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Why you don’t need an FAQ page

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

 

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7 Responses to Why you don’t need an FAQ page

  1. MJ May 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    I disagree. For many businesses, FAQs are necessary. Some customers in the buying cycle would prefer an FAQs page to having to troll through website content. FAQs, if properly thought and planned out, should support your overall website goals whilst assisting your customers in their decision making process.

  2. Patrick Barnes May 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Thanks for your comment, MJ.

    If you have your website content right then people won’t need to trawl through it. They will find what they want through clear navigation and content. If you have too much content then you need to cut it back and focus on what people actually need to know.

    If you bung the important stuff into an FAQ page, how are people supposed to know where the information they are looking for is?

    Telepathy, perhaps?

    FAQ pages are a widespread example of mystery meat navigation. Could be anything in there. That’s why they need to be avoided.

  3. MJ May 21, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    Again – I must stress that it really depends on your business. It is ESSENTIAL for many businesses. Banking, or franchising or – anything that involves the customer to spend large amounts of money.

    Without writing too much, people who spend large amounts tend be ‘serious buyers’ – this means they will more than likely do a tonne of research before even enquiring through the main company.

    No faq page is risking you losing them in their buying cycle – they may not necessarily pick up on vital info from your website – no matter how well you create it.

    You can’t assume your customer will take the information you want them to. They could be tired, or rushing or not as intuitive as you would hope – faqs is quick simple and straight forward for them.

    Also, serious buyers love FAQ pages. People want to learn themselves not be sold to. FAQs are another way for your to reiterate your benefits – and it will work in your favour from a Google perspective.

  4. Patrick Barnes May 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    At the risk of repeating myself (and my blog post), if the content is done correctly, why do you need an FAQ page?

    You’re right that people don’t want to be sold to, but that’s a different topic altogether.

    Good content, on all websites, regardless of size, is about answering visitors’/potential customers’ questions and allowing them to perform the task they came to do in a way that is intuitive to them. That includes descriptive navigation links. How does a visitor know what’s behind the FAQ link?

    FAQ pages are appallingly bad for SEO. Links to them always say FAQs, the page title, file name and Heading 1 are all likely to be FAQs. Also, single topic pages are better for SEO for obvious reasons and FAQ pages are rarely single topic.

    If a question is frequently asked – such as how much does your product cost – would you put it in an FAQ page or on a page called Prices/Price list? If it’s frequently asked then it’s a top task and should have its own navigation label. If it’s not frequently asked, then why is it on an FAQ page?

    These are not just my opinions, this is backed up by lots of usability testing and advice from experts such as Gerry McGovern, whose post on FAQ pages I linked to. If you haven’t read it I (respectfully) suggest you have a look.

    User testing shows many web visitors don’t even know what FAQs are! If you have access to research that shows users find FAQ pages are easy for users or even liked by them then please post a link.

    If you have anything to do with the website your email originates from then we’d be happy to help you re-prioritise your content and how it’s linked to (and work with the technology you have) to provide a website that meets your business goals and satisfies your customers using a sound, research-based approach that will eliminate the need for an FAQ page. Sorry but I didn’t find it very easy to use.

  5. Patrick Barnes May 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    Actually, have a look at the Australian site. Much clearer and simpler all round and not an FAQ page in sight. It’s even mobile responsive.

  6. Hermas March 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

    Patrick, while I do understand your argument, I’m not persuaded.

    FAQ pages can enhance the usability and quality of a website by serving as an additional layer of information for visitors.

    People have different levels of understanding regarding the information they are seeking and they also have different navigating patterns.

    Those with a lot of time will read every word. Those in a hurry will skim the content. A dedicated FAQ page will be just the thing the second group will be looking for and will appreciate.

    It doesn’t mean that the same or similar content is not available elsewhere on the site, it simply means that you are serving your visitors properly by considering the needs and preferences of your demographic spectrum and catering to them.

    After all, isn’t ease of use one of the elements of an effective website?

    • Patrick Barnes March 13, 2015 at 10:15 am #

      You’re right, Hermas, in that many users will skim a web page, often reading headings only, but in fact that’s typical behaviour. On business websites, especially b2b, only a tiny percentage will read every word.

      Ease of use is THE most important element of an effective website and that means simplicity.

      This post is in particular about the blanket/automatic use of FAQ’s without really thinking about it, which is still too common. FAQ’s can be helpful if used in a very focused way, such as for a single product in an online shop, or a website focused on a single product or service, but most of the time they are used badly and hinder ease of use.

      In well over 100 business websites we’ve never had to use FAQs because we didn’t need to if we got the content right. Q&A formats don’t really fit.

      In 12 years managing big, high traffic websites in the private and public sector – and often where we had to work with content generated by someone else – we never found them effective, helpful or even necessary because there was always a better way to do it.

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