Why you don’t need an FAQ page

FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website

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.

FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website
FAQ pages are often used as a sticking plaster for a hard to use website

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.

More information

Gerry McGovern: The problems with FAQs.

Six Revisions: Stop the FAQ page bandage.

More Website Sins

Things to avoid saying and doing on your business website.

  1. Never say ‘Click Here’
  2. Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages
  3. Why you don’t need an FAQ page
  4. Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea

Photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

Website contact forms: Why you must keep them short

Screenshot of contact form

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?

Screenshot of contact form
Do you really need to know all that?

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.

More information

ZDNet: Expedia on how one extra data field can cost $12m

Six Revisions: 10 tips for optimizing web form submission usability

Smashing Magazine: An Extensive Guide To Web Form Usability

Inman News: Increase online conversion rates

Imaginary Landscape: Contact Form Case Study

Five ways to make your website mobile friendly

Woman using smartphone

The mobile web is growing fast as more and more of us get iPhones, Blackberrys and Android devices.

Smartphones are changing the way we use the web. Not only are people browsing on the move, but they are using it more at home – surfing the web on their phones while watching tv, lying in bed or even on the toilet.

[caption id="attachment_874" align="alignright" width="272"]Woman using smartphone Increasingly your website visitors will be doing this: Make sure you make it easy for them[/caption]

This means people are using the internet more – and relying on it more. No wonder the mobile web is predicted to be bigger than the desktop web by 2015.

What’s more this is likely to impact small local business even more as one in three mobile searches will is already local.

But many small business websites are simply not ready for the smaller screens, slower loading speeds and other challenges the mobile web brings.

And also there are signs that Google is tailoring search results to the device you are using – so if you have a mobile-enabled site then it will perform better on mobile searches.

So in 2013 it’s more important than ever that your website works on a mobile phone.

But it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to do it – you can make changes to your existing site.

Here are five tips to make sure your site welcomes mobile visitors, rather than sends them off to a competitor.

1. Be brief and get to the point

Lose the waffle on your website. Get rid of the marketing speak and cut the text down to the bare bones.

Web users are becoming more and more impatient anyway and are turned off by sites that are not short and to the point. Smaller screens mean mobile users are even more impatient.

Don’t make them wade through reams of text to find what they want because they will go elsewhere.

2. Use lots and lots of white space

White space is your friend. Write short sentences and short paragraphs and your site will be easy to scan. With the mobile web this is more important than ever.

Smaller screens make pages harder to read, so mobile users need some space to tap on to zoom into the page, then scroll up and down.

You also need a lot of space between links too.

It’s very frustrating to arrive at a page and find you can’t zoom in without accidentally hitting a link and sending you off to another page.

3. Cut the clutter

Remove all unnecessary graphics and images from the page. Clutter makes it harder for users to find what they want, but it also makes pages load slower too.

While some of your mobile visitors will be using mobile broadband, many will be on a much slower signal and will not be prepared to wait an age for your page to load on their phone, especially if they are waiting for graphics that don’t serve a purpose.

Some graphics packages simply will not work on some mobile phones. For example iPhones will not process Flash animations.

They may look nice but are they really necessary?

4. Test it!

You will never know what your site will look like unless you try it for yourself, preferably on a variety of phones.

You should try viewing your site on at least the major phones, although there are literally dozens of mobile devices.

If you don’t have a smart phone yourself, ask your friends who have to have a look around your site as if they are a customer. You may be able to correct some important errors quite easily.

5. Consider building a mobile-specific version of your site

Of course it may be too difficult to make these changes to your site immediately – or you may not want to for some reason.

If this is the case you should consider a separate version of your website for mobile users. These automatically send users to the correct version of your website by detecting whether they are using a computer or a phone.

A slimmed down version of your site tailored to mobile users could be the answer, and will allow you to take advantage of some mobile-specific features you can’t use on a normal site.

These include a ‘Call us’ link that immediately opens the phone’s dialler, allowing a user to ring you from a single click on a web page. Other features like interactive mapping can be made more prominent as they are likely to be more useful to those using a phone.

There are also some extensions available for popular content management systems that convert sites for mobile users – but you still have to slim down your content.

But here’s the rub

It doesn’t have to be that expensive to create a version of your site that works across every platform – from desktop computer to laptop, iPad to mobile phone.

This is what’s called responsive design and sometimes it can be implemented on the site you already have.

At Moghill we can help with making your site work for mobile phone users, whether it’s a mobile version or a responsive design. Contact us to find out more.

More information:

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

NRG Direct Mail – Website overhaul

NRG Direct Mail logo

The Project

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 responsive design website built by Moghill Web Services 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"]NRG Direct Mail website before 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.

View the site at www.nrgdirectmail.co.uk

What the customer said

Nick Chavasse, NRG Direct Mail Managing Director said: “Patrick and Fiona are a great team and have empathy with their clients.

“I liked the fact that they took the trouble to understand our business and then blend the creative aspects and appropriate web text with the Search Engine Optimisation work.

“An excellent result and already on Page One of Google. You cannot ask for more than that!”

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Hudson Chartered Accountant – Business website

Hudson Chartered Accountant logo

The Project

Louise Hudson set up in business as an independent chartered accountant and business advisor in 2012 and needed a website that reflected her friendly and approachable ethos.

She wanted a website that was simple and uncluttered as well as modern, and we suggested that she adopt the new responsive technology that would allow her site to be viewed as easily on a desktop computer as it can be on a mobile phone or iPad.

What Moghill did

[caption id="attachment_1060" align="alignright" width="450"]Louise Hudson's responsive design website designed by Moghill Web Services Louise Hudson’s responsive design website[/caption]

We took the time to understand Louise and her business aims so that we could produce a website that got the basics across without being stuffy in the way some accountancy websites can be.

We used images and a logo supplied by Louise and created a simple site that is user-friendly and modern with text that is short and to the point yet friendly in tone.

We also integrated the site with Louise’s professional social media profiles on Twitter and LinkedIn.

View the website: www.hudsonlm.co.uk

What they said

Louise Hudson said: “It was a pleasure dealing with Moghill in the construction of my website.

“The website was designed in the way I requested – Fiona and Patrick took time to understand and listen to my requirements and provided a personal, user-friendly and cost-effective site.

“My queries are dealt with promptly. I am also very pleased with the responsive design which allows my website to be viewed easily on a smart phone.”

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