Retiring the old support forums

Update 11/26/2016: As of November 26, 2016 the forums are no longer available. If you need support, please visit https://easydigitaldownloads.com/support

Eighteen months ago, the team here at Easy Digital Downloads started the process of migrating our support system from an open forum to using Help Scout to manage our interactions with users and customers. So far it’s been a tremendous improvement that has helped us to provide top-notch support at scale. The goal of migrating from an open forum to this email-based support channel was to be able to manage support threads easier, get better reporting to where we needed improvement, and offer a more personal experience.

Over the past year and a half, we have left the support forums available for viewing, but have restricted the addition of new topics and replies. In this time, much of the content that’s in these forum topics has become stale, incorrect, or irrelevant. Topics like these pose a few problems, including confusion on the current state of Easy Digital Downloads, its features, and offerings. It’s for this reason we’ve spent the last year focusing on updating, improving, and writing new documentation that is easier to maintain and update to be accurate with the most recent changes to Easy Digital Downloads. As we’ve been doing this, we have added automatic redirects for forum threads that have had documentation written or other resources created to meet the needs of the original issue. This ensures that readers who find the old forum threads are sent to an up-to-date documentation or product page with the relevant information.

In the last few months we have found over 100 forum topics that were either outdated, had been turned into features, or ended up becoming extensions. Each of these topics has had a redirect put in place to ensure customers still find the answers they’re looking for. These topics were not just selected by hand. We used our data to identify which forum topics were being viewed the most via organic search results and analytics, and focused on those first. With each of these topics, we read over the thread and either found a relevant documentation article, blog post, or product page that met the needs of the resolution, and setup redirects. You see, over time, we’ve been focusing on streamlining the customer experience of on-boarding, self-help, and support, but we noticed a trend. People would use search engines like Google, and end up on our support threads. Some of these threads either alluded to functionality that we’d already built or provided suggestions that were no longer relevant. This typically ended up in support tickets being opened by confused users. As with any documentation platform, the goal is to allow users to provide self-help for most tasks, and our forums are simply not cutting it.

Allowing the forums to remain visible is hurting both customers and our team. It is leaving a source of outdated information that results in lost time on both our end as well as the user’s end.

With that said, in the next two weeks, we will be taking any remaining forum topics and redirecting them to our documentation homepage at http://docs.easydigitaldownloads.com. Once the final redirects are put in place, the forums will be removed completely and will no longer be accessible.

When we first made the announcement that we were transitioning away from the forums, we said “No. The forums will never be deleted.”. Obviously we have reversed this decision and are doing it because we genuinely believe it is the best for everyone.

We have had many discussions about these forum topics and their value to the community as a team, and we fully understand some people will see this as a ‘removal’ of historical information related to our support. This is something we don’t take lightly and, while something we can sympathize with, we feel is outweighed by the need to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information possible to our users. Keeping the forum threads simply is not an option so long as they continue to reference out-dated and/or incorrect information.

As noted above, we will be leaving the forums available for viewing for a two week period, in order to allow anyone who has bookmarked a specific forum thread to go and save the information they find valuable to their own location.

We appreciate and welcome any feedback or concerns you have, and we’ll be sure to address them in the comments.

Comments

Rob Davis

This makes perfect sense! Godspeed to all of you at EDD. You’re the best.

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Thanks for the words of encouragement Rob!

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I realize you might not be able to get into specifics, but I’m curious about how your switch affected traffic from search engines. Were there any surprises there?

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Hi Darren,

This is a _fantastic_ question.

At this point it’s too early to tell from a long term perspective. I will say that we did this with as much SEO in mind as we possibly could.

By using tools like the Webmaster Tools Search Analytics, we were able to isolate forum topics that were receiving traffic that we considered significant. Over the last few months we’ve been reviewing each one of those topics and did 1 of 3 things.

1) Wrote new documentation that clearly explained the issue the original forum topic was for.
2) Updated existing documentation to be sure it met the needs of the original request as well.
3) Found an existing doc or landing page that met the needs completely.

Once we had done one of those, we setup a 301 redirect to the new location. This would allow search engines to be informed that we’ve changed the location of the relevant information.

Since the forums have remained mainly available to the search engines, as this process went on, we had to keep continually re-checking our traffic to make sure all articles that ‘bubbled’ their way to the top were handled. All in all, it was a major undertaking, but was worth it in the long run for people attempting to find the correct solutions to their questions.

In the coming months, once we fully remove the forums from the site, I believe we’ll start to see an impact that we can measure (either positively or negatively) and we can start to adjust our future plans from there.

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An update here: as of today the forums are no longer available.

