Getting help: Useful For Users or Waste of Space?

Let’s say you’ve just installed WordPress for the first time and you’re a bit confused about the admin area. What are posts as opposed to pages? Is the tools section the same as the settings section?

It’s easy for newbies to feel just a little bit overwhelmed. So what do you do? You click on the help drop down menu, of course. You know the one, it’s in the top right hand corner? You click it and it drops down and there’s text and stuff…? Yeah, I haven’t used it either.

Every admin area has this apparently helpful – but mostly forgettable – drop down menu, which, when clicked, reveals text explaining the features of the specific page you are viewing. Like so:

The help drop down box in the WordPress admin area.
The help drop down box in the WordPress admin area is pretty dull looking and, for some people, difficult to find.

For new WordPress users who are after a quick explanation on the admin area’s pages, the drop down menu is probably a useful feature. Too bad it’s tucked away in a corner in tiny text where no one can find it.

Along with a quick run down of the page you’re viewing, the drop down menu also points users who want more information to the WordPress Codex where they can find an overwhelmingly thorough compendium of information about everything there is to know about WordPress. If that isn’t enough, there is also a link in the drop down menu to the support forums.

A survey of WordPress users found some didn't even know there was a help section.
The survey results are in – users think the help drop down menu is a waste of space.

In a Facebook poll of WordPress users, the overwhelming majority said the help drop down menu was “useless in every way and needed to be completely redone”.

Only one person said the menu was “fantastic, so easy to see and use, I love it.”

One user said he even tweaked a client’s UI to remove the drop down menu completely because when he asked his customers, they all said the feature was “just noise that confused them”.

Another user said the feature wasn’t used consistently by plugins and themes so it was essentially forgotten.

One user said he couldn’t even find it.

In version 3.6 it looks like the help menu isn’t getting a look in – no revamp, just the same boring text menu.

Work Arounds

It’s easy enough to customize the text and jazz it up so you don’t have to look at the stock standard help menu.

WPMU DEV has a couple of great plugins for customizing the help drop down menu – Admin Help Content and Ultimate Branding.

The great thing about changing up the drop down text is that you can put anything you want in that space – handy tips for your clients, maybe a link to an FAQ for new users.

What Should Go There Instead?

It would be great to see this space used more effectively, particularly with new users in mind because, let’s face it, they are the ones who need help and will be looking for it in the admin area.

For a start, the “Help” button needs to be more prominent. I’m not talking neon signs or giant, flashing arrows, but adding some colour to help the button would help users more easily spot where to go.

A pop of color could really help users easily spot the currently drab-looking design.
A pop of color could really help users easily spot the currently drab-looking design.

Another idea would be to drop the drop down menu all together and shift the Help section to the admin sidebar. Not only would it be easier to spot, but users could be directed to an easy to read page rather than a drop down menu.

Even a giant animated paper clip with googly eyes, à la Microsoft Office, would be easier to find than the Help button as it is.

If the drop down menu must stay, other features could be placed in that space, such as an FAQ or maybe a video walkthrough of the admin area talking users users the basics.

Do you ever use the help drop down menu? What would you like to see there instead?

Credits:  Martin Bamfordmarc falardeau