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Why You Shouldn't Use a FAQs Page

Natalie Frank, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, is the Managing Editor for Novellas & Serials at LVP Publishers. She also publishes fiction.

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FAQs or “Frequently Asked Questions” is a popular format for writers to provide a list of what they consider to be useful information. Yet more and more content strategists are recommending against them. Some of the objections to them could be ironed out in an improved FAQ format or by writers following some basic best practices to create a useful page for their readers.

However, many of the problems with FAQs cannot be overcome and lead to frustrated viewers or those who take a look at the FAQs and go elsewhere for their needs. Here are some of the reasons many experts today say FAQ’s should be avoided in your copy.

FAQs are Cumbersome

FAQ’s may be convenient for writer’s who are able to provide important content in a long list without worrying about where to place the information or how to integrate it into an organized article. They don’t have to worry about things like transitions or order usually, and they can simply put one question after another without concern about changing topics or whether too many topics are included.

However, for readers it takes longer to read and understand the gist of a question compared to subheadings. You could read just the subheadings in this article and know exactly what is covered and if it answers your questions. A quick glance is enough to tell you what information you will and won’t learn from the article.

FAQs Aren’t Really Frequently Asked At All

When someone goes to FAQ page they have a legitimate question they need answered. It assumed if the page is titles FAQ then given the questions are frequently asked, whatever they are wondering, it will be there - after all they couldn’t be the first person to come up with it. When they happen on a list of questions that don’t include what they need answered, and worse yet, seem to be a list of questions that are useless to the reader then they often go elsewhere for their information. By, elsewhere, I mean to a competitors site.

The writers for some sites seem obsessed with FAQ pages. This page is one of those old standbys that many people assume must be include in every website, though often don’t know what to put on the page. FAQs should actually be questions that are commonly asked about the site and/or topic the site is about, but rarely are. More often, they are made up by the owner of the site or their employee and this is done in the absence of data off the top of their head.

It’s understandable why this is the case. If you’ve just launched a website which is generally when FAQs are written, you haven’t had the time and exposure for any questions or feedback to have been sent. This means it can only reflect the owner’s assumptions and not represent any real questions from readers.

The problem is that just because someone familiar with the site and topic area thinks that a question is commonly asked doesn’t mean that it is a question actually commonly asked by the people who read the site. When you include questions like, “What brilliant person created this site?” you will be putting off many potential readers and customers and sending them right into the competitions arms.

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The Information Is Essential and Should be Treated as Such

If you have really composed a FAQs page from actual data, meaning the questions really have been asked frequently, this means the information is something many people who decide to visit your site want to know. Sticking it with a bunch of other seemingly miscellaneous information makes it seem like you don’t care about it despite it being clearly important to your customers. It also raises the question of the utility of your website. If the most important information to you clients or readers is not what is actually included in the main content then your site will not be seen as useful by those you are attempting to target.

Often people have the information from the FAQs presented either in a vague manner or in a limited manner so it doesn’t fully answer the reader’s question. If this is the case, you need to structure that content clearly and present a comprehensive explanation of it in the main area of your site. Otherwise, you are just repeating the same information in a different way which is redundant and just adds reading, putting off your visitors. It can also lead to a problem in search results, because the duplicate contact will compete meaning your content will be fighting with itself.

Using a FAQs Page - Poll

Duplicate and Contradictory Content

Without dedicated personnel to maintain information on a website, especially on large sites with multiple authors, there is a big risk of there being duplicate or possibly contradictory information. If a user reads something in the FAQs that is inconsistent with something else in the main content they may become frustrated and look for a site with a clearer presentation.

Your site is there for a reason, whether it’s to convert customers, attract attention for publicity or to gain a following. When there are easily avoidable negative components, such as redundancies and contractions that turn off users, this is a problems no matter what the purpose of the site may be. Depending on the intention for the site, this can cost you money or possibly create risk to your business.

