowledge Base?

A knowledge base is a self-serve, central repository for information about products, services, departments, or topics. Data in your knowledge base can come from anywhere. Contributors well-versed in relevant subjects can add to and expand your knowledge base.
Try Guru today
🔥 Getting started is easy (and free)
Jump to section

What is a knowledge base?

Any of the following can be considered a knowledge base:

  • FAQs (frequently asked questions)
  • PDFs
  • Word documents
  • Spreadsheets
  • Web portals
  • Wikis
  • Help center (content management system)
  • Browser extensions that bring knowledge to the apps you love
  • On-premise databases

An external knowledge base, also called a customer service knowledge base, stores information your customers and clients can use. An internal knowledge base, also known as an employee intranet or company wiki, stores your company’s private or confidential information and is accessible only by employees.

What is knowledge base software?

Knowledge base software is a powerful tool that can help businesses capture, organize, share, and update information efficiently. By leveraging the right knowledge base software, businesses can optimize their operations, enhance employee productivity, and improve customer satisfaction.

However, not all knowledge base software is created equal, and not every solution may be suitable for your particular business needs. Before investing in any software offering, it's crucial to evaluate your specific requirements and assess whether the software can deliver the functionalities you need.

Types of knowledge base systems

There are five main types of knowledge bases. They include the following:

  • Internal knowledge base
  • Hosted knowledge base
  • Self-hosted knowledge base
  • Open-source knowledge base software
  • Customer service knowledge base

Internal knowledge base

An internal knowledge base is created by your organization strictly for employees to access information as needed. Discover how a knowledge base integration with Guru can be so much more useful for your team than a traditional knowledge base.

Ways to use an internal knowledge base

An internal knowledge base is incredibly versatile in the way it can be used. Some ways to make the most of your internal knowledge base software include bringing in key information, such as:

  • Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about everything from employee benefits and onboarding protocols to brand guidelines and customer communications
  • Company policies and handbooks
  • Best practices and guides for sales strategies, handling customer issues and dealing with coworker conflicts
  • Organizational structures and important internal contact information
  • Recruitment, interviewing and employee assessment information for managers

Maintaining a well-organized, easily searchable, and accessible internal knowledge base means your employees can find answers quickly, without re-asking common questions.

Internal knowledge base software enables your company to focus your communications on new and critical information. Time spent introducing new employees to company policies and procedures, as well as training those taking on new roles, could be significantly reduced. Easier and faster access to information means that your customers will be happier with your sales team’s rapid response to their questions and concerns, and you will know the collective expertise of your employees is stored in a safe, searchable location for future use.

What is internal knowledge base software?

Internal knowledge base software supports your employees by giving them a one-stop shop where they can search for the resources they need to best do their jobs. An effective internal knowledge base reduces employee frustration and promotes productivity by reducing the need for repetitive searches, integrating with employee workflows, encouraging contribution and collaboration, and ensuring content relevance and accuracy.

Some additional examples of software that could be considered internal knowledge base software include documents and spreadsheets, content management systems (CMSs), web portals, FAQs, or wikis. 

Some questions that can help you choose the best software for your team are: 

  • Does this software let us share information with everyone who needs to see it?
  • Is it easy to alert people about important articles?
  • Are you able to quickly see when the article was last updated? And will the software prompt SMEs to update older information on a regular basis?

Internal knowledge base example

Hosted knowledge base

A hosted knowledge base collects and stores information for both your (internal) team and your (external) customers or stakeholders, keeping data well-organized and easily searchable.

Self-hosted knowledge base

This type of knowledge base is hosted on your organization’s own servers. This approach gives you more control over security, privacy, and uptime but also means you are responsible for handling concerns and fixing any issues that arise.

Open-source knowledge base 

Open-source knowledge bases are openly accessible to the public and may or may not be free of charge. Open-source knowledge base software can be helpful if your organization wants to allow developers or programmers to customize the source code according to business needs. 

Examples of open source knowledge bases

  • Documize
  • eXo
  • myBase
  • OpenKM

Customer service knowledge base

A customer service knowledge base organizes information to make it easy for your customers to access and use. Also called a customer knowledge base, it contains publicly accessible knowledge about a product and/or company. Because this is customer- or public-facing, it would not be appropriate for confidential or private information. Learn more about external knowledge bases here.

How is customer service knowledge base software used?

Customer service knowledge base software, also known as a help center software or external knowledge base software, is designed specifically for external, non-expert users to navigate and find information quickly. While it’s maintained by internal experts, the software should be publicly accessible and/or embedded into a customer-facing webpage.

