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What’s so wrong with FAQs? (And six ways to improve them)

What’s so wrong with FAQs? (And six ways to improve them)

Your website’s FAQ page is working hard to sabotage you.

FAQ-best-practicesAt some point during your content strategy and content writing process, you’ll end up with some loose ends; content that you don’t want to call too much attention to, but you don’t want to delete because it’s important stuff — these are FAQs. It happens to just about every content strategy project.

But if you’re tempted to gather up all that miscellaneous and toss them onto an FAQ page, then bury the link in the footer and link to it “subtly” throughout the content as needed, please wait. This strategy could turn into a nightmare.

Five Reasons to Kill Your FAQ Page

  1. It’s not a website content best practice (i.e., it’s lazy). If the questions are frequently asked, shouldn’t the main content address them head on? If your team or strategist recommends an FAQ page to you, push back and make sure it’s really appropriate. Usually, it’s just an easy way out of a complex information architecture or messaging situation.
  2. It’s not a great user experience. I liken it to someone asking a legitimate question and we send them to the basement archive where there are boxes and boxes of dusty folders with answers in them somewhere.
  3. Search engines love FAQs. Sounds like a good thing, but do you really want your visitors’ first experience with your brand to be your FAQ? I see FAQs floating to the top of searches again and again. Why does this happen? It’s long and content rich, it’s linked to from every page in the footer, and your site keeps directing people there, which combined, tells Google and other search engines that this page is really, really important.
  4. FAQ content voice is usually dry. Because FAQs are either a catchall or left until last, the voice tends to be cold, brief, and dry — probably unlike your brand’s usually vibrant personality.
  5. FAQ content gets overlooked during a content update. I don’t know why, but as website content gets refreshed by web editors, FAQs are usually the last to get touched, so the information is often out of date. Which is frustrating, especially when you’re looking for an answer in a basement.

What’s more? Most FAQs go against the spirit of “Frequently Asked Questions.” They’re not really FAQs; it’s just information we don’t know where to put.

What to Do with Information that Doesn’t Fit

So what should you do with your loose end website content? In most cases, the answers can be woven into your site’s foundational content. For bigger or more complicated topics, create value-add articles, videos, or infographics and keep them in a resource section. Ask your favorite content strategist to set this up for you.

When You SHOULD Use FAQs on Your Website

Of course, there are exceptions to pretty much every rule. Here’s when, how, and where you should create an FAQ experience.

Website FAQ Best Practices

  • Authentic: These questions are truly and authentically frequently asked, and you are working hard to get them answered in your body content.
  • Part of the Planned User Journey: They are part of a support experience that helps people help themselves before they call or email you for help. in this case, link to the FAQs once in an easy to find place — don’t lean on them.
  • Topic Specific: Narrow the Q&A to a specific type of content, like technical or administrative. Then name it accordingly, e.g., Technical Question?
  • Categorized: If you have lots of Q&As, let’s say more than 15, organize them by category, so it’s easier to browse.
  • Satisfying: They are thorough, complete, and accurate and don’t leave people with more questions. They also match your brand voice.
  • Supportive: They are already answered in your body content, but you need to underscore the answers in a single location for convenience.
  • Up-to-Date: Make sure someone is in charge of reviewing and updating these on a monthly or more frequent basis. The content should match the information provided on the website in general.

If you do decide to have an FAQ page or experience, just imagine it being an initial landing page for new prospects or customers. That will help you design the user experience to be a great first impression — as well as a great self-selecting/helping experience — for everyone.

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Author Shelly Bowen

Shelly Bowen, Pybop's chief content strategist, has led teams of writers and creatives to develop websites and interactive content for more than 15 years. Read more about Shelly.

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