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.
Gerry McGovern: The problems with FAQs.
More Website Sins
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- Never say ‘Click Here’
- Don’t use ‘Under Construction’ pages
- Why you don’t need an FAQ page
- Why pop-up light boxes are a bad idea