If you spend any time looking around the web, the chances are you will have come across the latest craze that’s pretty much guaranteed to annoy – or at the very least confuse website visitors: Pop up light boxes, also known as interstitials.
FAQ pages are quite possibly one of the laziest crimes in website usability. If you have one on your site, you need to get rid of it. Here’s how.
Frequently Asked Questions. This is traditionally the place that website owners dump the content they don’t know what to do with – or really can’t be bothered giving it enough thought.
They are about the convenience of the website owner but never, never are they about making things easier for the website visitor, which should always be your focus.
In short the FAQ page is a sticking plaster solution for poor information architecture. In the early days of the web they were useful, but things have moved on and the FAQ page has been left behind.
Take the name: How does a random visitor to your website know whether these questions are asked frequently or not? It’s as if we are expecting visitors to sort out our content for us.
What does FAQ even mean?
Many website visitors don’t even understand what FAQ means, therefore they ignore it. User testing indicates those who do know what it means only ever use it if all else fails.
It’s neither useful nor helpful, unless you’re the person putting the website together. But then you might as well just take all the information from your FAQ page and put it in a new page called Miscellaneous. Or Information. Or even Page.
Website visitors – or to use their proper name: customers – deserve better treatment than this. We should be making it easier for them, not harder.
But FAQ pages are a nightmare, usually presented in a question and answer format that makes them difficult to read or take in.
That’s because everything you find on an FAQs page belongs somewhere else, if only someone would spend the time thinking about where it should be.
If all else fails then make it up
In one large organisation where I worked the various website authors were obsessed with FAQs. Every time a new section was launched, there would be an accompanying FAQ page. Sometimes it would run into hundreds of words, sometimes it would only be a couple of forlorn questions.
My job was (to try) to filter out the worst content before it made it onto the website, so I would always begin by asking if anybody had ever asked any of these ‘Frequently’ Asked Questions.
Nearly always the answer was: ‘No but we had to put something in the FAQ page…. And we must have an FAQ page…’
So these questions were not frequently asked or even asked at all.
And this is often the case as FAQ pages are filled up with imaginary, sometimes off the wall, questions that nobody ever asked. Things like ‘Who built this brilliant website?’
How to get rid of your FAQ page
The secret behind making your website work for your customers – and turning visitors into customers – is in understanding that all web content should be about answering the questions of your website visitors.
Visitors arrive at a website with a task in mind and questions they need answering. These are the real Frequently Asked Questions.
But the answers should not be tucked away and hard to find, they should be obvious and easy to spot: Don’t make your website visitors work for the answers they need.
If your website has an FAQ page start by reviewing it.
Are the questions and answers really things your customers want to know or are the questions just made up? Are some of them so important that they need to be given greater prominence? Should they even be on the website at all?
If the questions/answers are useful to visitors they should be – usually with the other information on the same topic.
Some FAQs may be pointing at a more serious issue – something on your site that is so hard to use that people need instructions. In this case it would be better to look at fixing the original problem than challenging users to work it out with the aid of instructions. Few have the patience to do this.
For example, if one of your FAQs is ‘How do we contact you’ then obviously you need to make it easier for people to find your contact page, or make it better so people don’t have to ask.
And here’s the point: Websites are becoming more customer focussed these days. If your site serves its visitors properly you don’t need an FAQ page.
If you have one you need to question whether your site is serving your customers the best way it can, or whether you are just using your FAQ page as a crutch to make up for poor design.
Ever given up on an online transaction – like filling in a form – because it took too long? You and just about everyone else.
Web contact forms play a big part in every day web use. If your business has a website, chances are there is at least one contact form on it.
Many people visit business websites to get a phone number, but others will want to contact you using your form.
But instead of making it easy for people to contact you, that contact form could be acting as a barrier.
Are you asking for too much information?
Often businesses and organisations use contact forms as a way of prioritising how quickly to get back to them – or whether to respond at all.