For example, perhaps you are promoting and selling bakery products from different vendors, and state in the facts that none of the products include nuts or gluten when a few actually do. While the accurate information may be in the more detailed content for each vendor, a reader may not want to wade through all that when deciding on a purchase.

If they buy an item with an ingredient to which they are allergic and don’t realize before consuming it, this can obviously lead to harm to the customer as well as to your business. Even if they do read the ingredients carefully, the hassle in needing to return the item to obtain a refund may put them off your company permanently. Negative word of mouth publicity may result in other lost customers as well.

"What are FAQs? FAQs are a way to show you've thought about what your users should know but haven't thought about your users."

— Author and Editor, James Hupp

Lack of Order

We like information to be organized in some recognizable way such as alphabetic or numerical that tells us the order in which the information falls and which information is the most important. FAQs pages have no discernible order to them. There is no hierarchy to the laundry list of questions. Every question is considered to be just as important as every other one. This means the unimportant or trite answers divert attention from the more important questions.

Users come to websites with a certain intent. Before they get to online marketing they start at offline marketing which is about getting their attention. Once they are on your website they know what they want to do and your websites job is to help them do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. The focus is on the task the user will be trying to complete. This means presenting information in an organized manner which uses pathways to guide the user through the process and allow him to arrive at his goal. A laundry list of random information cannot accomplish this. Focus on the customer's task and there will be no need for FAQs.

Summary and Conclusions

In the 1980’s, FAQs pages were used by organizers of discussion boards to provide information related to user issues that could be pinned to the top so they wouldn’t have to be repeated for every newbie that came along. Many early websites adopted this form and provided all their information through FAQ’s.

As time has gone on, and websites have become more complex and design oriented, this format no longer works. Content provided in this type of simplistic manner generally lacks organization and includes too many miscellaneous topics to be useful to visitors.

The structure of FAQs pages can lead to confusion and annoyance over what are clearly made up and sometimes irrelevant questions which may lead to a loss of user trust. When users need specific information and look for it in the FAQs page only to find a heavy handed calls to action worded in marketing language, they may become annoyed and jump to a competitor’s site.

Sometimes the FAQs page may be the only place certain information is found, but the user may not know that, expecting it to be where it more logically fits. Other times FAQs pages may include duplicate content which can cause the site to become burdensome. Contradictory content can increase risk of harm to consumers and financial and legal liability for your business.

Unfortunately, many website owners are reluctant to pay for a professional content writer or information architect but lack the skills to create meaningful content through natural page structure. In these cases, FAQs pages often become dumping grounds for content that the owner just couldn’t manage to integrate into the presentation on the main site pages.

If you can’t manage to place the information where it most logically fits in the main content of your site, it would likely be worth it to hire a professional to do it for you. While it may seem like an unnecessary cost, especially when a site is launched, it is best to get it right the first time to make sure you don’t miss out on any potential customers lost due to poor content design.

Questions & Answers

Question: If you are going to use a FAQs page, how can you make it useful?

Answer: Make sure to keep in mind that your FAQs page is for the user - not to improve your SEO, serve as a place to include new keywords, or to improve your page ranking. A well written and useful FAQs page that is actually necessary and includes information that there isn’t another appropriate place for anywhere in the main content may serve to do all this, but that should not be the focus when writing it.

If you’ve determined that a FAQs page is appropriate, necessary and useful for your site's visitors, there are several things you can do to increase its effectiveness.

The first obviously is to include actual FAQs whenever possible. Unfortunately, as mentioned in the article, you can’t necessarily do this when first creating a website since you won’t have the feedback for users to create real FAQs. But this should be your goal over time. Solicit this feedback on your FAQs page and replace similar questions with real ones that you have defined through customer response with some type of quantitative definition for what makes it a FAQ.

If your FAQs page includes troubleshooting or problem-solving issues, make sure you frequently update it and that the questions and answers are timely. If you’re answering the same questions now as you were last year about problems, then customers will assume you do not take care of issues that have been identified and need fixing. This will hurt your brand’s reputation.