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Aleksandra Angel

very bad – need to see resolution of existing problem – see such topic in google, but reverted to this page 🙁

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rachid Ait ouaissi

Please help this is my email rachid.aitouaissi@gmail.com i want to mark all commissions for a vendor as paid “all commissions” thank you

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For technical support please use our support form located here:
https://easydigitaldownloads.com/support

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B. Schuiling

It’s very annoying when support questions – and answers – are moved from publicly visible to private for the specific customer only. I was mostly able to fix issues using previous answers, which is less time consuming then write a request myself.

All plugins that don’t have public support I find much harder to use due to lack of answers on not-so-common issues. They are also not adressed in the Support section which is also hard to search.

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We certainly understand and appreciate the frustration this kind of change can cause, though please note that the forums have been closed to new posts for more than a year now. While there was still a good amount of relevant information in the old forum posts, we were consistently finding that the vast majority of information was becoming very quickly outdated and, in many cases, highly incorrect as they did not take into account changes and updates we have made since the posts were created.

If you have any feedback you’d like to share about what makes the new documentation difficult to search, I would love to hear it.

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B. Schuiling

Sure. What I usually like about open support forums is :

– Checking if I’m the only one or this is an known EDD issue
– Conflicts, crashes and other external issues that might pop up but have no place in the docs, is of great help often.
– Code snippets – the chance is higher a customer thought of doing something, than the chance that somebody thought of documenting that.

Then for the docs :

– In the documentation as it is, I never know if my problem is in ‘FAQ’, ‘Advanced’ or ‘Developer Docs’.

– It’s a multi-page system which means that CTRL-F ( like hooks) sometimes means I need to click through several pages.

– It’s incomplete by definition. Documentation will never be as complete as a good archive of tickets imo, because it takes a lot of time and effort ( no blame here, I know it’s a drag to keep those updated ) and thus cost. (and reasons mentioned before).

I often just browse the source if I need to know something, but the support tickets were always of some help figuring out where to look. Hope this helps.

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Oshyan Greene

I agree wholeheartedly. Support forums do have their issues, but making all support replies private and invisible is not a good way to address them. I have now run into the problem of seeing a Google result that *appears* relevant to my problem, only to find this “forums closed” message, *at least* 5 times over the past few weeks alone. It’s incredibly frustrating.

After searching the documentation for e.g. “null”, I find no relevant results whatsoever. Not only are the search results not relevant, they don’t even show excerpts of *where the relevant search term shows up*, so it’s very difficult to see if the results are actually about my problem, and I end up having to just click through and read through or Ctrl-F each one.

The other issue is that the docs and FAQs do not seem to deal well with infrequent and “non-standard” issues. The very definition of an FAQ is that it is *frequent*. What about the problems that are less frequent, but still occur for multiple people? If I run into this “null” issue when trying to use coupons, and it appears others have too, my only option now is to ask you about it (since the docs have failed me), and even if you do know the answer, you will have to spend time telling me, when the forums seem like they used to have content relevant to my question.

This really seems like a step back and I’m curious what the real business case was for this since the vast majority of other software does have active and public user forums.

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Could you tell me what the complete search phrase was that provided results in Google leading you to this post? One of the things we’ve paid a lot of attention to over the last 18 months is how much traffic was reaching the forums from google. Anytime we identified a specific search phrase or forum post that had a relevant replacement, we implemented a redirect to the proper place. If you landed here, it means we didn’t have a good replacement, so I’d love to know what the issue you were trying to solve is so we can get a good doc and / or redirect in place.

I know that we cannot cover everything in docs/FAQs but we can try 🙂

The business decision was multi faceted:

1. A very large number of people were finding incorrect and outdated information in the forums. This was significantly hurting us and our users.
2. It simply was not realistically feasible for us to manage support / documentation in multiple places. We are a small team and there are certain actions we must take to ensure we are able to adequately help our customers. After several years of operating the forums I can tell you unequivocally that the forums hurt our team’s ability to operate and manage customers’ expectations.

Oshyan Greene

Well, you’re in luck, because I too work at a very small software company and operate a user support forum. We are, in fact, a 2-person company. I handle 80% of customer support through a combination of email, forums, and a little social media (we don’t get many support questions through social media). I can tell you that our forums have been an absolutely invaluable part of our support, documentation, and overall user education process, and continue to be so to this day. Yes, there are issues with outdated information, and there can be other problems, but there are effective forum management policies, procedures, and tools which can easily remedy most of these issues (for example automatically archive old forum posts, make them read-only, or accessed through a specific “old posts” area marked with caution notes about outdated information).

Getting rid of the forums entirely seems like a “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” kind of choice which I still really don’t understand. You are talking to someone that, from your description, is in the exact same situation as yourself, but we are making very different choices about the handling of our forums, so I’m pretty curious about your rationale. What you have stated so far doesn’t really make any kind of compelling case to me.