Benefits of knowledge bases

Software that is intended to be used as a knowledge base has specific benefits over solutions that can be used many other ways, like long documents, PDFs, internal wikis, shared drives, or spreadsheets. 

  • Less time spent searching for information – Purpose-built knowledge base software makes it easier to surface specific knowledge when needed. This improves contact center efficiency by making it easy for agents to resolve customer issues on the first call. It also improves company-wide productivity by making it easy for everyone to find the information they need to do their jobs well.
  • Faster onboarding – New hires no longer need to ask tons of questions in their first weeks. A quality internal knowledge base enables them to effectively self-serve and stops repeat questions from interrupting your most critical staff.
  • Easy upkeep –  Documents and spreadsheets can easily become outdated, and version control can lead to duplication and confusion. Knowledge bases allow users to update individual items as necessary (instead of having to update and republish an entire document). A quality knowledge base includes a simple way to quickly see whether information can be trusted, and automation to remind SMEs to keep their information up-to-date.
  • Roles and permissions – Knowledge bases allow for granular access and editing. While some other solutions (like Google Docs and Google Drive) can also be limited this way, the settings often require more time to maintain. 
  • Designed to be used in-workflow – A quality knowledge base solution is designed to be used to provide answers where and when you need them, while other solutions require major context-switching and searching. For example, Guru’s Chrome extension, Microsoft Teams, and Slack integrations allow everyone to quickly access the knowledge they need without leaving the apps they use every day.

What makes a great knowledge base?

  • Clear and concise organization: a great knowledge base is well-organized and easy to navigate, with intuitive categories and subcategories that make it easy for users to find what they need.
  • Up-to-date and accurate information: a great knowledge base is regularly updated to ensure that the information is accurate and relevant, through a combination of automated updates and regular reviews by subject matter experts.
  • User-friendly interface: a great knowledge base is designed with the end-user in mind, with a user-friendly interface that allows users to quickly find the information they need.
  • Search functionality: a great knowledge base includes a robust search functionality that allows users to quickly locate the information they need, with a search function that provides relevant results based on the user's query.
  • Collaboration tools: a great knowledge base encourages collaboration and knowledge sharing, including tools that allow users to contribute to the knowledge base such as wikis, forums, and commenting features. This helps to keep the information up-to-date and relevant, while also fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous learning.

How do I choose a knowledge base?

First, determine whether you need an internal knowledge base or an external knowledge base. Then, consider your knowledge management strategy. Those two factors in combination should give you sense of your technical requirements.

  • If you’re hosting an externally facing help center that needs to be updated 1-4 times/year, a content management system (CMS) may be your best option.
  • If your knowledge is meant to be accessed only in one or two specific offices for security reasons, a database that can only be accessed from on-premise computers is the right choice.
  • If you need an internal knowledge base that is updated once a month by 1-2 users but read by many, a wiki solution may work.
  • If you need an internal knowledge base that is both updated by and read by many people multiple times per month, a web portal may be your best option. If those people work in multiple apps, look for one with an in-browser extension.

Why you need a knowledge base

Knowledge management solutions let subject matter experts (SMEs) “brain dump” their expertise into an online resource that can be updated and edited as they see fit. That way, when team members have questions, they can go straight to the source for answers without having to bother the actual source. Plus, a verification feature like Guru’s tells users that the information available is trusted and up-to-date, eliminating any need to double-check with the SME.

How to know if you need a knowledge base 

If a People Ops team needs to make sure everyone is looking at the right benefits information, a centralized access location that can show who's read what is essential. That's where the knowledge base comes in.

The same holds true for a manager who wants to efficiently onboard and train new employees, or for a member of your team who needs information about their benefits, compensation, or company policies. If you see opportunities where your organization can save time, enhance productivity, and create greater cohesion and accuracy of the knowledge disseminated to employees, your company can benefit from internal knowledge base software.

A wiki + intranet + knowledge base for your whole company
Guru supports you so you can support your customers.
Get GuruPick a plan
🚀 Start for free

How to create a knowledge base

1. Conduct research to determine knowledge base need

Understanding the utility of a knowledge base is one thing. Deciding on the purpose your knowledge base will fill for your organization is another. 

The first step in setting up a knowledge base is to determine the need your knowledge base will fulfill. Think about your audience. Do you want your knowledge base to support your employees, your customers, or both? Once you know which audience(s) you want your knowledge base(s) to serve, research where the biggest gaps in knowledge exist.

  • What questions or topics do your employees or customers ask most often?
  • What department is overwhelmed by requests for information on a consistent basis?
  • What is your current response rate to employee and client questions and is that response rate getting longer?
  • Is productivity within your organization falling because information can’t efficiently be shared?
  • What serious gaps would exist if certain company employees left the organization and took their knowledge with them?

