If your company is like most, software release notes are an afterthought, or seem like a pointless chore. They’re cobbled together at the last minute and may only include a single sentence or two.
But, you can turn what seems like a boring requirement into a wonderful tool to engage your community of customers, make people laugh and smile about your brand, and build trust with your end-users. This is your chance to communicate with your customer base, and signal to the market the level of quality in your software development process.
By taking the time to write effective release notes, you can increase customer satisfaction and product adoption. This improves the more holistic user experience. Not to mention, set a precedent that your company runs its software delivery life cycle like a well oiled machine.
When I co-owned and managed product management & product marketing at DigiQuatics, I leveraged using the company blog for our product updates, paired that with small digestible posts about product updates on social media with links back to the blog, and finally using the blog subscriber list to blast out an email update.
Building this machine around our release notes process allowed our customers to know that their feedback was not only listened to, but executed on. This will build trust with our end-users, and allow the hard work of product managers and engineering teams to shine through to the rest of the world.
You can find an example of one of our product updates from DigiQuatics here.
Software release notes are an opportunity to keep your customers excited about your product. Highlight new features and bug fixes in a way that is easy for customers to understand. But, be sure to include keywords so that end-users can easily find information about the release on Google or within your blog’s search functionality.
It’s important to be clear, concise, and informative when writing software release notes. Here are a few tips on how to write effective release notes:
Be clear – about what’s new in the release. Which features or functionality are you releasing? How will it benefit your customers?
Keep it customer-centric – release notes are not about engineers writing to engineers, remember the customer as you write your notes, save the technical jargon for the technical team members
Highlight bug fixes – Be sure to mention which bugs and defects have been fixed. Customers will be happy to see that you’ve been listening to their feedback and addressing their concerns
Be mindful of the tone – of your release notes. You want to sound excited about the product improvements without sounding like you’re overselling them. After all, release notes are not a sales pitch
Sprinkle in content – Get your users’ attention, add video and screenshot embeds, gifs, relevant links, and even show the roadmap when it’s appropriate
Recommended Release Notes Template
Although there is no hard and fast rule, following this structure will lead to a well-written and complete release note, think of this as your release notes template for your new features, enhancements, and bug fixes.
Your title or header for each new feature, functionality, or app update
A couple sentences about what’s new, what were the enhancements, or the bug fix resolution
Any supporting screenshots, videos, or other content that can add more color to what the new feature, functionality, or bug fix is all about
Any relevant links to documentation or technical information about the product for the engineers in the audience that may need to dive in deeper. A good example of this is for information about consuming your applications API. But, remember, the release notes themselves should be kept high-level, concise, and fun
Many companies will also include disclaimers about the company itself or the particular product the release notes regarding. It’s also best practice to include an email or link to a contact page, so customers can contact you as needed about the product release notes.
Software Release Notes Examples
Examples Of Great Release Notes By Leading Saas Companies
Slack has a unique approach to software release notes. It’s aligned with their “fun” brand voice shared across their marketing teams. The notes come across as light, conversational, and fun. This is unlike many companies where the software release notes will come across as dry, boring, and contain technical jargon.
They even summarize various notes from the software release notes, to use in their social media channels to keep end-users updated with what’s new in Slack. Software release notes like Slack’s typically appear in App Stores.
The way Intercom handles their release notes is one of my favorites for a SaaS company. As their customers tend to be business owners, from Shopify stores, to SaaS vendors, to large enterprises, the end-users that consume these feature updates tend to be internal teams that are semi-technical.
Thus, having the latest releases in a blog format, with a concise issue summary, and plenty of GIFs, screenshots, videos to walk-throughs for a new release is wonderful, and a great way to handle feature updates and software release notes delivery. This format for product release notes is excellent for email or in-app notifications too.
Ahref’s takes a similar approach as Intercom where they have a blog-based format for their product release notes. What I want to highlight here, is the way they amplify their user awareness.
They add a banner at the top of the webpage for their SaaS product. It is a clever way to let end-users know what to expect with new updates. No need to depend on emails that may end up in spam filters, or a social media feed that many users are probably not aware of.
Examples Of What To Avoid With Software Release Notes
Although I do like the call-out for end-users to rate the Uber app, and provide feedback, this is an example of an underbaked software release notes update.
How did localization get improved and what were the bug fixes and performance improvements? This app update is vague and doesn’t offer any actual substance to what will be changed.
This is another example of half-hearted software release notes. A single generic sentence “The latest version contains bug fixes and performance improvements.” This update gives the end-users no idea about which feature updates may be included in this new release, nor if there are any meaningful changes to functionality.
Tools To Disseminate Software Release Notes
There are many tools you can leverage to streamline product release notes. Apart from the more traditional approach of a blog and or using an email-list to provide updates about what’s new or the summary you find for app updates in various App Stores.
AnnounceKit: “AnnounceKit helps companies communicate product updates and news to their customers, increase feature adoption and build customer trust.”
ReleaseNotes: “Craft beautiful, engaging release notes to keep customers and stakeholders up to date, or as a marketing tool to convert more. Publishing and promoting release notes increases awareness, engagement, and trust.“
MagicBell: “The notification inbox for your product. Add a MagicBell to your product for announcements, billing, workflow, and other notifications.“
To make things easier in your process, check out our list of software release management tools.
By following these tips, you can write release notes that are effective and informative. Customers will appreciate the effort you put into keeping them up-to-date on product changes.
Thanks for reading! Do you have any other tips for writing release notes? Share them in the comments below! And don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter!