Search Secret

I confess: I don’t know the answer to most of the questions I receive.

  • “How do I print in Google Docs with my Chromebook?”
  • “How do I sync my contacts in Google Contacts with my Android phone?”
  • “How do I backup my documents in Google Drive on my Mac?

My secret is that I convert requests into a MadLibs-style format.

“How do I _(verb: desired action)__ in _(noun: software)_ with/on my __(noun: device name)__?”

Then, I do a Google search for the verb and nouns as keywords:

I read through the returned links, and then write a brief email that includes a link to the most useful results.

Sometimes, answers are a simple keyword search away. But often, they’re not.

If I’m in a particularly obnoxious mood, I’ll include a link generated by, which lets me show users how to do use Google to do a simple keyword search. Click the three links above to see examples. I suggest you use only when replying to tech-savvy users who should know better than to ask questions that can be answered with a simple search – and who will appreciate the humor!

Help tools

In an ideal world, we’d all have access to an easy-to-use system to manage incoming questions. For Google Apps users, there are several hosted help desk tools available in the Google Apps Marketplace. These include tools such as from, Zendesk, and Mojo Help Desk. Users receive accurate answers quickly when help systems work as they should.

But answering help inquiries is reactive, not proactive. In addition to a help desk system, you should proactively provide your users information online. Google provides at least four tools that can help you help your users: Google Docs, Google Sites, Blogger, and Google+.

1. FAQs and “How To” Guides (Google Docs)

Create a “Frequently Asked Questions” document with Google Docs to answer users’ most common questions. Write the question, followed by the answer. The “MadLibs” format mentioned above works well for questions. Remember to include links to useful online resources in your answers, where appropriate.

If your FAQ document gets longer than a David Letterman “Top 10” list, either eliminate a few items or create a separate document focused on a specific topic (e.g., “Printing Issues”).

Use Google Docs to create FAQ and HowTo guides.

Google Docs also works well to create detailed “how to” documents. For example, Google provides a Google Doc to show how to “Sort messages by keyword using Gmail search.” Keep in mind that users may print your documents, so make sure the document works “offline”.

2. Organized resources (Sites)

Organize documents for your users with a Google Site. Google Sites has the added benefit of letting you organize and embed video, in addition to documents. Google Sites powers Google’s own Google Apps Learning Center ( and Google Apps Documentation & Support sites (

You can provide sets of documents for users, grouped by user experience level or topic. The site is intended for administrators, while the site is intended for end users.

Provide structure to documents and video with Sites.”]

3. Document significant changes (Blog posts)

Google documents new product features or significant changes with posts to Blogger. These posts summarize new features or system changes, and include links to related content. As an example, a blogpost from October 2012 titled “Introducing the new compose in Gmail” highlighted changes.

Be sure to use labels (or tags, in other systems) when posting. A label, such as “printing”, lets users click on the label and view only posts related to that specific topic.

Labels and tags let users view just the content they need.”]

4. Announcements and discussions (Google+)

Finally, don’t overlook the power of social media to keep users in the loop. (If your organization is using Google+, a post can be shared only to users within the organization.) This can be a great way to remind folks of changes or system issues. A Google+ Community can be a good way to enable people to share information within a user group. The unofficial Google+ Community dedicated to Chromebooks is pretty active, with more than 4,500 members as of April 2013.

Build an engaged community with Google+

Google+ works well for a brief text announcement along with a link, image or video. (Google+ doesn’t provide as many formatting options as Docs, Sites or Blogger, which is one reason it doesn’t yet completely replace those tools.) Melissa Daniels, Chrome OS Community Manager, has recently been recording a weekly “Chromies Weekly Top 10” Google+ Hangout. She uses the 15-20 minute video to address features and issues of interest to the Chrome OS community.

And an active community of self-sufficient users lets people focus more on the work to be done, and less on simply answering questions about the tools.

So the next time you ask “How do I help my users help themselves?” there’s no need to do a search. At least four of the tools you need to share what you know – Google Docs, Sites, Blogger and Google+ – are available to you today.

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