The answers to those questions will help you understand if you do need a knowledge base and to begin thinking about how it should be structured.

2. Determine what type of knowledge base you need

Once you know that you need a knowledge base, you must determine what type of knowledge base would best serve your needs. There are five common types of knowledge bases. To decide on the type of knowledge base you may want to create, think about the audience the knowledge base will serve, how accessible you want the knowledge base to be to the general public, and whether you will host the knowledge base on your company server or rely on a provider to host it.

3. Outline a simple knowledge base structure

You’ll want to ensure your knowledge base is organized so all users can quickly and easily find what they are looking for. Developing your knowledge base structure at the beginning will not only help you organize your content as your knowledge base grows, but will inform navigation design and help make it more intuitive for users.

There are a number of different ways you can organize your knowledge base:

  • User Type or Role: When you have different users or customer types, organizing your knowledge base by role is effective. Your users would be able to quickly tap into the knowledge that would be specific to them. For example, an HR knowledge base could be organized by breaking out specific information about your company with designated sections aimed at contractors, full-time employees, and part-time employees.

    Best for: Companies of all sizes

  • Activity: If your audiences who will use the knowledge base need specific information about actions to take, organizing your knowledge base by activity works well. For example, a knowledge base for a large travel agency may be organized by activities like planning your trip, booking tickets, and contacting an agent.

    Best for: Customer self-service, service offerings

  • Stage/Experience of User: When you organize by stage or the experience of the user, the user of your knowledge base is quickly able to match their needs with your information. For example, a knowledge base for an online service may be organized by stages like getting started, upgrading service, and user tutorials.

    Best for: Customer self-service for software, subscriptions, and tier or plan navigation

  • Product Type: You could also organize your knowledge base by product type. For example, a furniture business may organize its knowledge base by living room furniture, bedroom furniture, kids’ furniture, and office furniture.

    Best for: Internal product and support teams, and external customers of companies with multiple products

Your knowledge base will constantly change as your content expands, is edited, or archived. That’s why it is important to make your categories broad enough to encompass an array of content that can be subcategorized by topic or theme.

4. Gather content and establish who will maintain it

Your knowledge base requires a constant inflow of interesting and engaging content that specifically meets the needs of your audiences. SMEs should be responsible for developing the content to ensure the quality, accuracy, and efficacy of all content in your knowledge base that’s distributed to your employees and/or customers. Here’s how that process could work:

  • Start by gathering the information you have already documented. Tools like Guru allow you to quickly pull together content from many sources and import it to launch your knowledge base. 
  • The knowledge base manager determines or delegates the creating the pages necessary for each category to SMEs with a deadline. They save teams time by using custom templates to save SMEs time and ensure information is shared consistently.
  • SMEs are responsible for using their specialized knowledge to create and maintain content that follows the standards outlined by the knowledge base manager. 

5. Upload resources to your shared platform

A shared knowledge base platform is a software system that makes it easy for information to flow from your knowledge base to those who need it. The shared platform you choose will include the tools that extend the functionality of your knowledge base. For example, the shared platform software could include search tools, file sharing, analytics and reporting, a user feedback system, and more. The shared platform you choose should also be able to scale with the growth of your knowledge base.

Best practices for managing your knowledge base

1. Update content often

Updating content will be a regular activity in order to keep your knowledge base relevant and useful. Rely on your knowledge base software system’s built-in analytics to help. The data you review will help you better understand:

  • The type of information people are accessing 
  • How search traffic to once-popular articles changes
  • When an article was first published and updated

Plan to have your SMEs review all content (on a rolling basis) throughout the year in order to update, optimize, or retire content as necessary. In addition, you should plan to update relevant content any time your company policies, products, or changes to your services. Guru's verification engine ensures your knowledge is always up-to-date.

2. Make pages consistent

Because you will likely have more than one subject matter expert writing content for your knowledge base, you will need a style guide to make sure your content is consistent in look, tone, and feel regardless of who is writing or editing that content. Stick with a consistent structure and include (at a minimum) these elements on each page: 

  • Purpose
  • Description
  • Key terms (this empowers users to search and discover the information they need)
  • Related information and references
  • Call to action

If your knowledge base will be customer-facing, you will want to ensure you follow any style guidance from your marketing or communications team. Your marketing or communications department likely has a style guide that includes guidelines for punctuation, brand style, formatting, and more. See how a knowledge manager can help create and enforce guidelines.

