The Pros, Cons and How-Tos of FAQs

FAQs are frequently asked questions

FAQs are questions your website visitors and customers frequently ask. But sometimes you need to ask yourself: “Why do they keep asking these same questions?”

The answer could mean there are problems with your website content. What message are you not getting across? What information do people often have problems finding?

Some argue that FAQs are completely unnecessary if you’ve got the right web content. Ideally, your website visitors should be able to find information they need right away, which would prevent them from asking further questions. However, FAQs can serve a purpose if done right.

When FAQs Go Wrong

A recent survey of a person sitting in the same room as myself at this very moment revealed the following poignant insights:

Jill: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Writing an article about FAQs”
Jill: “Ugh, I hate those things!”
Me: “Really? Why do you hate them, Jill?”
Jill: “They’re so wordy! The questions I need answered are never there. Maybe it’s just that no one else wants to know what I want to know.”

While Jill is certainly no web content expert, her comments illustrate some common problems experienced by average website visitors regarding FAQ pages:

  • They’re too lengthy and don’t answer questions quickly
  • They miss the mark regarding your web visitors’ desires
  • They alienate your visitors

Another common mistake happens when people use their FAQ page as a sales opportunity. Notable usability expert Jakob Nielsen believes your FAQ page should never be an excuse to post questions you wish your visitors would ask. For example, “Why is your company so awesome?” answered with, “We’re the best at everything because…” If you are doing this, then consider your FAQ page a waste of valuable Internet space. You could be using that space to show your website visitors you actually care about them by answering their real questions.

When FAQs Go Right

Even when your web content covers everything your site visitor needs to know, an FAQ page can be beneficial if done correctly. Here are some reasons why you might want to keep your FAQ page:

  • An FAQ page presents an opportunity to add more keywords to your website, which is great for getting you noticed by search engines.
  • If your site visitors are short on time, they can find quick answers to their questions on your FAQ page.
  • If you’ve researched your FAQs well, they can demonstrate your knowledge of your visitors’ needs.

With all of this in mind, you’re now ready to develop the content for your FAQ page. What’s the best way to go about that? Like the other content on your site your FAQs should be:

  • Scannable: The visitor likely came to the FAQ page with a specific question in mind, so make it easy for them to find it by breaking questions into sections and categorizing them with bold headlines.
  • Concise: Perhaps even more so than the rest of your website, your FAQ answers should get to the point immediately. Your visitor wants to find their question, find the answer, and then move on. It’s not a place to tell stories or wax poetics. Additionally, if you think the question could be answered elsewhere on your site, add the appropriate content there, instead.
  • Customer-centric: As with your other web content, speak directly to your customer. Find out the questions they really want answered. How can you do this? Monitor customer service calls, emails, and all other customer communication channels to discover the questions being frequently asked.

By conducting thoughtful research surrounding your visitor FAQs, you’ll not only be armed with the tools to build an effective FAQ page, but you’ll also gain insight on how you can serve your customers better, and improve your web content overall. For more on how to improve your web content, check out How to KISS When Your Web Content Isn’t Short and Simple.

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