Nobody’s Reading Your Changelog (Top 4 Reasons Why)
As a product manager or the person charged with creating release communication for your company, think about how many different apps, software, and other tools you use each day. Now, consider how often you read, think about, or search for their product updates. Probably not often, right? Maybe if you encountered a bug the last time you used that support tool, or, you searched for that new browser tool everyone’s been raving about. But, other than those instances, you’re probably too busy to read through most companies’ changelog.
So, it’s no surprise that changelogs often fail because companies deem them too much work to maintain given how few users actually read them. Realistically, looking at changelogs from the user perspective can help you understand why your changelog may not be getting the read-attention you expected.
The Good Intentions of a Changelog
Most companies begin with the best intentions when they initiate a plan for creating release communications. They want to keep their users up to date on the latest features and improvements to their product. Or, perhaps, a changelog helps satisfy requirements for compliance purposes; however, more companies are now realizing that the changelog has incredible potential to enable more regular marketing moments!
Your changelog has the power to:
- Showcase your product development velocity
- Share company overall improvements and future product innovations
- Illustrate how responsive you are to customer concerns and ideas
All sounds fantastic, right? We want you to create an amazing changelog that your customers look forward to reading. And to help with this process, we’ve isolated a few mistakes and roadblocks so you can avoid them as you create your changelog. Let’s first take a look at what can go wrong, and then we’ll help you with easy and quick solutions to make your changelog relevant.
What Am I Doing Wrong When Creating My Changelog?
Understanding the pitfalls before you begin or after you’ve tried your first communication is key to creating an effective changelog. Let’s look at a few of the top mistakes to avoid so that your customers genuinely look forward to reading each communication release you create.
1. Infrequent Updates Signal a Slow Release Cadence
In many cases, it can be difficult to keep changelogs up to date, which results in the opposite of the desired effect. When this happens, instead of increasing momentum and enthusiasm, changelogs can very quickly make your company seem stagnant.
There can be many reasons for breaking the release schedule, such as setting a schedule that is too stringent. For example, maybe your release intent is once every week, but your development team is ready to deliver on a bi-monthly or monthly basis. Your customers’ interest may begin to wane after a few missed release dates, wondering whether you’re late with the changelog, or there’s been an update delay. Or, perhaps, your changelog is not set for a release pattern at all, and your customers who is looking for a scheduled changelog event, move on with other tasks and misses your release communication entirely.
2. Blindly Copying Another Company’s Changelog and It Doesn’t Fit?
Sometimes you may be tempted to replicate someone else’s changelog expecting it to work for your customers, or hoping it will be a similar growth driver for your business. We’ve talked to many companies who want to model theirs after Linear’s changelog after seeing the issue tracking tool’s popularity on Twitter. But Linear has something they often don’t: a passionate user base that is interested in everything they do. This can lead to disappointment and unmet expectations when their changelog doesn’t perform as well as they’d hoped.
If you don’t know what your own users want or need to know, simply copying another company’s changelog format and content can be a mistake, especially if your user base, brand, maturity, and voice are significantly different. With the Linear example, their changelog readers probably would be fine with reading through a list of 40 minor issue updates, but this may not fit the expectations of your reader base. You could have an immediate reaction with negative feedback, or, over time, this could lead to boredom, which is our next recommended pitfall to avoid.
3. Your Readers Find Your Content Boring or Overwhelming
Know your audience! One of the easiest mistakes you can make is to not recognize who is reading your changelog content and why. Customers will often complain that they’re fighting through massive amounts of content that’s not related to their task just to locate one small fix. Or, you may hear feedback from other readers who are bored with reading through massive walls of text that appear to just go on and on.
Many changelogs appear to fall into the trap of communicating large release information with smaller updates, and maybe mix in several small fixes, all in one post. Your readers will most likely learn to gloss over your posts, and may over time start to ignore them altogether.
4. Where Is That Changelog Again?
Companies often assume that customers will know to link to their corporate site in order to find their changelog page, or, they think its only necessary to keep a changelog on their site to communicate effectively to their customer base.
Two problems may occur with these plans. First, if a company doesn’t tell a customer where to look, the customer may never realize that a changelog exists. And, secondly, after the customer knows where to find the changelog, someone at the company must take on the responsibility to “coach” the customer to watch for updates on that page. And, of course, the customer’s next questions will inevitably be: “How will I remember to check this?” and “How often should I check?” And…you’re probably right back to the beginning (ineffective loss of time and maybe frustration!)
How to Make Your Changelog Relevant
If you’ve been postponing your release communications, you’re not the only one - we get it! As we mentioned earlier, your changelog can be more than just a tool to document fixes and announce updates. In fact, it can also serve as a voice-piece to let your customers know that your business and teams are creating amazing things! So, let’s look at some practical strategies that you can use to hurdle hesitations, and enable you to create an effective, reader-anticipated, and engaging changelog!
Know Your Audience and Understand What They Care About
In order to increase audience engagement with your changelog, you must first start by understanding what the audience wants and needs to know. Is your primary audience new prospects? Perhaps they’ll be most impressed by how quickly your team ships major features.
But if your audience is existing customers, there may be groups that only want to see specific information, and others who need to know everything. You can create a plan with your CSMs to address each audience set uniquely, dividing and organizing release content into two or more segments. For example:
- The audience that is most interested in the major features
- The audience that cares about any and all changes
In this case, separate your major feature announcements from your day-to-day changelog, and then invite or let you users subscribe to the level of detail they desire.
You may also consider creating both a push and pull strategy, where you send emails to your entire user base about major feature releases on a monthly basis (“push”), and also maintain a more granular changelog that your superusers can follow for smaller bug fixes and improvements as they happen (“pull”).
Engage Your Readers by Using Visuals within “Walls of Text”
Remember, humans are reading your changelogs, not computers! While it’s important that your message is received, you can also use this moment to describe the benefits of a change or update. Your customers are anticipating how the change can help them in their work do something more easily, quickly, and more efficiently.
Additionally, it’s vital to describe things as simply and succinctly as possible for a basic reader who is typically very busy, and may be distracted. Your message may get lost if buried in a “wall of text.”
So, effective release communication requires a “Goldilocks” approach: Not too much information that you bore your reader, but also not too high of a level that they can’t tell if it’s relevant to them. Make changes easy to skim and understand. In addition to explaining the technical detail, utilize this moment to describe how the update will improve their experience with your product.
Avoid long blocks of text - use visuals to give your reader an eye-break by interjecting something a bit more engaging. You may also reach different types of readers through visuals. Consider including:
- Bulleted, dashed, or numeric lists of items (lists create important textual space for readers!)
- Graphic images/GIFs
- Screen captures
- Videos, perhaps tutorials or customer interactions/interviews
Visuals are important, especially for people who are new or may be unfamiliar with your product.
Aim for Consistency Across Channels and Set a Cadence When Publishing Updates
It’s critical that your users know when and where they should expect updates, and then deliver your releases faithfully. Help your customer avoid information overload by posting changes where they are already searching, such as using in-app notifications or on platforms such as Slack. In many cases, it can be difficult for a user to even know that your changelog exists. If they’re buried somewhere in your docs, a user might never find them unless they’re already experiencing an issue that led them to your documentation in the first place.
It also helps to determine a cadence that works best for your team and your customers, and stick to it. This might mean publishing updates continuously as they ship, or it might take the form of a weekly, biweekly, or monthly roundup.
By applying these strategies, you can create a more effective changelog that will be an anticipated and welcomed addition to your customer base. Learn more about how to start a changelog or improve your new release communication by reaching out to Makelog today.