Sometimes forms ask for totally irrelevant information, or at least information that isn’t needed at this early stage.
But if you want potential new customers to contact you via your website, you need to make it as easy as possible for them, and that means asking as few questions as possible.
You may have to deal with more people you can’t help, but form submissions will rise too, as will the number of conversions.
There have been plenty of studies that back this up.
Why keeping forms short helps sales
Holiday company Expedia discovered it was losing $12 million in sales thanks to one extra form field on their website. The field asked for the visitor’s company and people filled it in wrongly, causing the transaction to fail.
A study by Kevin Hale, co-founder of online forms company Infinity Box Inc showed that site visitors are more likely to fill out shorter forms because they require less effort. The number of questions on a form correlates closely with the rate at which people abandon the form.
And a study by US web company Imaginary Landscape showed how reducing the number of fields in their forms from 11 to four resulted in a 160% increase in forms being submitted and a 120% increase in their conversion rate.
The smaller 4-question form resulted in a significantly higher number and ratio of submitted forms. In addition, the quality of the submissions remained the same, even with the reduction in submitted information.
Also, the quality of submissions stayed the same.
How to keep your website forms short and efficient
Ask for essential information only – only what you absolutely need to progress.
On a simple contact form this often need be no more than a name and a means of contact – an email address or phone number, of preferably both.
Once you have these then it’s all you need, though it helps to have a comments form that people can fill in if they like.
If you are looking to trim an existing form then ask whether everything you are asking for is really necessary for a first contact. Do you really need to ask for company information? You will find it out soon enough.
Writing for the web is different from any other form of copywriting and needs special attention.
It’s not just a matter of taking your printed promotional material, grafting it onto your website and hoping it will do the job – because it won’t.
And going on at length about what you have to offer and expecting people will read every word will not work either.
Content marketers like to bang on about web copy that is ‘engaging’ and ‘grabs the reader’s attention’, but this is wishful thinking at best.
After all if your customers are on your website you already have their attention: The hard part is keeping it!
How to write website copy that works
So here are five tips to help you make the best of your business website. We’re not intending to cover everything here – just the basics of how to structure and lay out your website content.
1. Make your text easy to understand
Generally, people will arrive at your business website with a task in mind and want to know if you are the people to do it for them.
Also, most people do not sit and read web pages from top to bottom, savouring every word: They scan pages, eyes darting over the words looking for something that matches what they are looking for.
So your writing needs to be clear and concise, without complicated sentences with ambiguous meanings.
You also need to put the most important points at the top: If you keep people waiting to get to the point the chances are they won’t hang around long enough to find out.
Don’t try to be clever and throw in some puns or other ‘witty’ writing. That sort of thing can get old very quickly, but mainly doesn’t help get your message across.
Make it easy for people and they are more likely to stay around long enough to find out if you can help them.
2. Break up your text
Great big blocks of text are hard to scan and therefore hard to read on a website.
Everyone is time poor these days with a thousand different things competing for our attention. This makes us impatient and blocky text will be skipped over rather than read.
So you need to use short, succinct sentences and lots of paragraphs – ideally one sentence – and one idea – to a paragraph.
You’ll be amazed at how much easier a page is to read if it’s been split up properly.
You can also use headings (heading 1, 2, etc, not just bold text and bigger font size) to break things up, and if you use the right, relevant, words these actually help your page get found on search engines.
3. Go easy on the formatting
Another trap that people fall into is to try to emphasise different aspects in their text, but tests have shown the more you try and make something on a web page stand out, the more you end up hiding it!
Bold text, entire words in capital letters and random big text sizes can all be used to add emphasis, but once you start using them it’s difficult to stop.
If you find yourself doing this, then the chances are there is too much irrelevant stuff in your web page and you need to edit the copy down.
Formatting needs to be consistent and sparse. Don’t use italics (hard to read), underlining (easy to confuse with links), stick to a body text size and font and set heading sizes and use bold very, very sparingly.
