FAQs: When, why and where to use them

I’ve been thinking about Frequently Asked Questions a bit recently. They are a well-recognised and generally accepted web content format; however so many of the FAQs we encounter are anything but the useful knowledge resources they claim to be. Are FAQs up to the job, and actually, what is their job in the first place?

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What is the purpose of FAQs?

How did we get here? If someone is asking your business a question it is possible they haven’t found the information on your website or app. They may have been too lazy to look it up, or your on-site search or web content just wasn’t up to the job.

The thinking goes that you don’t want valuable web chat or call centre time taken up with these repeated questions. So they get placed into an FAQ: problem solved!

Not so fast... If people keep asking the same questions, there is obviously an issue with your content offering. Why force someone to read or search through FAQs to find an answer that has a potential claim to featuring in your main content?

All those questions!

You might argue that users have come through organic search and a well-crafted FAQ will deliver the answer straight away. FAQs are also seen as user-friendly because the question and answer format reflects search terms. ‘How do I...’, ‘Where can I...’, ‘What is the...’; but hold on - your content can do that too. It’s all a matter of optimisation and planning.

Also, all those questions can begin to look odd. They can give the distinct impression your service or product is mainly successful at generating questions rather than happy customers.

Now we are getting niche

What if they are niche questions or clarifications of your offering? Now we might be talking. FAQs can be used successfully for answering common yet not entirely frequent questions seeking additional details. Questions People Sometimes Ask (QPSA). Not as catchy as FAQ somehow...

Do you have FAQ overload?

If you are struggling with weak core web content and overloaded FAQs have a read of our tips below. They should help you see your FAQs in a new light!

Auditing your FAQ

Remember, your FAQ isn’t a place where you repeat everything already placed on the website. It should be used for points of clarification, not to explain your services or products.

An approach to auditing your FAQ

Pop everything in a spreadsheet and audit it. Read each question and corresponding answer and annotate them with a decision to keep, edit, delete. Our suggested points below should help with those decisions.

Ask: Is there a need for an FAQ?

If you can comfortably cover all information in your main content, consider losing the FAQ altogether. If your content is well structured and labelled, you might have no need for one.

Ask: Is this really FAQ material?

If your FAQ content is more of a guide or knowledge base than an FAQ, consider repurposing it and having a different strategy for it i.e. not in the Q&A structure.

Ask: Do any questions contain key information?

If so, move that content into the core content / HTML pages. Key information should not be contained, or duplicated, within the FAQs.

Ask: Are the questions and answers up-to-date and relevant?

There is nothing worse than giving out-of-date information on your own website!

Look at the data

Assess traffic volumes and engagement metrics for each FAQ to see if the questions and answers you have are popular and relevant. Then refine your Keep / Edit / Delete list. Order your list according to priority. Our key recommendations:

  • If they have received little or no traffic in the past 6 months, archive them.
  • If they do receive traffic, consider if it’s possible to answer the question in your main copy, making it more user-friendly.

Ask: Are any questions self-referential?

E.g. 'How do I contact (the organisation)?’, ‘How do I apply?’, ‘How do I register / login?'. These are all covered in the main content in the expected places (or should be).

Ask: Are any questions generating Yes/No answers or single sentence responses?

This is a waste of users’ time and of your website space. Incorporate this information into the main body of content OR elaborate on it and combine with other similar questions. Remember we are trying to be helpful and human by providing useful, actionable content.

Ask: Are there any natural groups and categories?

Do any individual questions naturally group together into the same topic? Ensure there is no repetition and offer richer answers by bringing content together to cover related topics.

Discover your users’ top 5 questions

Talk to your Call Centre / Reception / Customer Care to see what they are asked most often. Then incorporate these into your main content (ideal solution) or if they are points of clarification or niche questions, ensure these are priority FAQs.

Types of topics to cover / not cover in FAQs

DO NOT:
  • Use short-lived questions.
    Social media / live chat / news should handle these as they are not ongoing questions.
  • Use FAQs for topics already covered in the main content.
    Instead make sure your main content is optimised and findable.
DO:
  • Use FAQs to clarify key content where there are often specific queries.
    For example don’t have an FAQ about ‘What are your shipping policies?’ as that should be covered in the main website content. But you could have an FAQ about ‘Are you shipping to Honolulu soon?’.

Are your FAQs as helpful as they could be? Talk to the experts here in Webfactory about your content strategy.

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Sinead Clandillon

Head of Content

The author

Sinead is Webfactory’s content strategist and she also manages the online visibility team, comprising search, analytics and social.

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