If you are including any type of instructions in your FAQs, make sure they are accurate, especially after changing something in the product or service. This includes links. You should make sure all steps work and that links go where you want them to. If your customers attempt to order or submit something through an app which doesn’t work, gives an error code, sends them to your FAQs page which provides a help option that results in an empty page and a phone number that doesn’t work, chances are good you will lose customers.

This type of situation results in the impression that the purpose of the FAQs page is to avoid having to address user problems. With there usually being many options consumers can choose from for any goods or services available online, once you lose a customer, it is often permanent. You rarely get a second chance to impress them.

Don’t use your FAQs as another call to action or selling page. Users are there to solve a problem not to be sold something they haven’t already decided to buy.

Make sure the answers are specific enough to address particular concerns or questions. “How about uploads?” is too vague for a customer whose question is, “How do I upload a JPEG image?”

Organize the questions so they are easy for the user to scan. Some ways you can do this are:

- Alphabetize the questions based on the problem the answer solves

- Organize by audience or type - First, include basic information that might be of use to anyone. If you have complicated or specialized information, list that later maybe under a heading such as Answers for Advanced Users or Technical Information

-Use subheadings to group answers into categories

Consider what is the best way to present your FAQs so they are easy to find and search. Maybe you want to list the top FAQs as a sidebar on your main site. You can use a software utility to extract the top questions and list them as links on the page with the information to which they are most relevant.

Call your FAQs something different. If the page is to supplement your call center, call it Support Center; if its focus is to help with the initial steps of an account, call it Getting Started.

Provide a printable version of the FAQs so the customer can refer to them when they are offline. Also, provide another option such as a phone number so they can contact someone in case they are unable to get online. It is always frustrating when, for some reason, you can’t get online and the first instruction to solve the problem is to go to a certain web address and there is no other alternative given.

Encourage your users to ask questions that aren’t yet listed in your FAQs and include a link to use for submitting it. You can also add a Facebook or other social media page where your customers can add to the topics, answer other user’s questions or rate an answer. You can also have them leave reviews if appropriate for your site.

A final suggestion to help you make a FAQs page useful for the visitor if you are set on using one is to use a professional who is experienced in answering these types of questions. Users need well written, plainly expressed information that is well written and clear. This makes questions easier to scan and it takes less time for a user to determine which question and corresponding answer will help them solve their problem.

Given that industries have their own language and jargon, customers may have difficulty using the browser to find what they need because they don’t know the terms or keywords to use when searching. Similarly, if you use jargon or technospeak in your FAQs, customers won’t be able to determine if the answer they need is there or not. It doesn’t matter if you’ve included useful information that answers questions frequently asked by your target population if none of them can understand what it is you are saying.

© 2018 Natalie Frank

Comments

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on August 14, 2018:

The FAQs don't usually answer my question either, Miebakagh57. But often I haven't found contact info to try to ask through a different channel either. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

Miebakagh57 on August 14, 2018:

I have not seen the FAQ tab answer my question. I think there are deterring one to send an email.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on August 13, 2018:

I rarely find anything useful in FAQ's pages either, Liz. They often seem like something people just use because the think they are supposed to. Thanks for commenting.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on August 13, 2018:

If you've gotten by without one, then I don't think you need to worry about one now, Bill.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 11, 2018:

I rarely find what I'm looking for in FAQs. I'm convinced that they are used on many sites to fob customers off and deter them from asking questions directly via email or other methods to save companies time and money.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on August 09, 2018:

I'm the same way, Flourish. I usually a get caught up looking for contact info and frequently get frustrated with it not being included. Or there's a chat dialogue box that says agents are standing by to help 24/7 but when you go to try to engage someone see a message that says agents are unavailable but your message will be delivered to them. It's become so easy now a days to avoid having to actually interact with consumers.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 27, 2018:

I rarely find what I need in FAQs and often I end up wanting to contact a real person. They never seem to answer that question though.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 19, 2018:

I never even considered using a FAQs page....it doesn't feel like I've missed out on anything at all. :)

Liz Westwood from UK on July 19, 2018:

I echo a lot of your comments. In my experience FAQs can be extremely frustrating because they are often written from a very subjective viewpoint (that of the writer), which often doesn't tally with that of any individual reader. I would much rather use a decent search facility.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on July 18, 2018:

You are right Heidi - many people still use FAQs just because that's the way it's been done for so long, and they don't realize it brands them as out of date. Unfortunately, we don't always take the time to learn the history of something so if see it being done we may just think that's the way it is supposed to be. If we understand the history we may come to learn that a strategy was logical and appropriate for the way the things once were but that now it doesn't fit any longer.

Thanks for the comment.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on July 18, 2018:

Miebakagh Fiberesima - thank you for stopping by and for your comments.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on July 18, 2018:

Many people don't read them, Louise. I only read them as a last resort which is annoying because I feel like if a site is complete and easily navigable I should know where to find information I need. Usually if the question is in the FAQs at all, it seems like the answer is often incomplete. Plus by the time I get there I already spent time searching the site and then have to search through all the questions as well. Thanks for stopping by and weighing in.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 18, 2018:

It seems the FAQ only answers the website mindsets!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on July 18, 2018:

Probably good advice now that the Internet and its users have matured. I think what's replacing this dated structure is search-based support documentation. So having an FAQ could brand you as behind the times!

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on July 18, 2018:

All good points Glenn. For smaller websites that have one purpose or goal that is easily defined it may be possible to create a useful FAQs page though most today argue that there are few cases where information can't be integrated into the main content in the site. FAQs that can be done effectively are those that are extremely specific, have a time element involved, meet some kind of transactional function, or include information the consumer needs repeated access to such as for paying bills or for regular purchases. By being specific and focusing on single task, you avoid the organizational and hierarchical problem. By limiting questions to those that really are frequently asked as well as being very specific so the reader doesn't have to wade through tons of information, your FAQs will be more useful and user friendly.

One general recommendation for useful FAQs pages are to use them only for such sites involved with transactions shipping, payments, refunds and returns. To make certain the FAQs page is effective however, it's best to elicit feedback from the community that is using the site and to select some kind of methodology for evaluating it.

The main problem with the Q&A as they are currently being implemented is that they have to receive a certain number of views in a certain amount of time in order to remain on their own page. As they aren't willing to disclose time period limit or number of views necessary it is unclear how many of these questions will eventually remain on their own page. So far I'd say only about 10% of mine have made the cut. For articles that have numerous questions this of course means that there will be a number of questions related to the content of the article, sometimes only loosely that will be placed with the article that the reader will have to wade through to see if the question they have has been answered already.

The difference is that there is a clear function eliciting further questions at the top that they can submit their question if it hasn't already been answered. But ideally this should also be the case for FAQs on websites to make the as effective as possible. Thanks for stopping by. As always your comments add substantially to the article.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on July 18, 2018:

I have used FAQ's on my business website. And I have been careful to only use those that relate well with the content of the page. That was one of the points you mentioned that can be a problem if unrelated or poorly matched FAQs are used.

However, you brought up another point, Natalie, that I never considered. Too many FAQs can frustrate a reader because there is no good way to organize them in a logical fashion. They could become just random questions and answers, and that’s no good—as you made clear. That is a very good reason to reconsider the usage of FAQs, and possibly find another way to provide the information.

This leads into the topic of Q&A, which is similar, but different. The way HubPages implemented Q&A, for example, solves the problem you discussed. This is because many are placed on individual pages that are indexed by search engines. This provides the ability for people to get answers to questions by searching rather than by having to read through an endless list of FAQs.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 18, 2018:

I never read the FAQs. They never seem to answer my questions anyway.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 17, 2018:

Hi Natalie, thank you. The information is worthwhile.