4. Keep it short and stick to the point
Information overload normally goes hand in hand with trying to squeeze too much into a web page – it’s a very common problem on small business websites.
We often see business owners go into all kinds of detail their potential customers do not need to know. The end result is visitors are bombarded with too much information and end up taking in nothing.
If you want to take your car in to be fixed by a mechanic you don’t want to know what make of spanners he uses, or for that matter anything about his methods. You just need to know that he is competent to do the job and how much it’s likely to cost.
Yet many business websites are marred by the business going on at length about how they do things when potential customers do not need this information.
If you want to make it easy for your website visitors (and that’s the only way they will stay), keep it short, simple and stick to your essential information.
5. Read it – Then cut it! (Then read it again)
If you are expecting others to read your carefully crafted web copy the least you can do is read through it properly before you press the Publish button. Sadly this doesn’t happen.
Everything that goes on your business website should be read by at least two people first, to make sure it makes sense and doesn’t contain grammatical errors. A spell checker is also a must.
If you can’t get someone else to read your copy, then take a break – overnight at least is good – and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes it’s easier to read through copy that has been printed out.
At this point you should be reading with a view to cutting it down by up to a half. And once you’ve cut it you’ll need to read it again.
If this sounds extreme it isn’t – once you get into practice it’s amazing at how much you can lose and every word you remove will be helping to make your copy more concise – and above all more effective.
Whatever you do when writing links or anything on a web page, don’t ever, EVER use the words ‘Click here’.
The phrase has been around as long as people have been building web pages. And for as long as people have been using click here as link text, usability experts have been tearing their hair out telling people not to.
Why? Well it should be obvious, but then everything about creating user friendly websites is obvious once it’s pointed out to you.
So let’s look at some really good reasons why you should never use the dreaded phrase click here.
You don’t see posters inviting you to ‘read here’ – you just read them. A bottle of beer doesn’t have the instructions ‘drink here’ on it either.
If you have to give instructions then your site is not user friendly. It should be obvious that the text in question is linked up so there’s no need to add pointless instructions.
Website visitors – or users – do not sit and read every word on a website. They skim, eyes darting all over the page, looking for something that matches their goal. For many this means skimming from link to link.
After all a link is a gateway to another page and the text that is linked up should really give people an idea of what they can expect if they follow that link.
Click here is mystery meat navigation – like a cheap burger, you have no idea of what you are going to get.
Websites should make things easy for people to use them. Click here inevitably assumes some knowledge on the part of the website visitor – as if they are supposed to know why they should click here. Which is annoying.
It’s no good for disabled people
Plenty of people using the web are disabled and many of them use assistive technologies to help them. These may, for example, just read the links on a page, and if your page is full of links that just say click here or even here then how are they supposed to tell where the links will take them?
It’s good practice to make web pages accessible for disabled people, especially since the first step to accessibility is making sure your site is user friendly.
It’s a common courtesy.
It assumes that people are using a mouse
Maybe a bit pedantic on the face of it, but many of the people visiting your website may be using phones and therefore won’t be clicking at all.
And back to the accessibility argument, some disabled web users do not use a mouse either.
If you use it once, the chances are you will use it a lot
Like all bad habits it’s easy to get into doing, and once you start you can’t stop doing it.
If you use click here once, the chances are you use it a lot.
It becomes a sort of lazy shorthand for saying: This is a link, folks, please use it.
A little thought goes a long way and makes things easier for the people using your website.
The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to stick around long enough to buy from you.
The more thoughtful you are for your visitors, the less effort they have to put in to use your site because it’s intuitive.
Click here makes things that little bit harder. And quite annoying.
There is always, ALWAYS a better choice of words than click here.
Try using active words instead and you will find that your links are worded much better and more direct – and where websites are concerned, direct is good.
So instead of click here to find out more about us, try find out more about us.
Actually, the more you think about your link text, the more you realise you are much better off without using click here.
It makes things much more long winded than they need to be, and you need to be short and to the point.