3. Make consuming content convenient

You want to be sure your content is easy to understand and access. These writing guidelines ensure your content is clear:

  • Clarity: Use action-based headlines to help your audience know at-a-glance what the content will explain. Explain all jargon or technical terms in clear language.
  • Readability: Readers prefer content that provides information at-a-glance. That means paragraphs should be short and blocks of text should be broken up with headings, subheadings, bullets, or numbered lists where applicable.
  • Engagement: Include images, charts, infographics, or videos within content or as stand-alone content to increase engagement.
  • Utility: Be sure to link to related articles within your knowledge base. This will help your audience easily find other resources that fully answer their questions.
  • Value: Every piece of content in your knowledge base should offer a valuable solution or insight. 

For your internal knowledge base, consider a tool that brings your content right into the apps you love so you don’t waste time switching contexts.

Guru's browser extension gives you in-context information

How to measure the impact of your knowledge base

So, how do you know if your knowledge base is actually working the way you want it to? The main impact metric you should be measuring here is usage. If your software offers them, take a look at your analytics and see how frequently team members are searching for, consuming, updating, and sharing information.

If your software doesn’t give you clear analytics, try to take stock of how new the information in your knowledge base is. At the beginning, this might be easy but check every month or so to see when information was last added or updated. If it’s been weeks with no changes, your information is going stale.

Another way to check is to see how frequently people at your company are asking questions in chat and how often your agents can resolve customer service requests at first contact. If you see the volume of questions relative to what’s been captured in your knowledge rise or you think your first-contact resolution rates could improve, people are ignoring or bypassing your KB, lowering its overall impact. 

Audit your knowledge base

If your impact metrics show that your content isn’t having the impact it should be, it’s time for a knowledge base audit. The main goal of an audit is to improve usage by improving content. That can mean consolidating existing information or breaking it into smaller, bite-size pieces, getting rid of information that’s no longer needed, and updating knowledge that’s still relevant.

While an audit might feel overwhelming — especially if you have thousands of articles or pages — going through it methodically and intentionally will allow your company to function more efficiently in the long term. 

Looking for a place to start? Discover how healthy your knowledge base is with our quick assessment.

Knowledge base templates and examples

Let’s face it—planning and creating a knowledge base can be overwhelming. That’s why we created over 200 free knowledge base templates to save you time. These done-for-you templates organize internal information to facilitate collaboration across your company. 

1. Help Center article

From Guru's article on Content Migration:

Help center article example

2. Employee benefits summary template

3. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) template

Knowledge base FAQs

Why create a knowledge base? 

Companies create knowledge bases to provide their employees and customers with convenient access to important information. Implementing or improving your internal knowledge base can help employees do their jobs in less time, streamline service and ensure consistent support, get new hires up to speed in far less time, and improve the way teams communicate about new products and features. Customer-facing knowledge bases empower self-service and improve support team productivity.

Why is a knowledge base important?

A knowledge base is a single source of truth that empowers employees or customers to find the information they need. Done well, implementing a knowledge base increases efficiency, speeds onboarding time, deflects repeat questions, streamlines employee communications, improves employee satisfaction, and/or improves access to information that helps employees and customers self serve.

Who uses knowledge base software?

The content in an internal knowledge base is authored by employees, often with the support of a knowledge manager who governs quality standards and how knowledge base software is used. A high-quality knowledge base serves employees, ends team time spent on repeat questions, ensures a consistent support experience, and improves internal alignment. 

A customer-facing knowledge base is managed by a help center manager, often employing writers who ensure pages are consistent, high-quality, and on-brand. These knowledge bases deliver customer value and save the team time by enabling customer self-service.

What is the difference between database and knowledge base?

The difference between a database and a knowledge base is that a database is a collection of data representing facts in their basic form, while a knowledge base stores information as answers to questions or solutions to problems. A knowledge base allows for rapid search, retrieval, and reuse. Information in a knowledge base is typically fully developed and ready to be applied.

Get started on your new knowledge base

To grow, innovate, respond to customers, manage suppliers, and achieve organizational objectives, you need effective knowledge management. A quality knowledge base provides employees or customers with quick access to answers they need. 

Internally, a remote-friendly knowledge base saves valuable time and ensures they deliver consistent, quality calls. Guru can help you organize internal knowledge and facilitate knowledge-sharing across your company and beyond. Get started today with Guru for free, and harness the power of integrated knowledge management for your business.

A doodle of various shapes representing bits of knowledgeA doodle of pointing arrows

Ready to get Guru?

It's free and easy to get started. Start your trial today to ensure your company’s knowledge is easy to find, use, and share.
Get started free
Request a demo