In the end I suppose the best thing to do in such a decision and major change process is to test and analyze the results. To measure data before and after and see if what you have done has brought a measurable improvement, not only in support hours for staff, but also in support quality, customer satisfaction, etc. Can you say with confidence that your support and customer satisfaction is better now vs. when the forums were available? Can you provide data to back that up? What of the value of community? And even if you must use a ticket-based system, why does it have to be closed to the puhblic? How much of the support discussion that happens is really confidential? A support ticket system could also be made public like the forums and at least regain some of those benefits, but the choice to not only remove group discussion capabilities (where peer-to-peer support can and should actually reduce your workload, as it does for my company), but also to make them completely closed and private, is baffling to me unless you’re dealing consistently with confidential data (which I don’t think is the case).

Anyway, having said all that I’ll answer your question: the search query was “easy digital downloads discount upgrade null” (none of it in quotes in Google). Here’s the link:
https://www.google.com/search?q=easy+digital+downloads+discount+upgrade+null&oq=easy+digital+downloads+&aqs=chrome.4.69i57j69i60l3j69i59l2.5919j0j1&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

I searched for this because I am consistently getting a “null” error when trying to use a coupon on upgrades. My initial search query did not include “upgrade” because I hadn’t yet realized it was specific to upgrades. It was only *after* reading *Google Cached* versions of some of the old support threads that I realized it might be upgrade-specific, but I still was not able to find the solution, possibly in part because one Google cache link was a dead-end, it didn’t have any data. It’s possible that thread holds the answer but I’ll never know because it’s gone now…

Anyway, try searching for just the “null” error *anywhere* on your documentation. Nothing useful comes up, period, from what I could see. So either that’s a failing of the documentation (since several relevant results pop up in Google from your old forums), OR it’s a failing of your search system in not clearly exposing the right results to me for the query. I noted before that the content preview doesn’t even include the relevant snippet, which makes it very time consuming to even check the results. So clearly the current documentation search functionality falls short of even what the forum or Google provides.

Last but not least, don’t forget that there are different kinds of users. Yes, some of your less tech-savvy users might be better off not digging through somewhat messy forum threads. But more technical users thrive on that sort of thing, and people like me have developed very good skills for navigating, filtering, and utilizing such information, even in (or especially in) the face of outdated info, conflicting user experiences, and more. It’s still super useful to be able to have a conversation with your fellow users and not just the official support.

Bottom line: I still really don’t understand your choice. I think you’ve lost a huge amount of information, capability, and opportunity for valuable peer-to-peer support which could make your job easier, not harder. But that’s just my perspective from 10 years of running a similar software support forum. Ultimately whether it is working for you is a matter that real data can demonstrate, so I’m curious if you have that to back up the choice. It is, of course, your decision no matter what, even if it is unpopular with users, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best one. If your customer satisfaction data backs up the choice then I guess I’m in the minority and just need to live with it, but I do hope you not only deliberated the decision for a long time before making it, but are now also watching the results very closely and are willing to switch your decision if the data proves that you ultimately went the wrong way on it. Nobody can make the right choices all the time, we all need to rethink things sometimes, and having the courage to recognize when the wrong choice was made is a mark of great leaders.

Thank you again for your indepth feedback.

We do have data that backs up our decision here and, like I mentioned earlier, this was not done hastily. We made this change over the course of 18 months and carefully analyzed the results throughout the entire time. We are entirely confident in our decision.

Regarding that NULL error, I’ve written a quick FAQ that should help: http://docs.easydigitaldownloads.com/article/1542-discount-codes-null-error-message-when-applying-discount

Feel free to reach out anytime. We are always more than happy to hear feedback and help with any issues encountered.

Oshyan Greene

Thanks for the response and writing that FAQ. Unfortunately this seems to expose yet another issue with the system: I can’t make a comment or otherwise discuss that FAQ directly there. So yes, I can link to it, but any questions you answer for me will have to be manually added to that FAQ response. I guess that’s the way you prefer it.

Anyway, so here’s my question about the NULL issue then: if it has to do with access issues and conflict plugins, as you say, then why does it *only* happen in my case with discounts on *upgrades*? It works fine on non-upgrades. This suggests to me it is a different *inside EDD* in how EDD itself handles upgrades vs. new purchases (i.e. an oversight in the development of the Software Licensing plugin), rather than some more fundamental plugin conflict issue which seems like it would probably affect both upgrades and new purchases similarly.

Not being able to comment on FAQs is intentional so that we can keep all support in one place: our help desk.

I’ll be more than happy to help resolve that NULL issue but I cannot discuss it further here. Could you please open a support ticket for me? https://easydigitaldownloads.com/support

Seriously, thank you for the feedback!

We knew that making this decision was not going to be popular with everyone and I cannot stress enough that we took a lot of time to make the decision. 18 months to be precise. There’s definitely going to be some kinks to work out but in the end I do believe it will be better for the majority of EDD users.

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