It’s bad for SEO
I’m not going to carp on and on about this but Google likes user friendly websites and that means sites that are easy to get around.
If the links on your site, especially the links within it that people use to get from one page to another, are clearly marked you get points for that. Just so long as you don’t overdo it because that’s annoying too.
What you should do – in a nutshell
Explain what users will find at the other end of the link, and do it in plain English and without jargon.
Shropshire Tree Services has more than 25 years’ experience of providing professional tree surgery services in Shropshire, Wales and Cheshire.
The company chose Moghill to build its new website after speaking to us and several local and national web providers about their aims for the site and what they wanted it to achieve for the business.
[caption id="attachment_1109" align="alignright" width="450"] Shropshire Tree Services website screenshot[/caption]
The aim of the project was to create a website that will build awareness of the company and its services, win new customers and make it easy for potential customers to get in touch.
What Moghill did
We got to know and understand the business and its services from the point of view of what customers would need to know and offered the company straightforward advice in plain English
Therefore we emphasised the company’s professionalism, experience and expertise and boiled down its services into easy to understand sections based on what potential customers may search the web for.
We were greatly helped by a large stock of photographs the company had taken during various projects, which who chose the best of to help illustrate how the company handles difficult projects, such as felling a large tree in sections, or completely removing a tree stump.
With a lot of other tree surgery sites in the Shropshire area we have built the site to perform well against the competition in web searches.
The site is to be a standard desktop website without a mobile version but still viewable on a phone. We have also provided email services, taking on an existing account, and two other domain names which now point at the new site.
Gareth Stephens of Shropshire Tree Services said: “Moghill were not the first company we approached to build our website, I only wish they had been.
“The service we have received has been first class from the first meeting to the point where the website was ready to go live.
“The professional approach of both Pat and Fiona has been superb! They made us feel that our website was as important to them as it is to us.
“Communication has been excellent throughout the process and nothing has been too much trouble. There are many pitfalls when choosing a web design company and many companies will promise you the earth.
“Moghill have offered the benefit of their technological knowledge and expertise to build our website and I would not hesitate in recommending them. Their straightforward and hassle free approach made the process of getting a website up and running stress free.”
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NRG Direct Mail had a WordPress website that had been built by another company several years before, but it did not address the needs of the company’s customers or the company itself.
It also emerged that the website was running an out of date – and vulnerable – version of WordPress and all its plug ins were also out of date and the site was not being backed up.
[caption id="attachment_1048" align="alignright" width="450"] NRG Direct Mail’s new responsive design website[/caption]
The company had been considering running a Search Engine Optimisation campaign but we successfully argued that the same results could be achieved by
Targeting the site better towards the needs of customers
Making it more concise, focussed and to the point
Implementing a new responsive design, which re-sizes itself to display better on mobile phones and tablet PCs, such as iPads.
What Moghill did
We set about overhauling the current website design, content and SEO completely: An illustration of what can be done within WordPress without changing the website platform.
NRG Direct Mail had already implemented Google Analytics statistics on their website, which meant we already had a wealth of statistical information to draw on about how people were using the website and finding it on web searches. This established that most visitors to the site were not new customers.
[caption id="attachment_1051" align="alignright" width="450"] Original NRG Direct Mail website homepage[/caption]
We also looked at the major search terms appropriate for the company’s services and the competitors for those terms.
We interviewed staff about the number of enquiries received via the website and general customer response to it.
Finally we looked at the content and structure of the website as was and produced completely new content much better suited to customers and what they would be looking for.
We also added calls to action and quick contact forms which made it easy for customers to get in touch with the company and a new blog.
We were able to build the new version of the site in a test area while the old site ticked along and until the company was happy with it. Then we moved everything across over a weekend when web traffic was at its lightest.
We then handed over the website, providing training on how to use it and on web writing. We now maintain the site software so that Wordpress and plug-in versions remain up to date and secure and run regular back-ups of the site.