I’m writing this post from a new cafe in my neighbourhood. I had one of those awkward starts, where I’d seated myself, perused the menu, was dying for a coffee… And nobody came near me. Eventually I hailed down a passing waiter with an “Excuse me, where do I order?” His abrupt reply: “There’s no table service, order at the counter”.
So I closed up the iPad and worked my way around chairs to the counter, only to be ignored again for a while. Turned out I was at the “waiter’s counter” and had to walk out the door and around the corner to the “customer’s counter”. At that point I almost kept walking. Almost… Back at my little seat tucked in the back corner, my coffee was delivered and as I took my first satisfying sip I heard another newcomer interrupt the waiter with a confused tone “Excuse me, where do I order?”
Those guys have a Frequently Asked Question that needs to be dealt with. ASAP.
Put a sign up, highlight it across the menus. Don’t let new visitors leave feeling confused, unfulfilled and ready to look elsewhere.
Frequently Asked Questions (commonly known as FAQ) pop up in most businesses, and an FAQ page on a website can save a lot of confusion.
I’d been wanting to write a blog about FAQ pages for some time, but was waiting until I created my own FAQ page on the RHD website. But between this morning’s coffee chaos and this article recommended by Smashing Magazine I got all fired up about it.
Its premise is that an FAQ page should be unnecessary if your web copy provides enough detail. I think this idea clashes with the concept of keeping web-writing simple and scannable. I like to offer FAQs as a peace pipe to those who want more information and are happy to read longer chunks of text. (It turns out the article was written about a government organisation’s website, so I’ll concede that their pages could be expected to contain long, tedious content that negates the need for an FAQ.)
Benefits of an FAQ page
Think of an FAQ page as an extension of your customer service. One that works 24/7 and never needs a break. If you make it easy to find and easy to read, you’re already showing you care about helping your customers.
The benefits for your page visitors:
- They gain as much info as they need to help make their decision.
- They can find answers at any time of the day or night, with no waiting for a callback or email.
- They can jump directly to FAQs to get a feel for your business, even before they fully explore all the information on your other webpages
- They avoid feeling silly for asking obvious questions.
The benefits for you include:
- Save time answering the same questions over and over (“What hours are you open?”, “What if I need this in a hurry?”)
- Improve efficiency of your first meeting or transaction
- You can provide carefully worded, diplomatic answers to tricky questions (such as “Why don’t you provide free shipping?”)
Uses for an FAQ page:
Some FAQs can be dry & provide basic details (payment process, warranty, etc). Some may be educational (“How do I…?”). Some can be more light-hearted (“Oops, I forgot to use my discount code! What can I do?”)
Get creative with yours, but do try to stick to ‘real’ questions (not “Wow, how did you get to be so awesome?”).
If you’re in a service business, you can:
- outline your process, so they understand what to expect,
- lay out some of your terms and conditions in plain English (while referencing your legal terms if needed),
- explain what the client needs to supply (format of artwork and images, feedback, milestone payments, etc)
If you sell products, you can answer questions about:
- shipping rates,
- product returns,
- where you source your products,
- stockists (or a link to your Stockists page)
Keep adding new questions to your FAQ page as they arise. This can be a good way to keep adding fresh information to your site, which will keep Google happy, without the time commitment of writing whole new articles or blogs.
And keep them up to date! FAQs that are no longer relevant are confusing and timewasting.
How to structure a good FAQ page
Q: How do you create a good FAQ page?
A: Read the hints below.
Keep it Simple and clear.
When someone turns to your FAQ page, they want answers, not more moving marketing messages. Images are only needed if they help provide answers (eg. screenshots or examples of use).
Use a clear font and a basic layout, so that it’s easy to scan and read. Make use of contrasting colour to highlight the questions.
Ensure it’s accurate.
An FAQ is next to useless if the answers are out of date or irrelevant, or the answers that are shown aren’t accurate. This includes spelling and grammatically correct sentences to remove ambiguity. It’s a good idea to get someone to proofread your FAQs, and tell you whether they make sense and answer the questions accurately.
Make it easy to find.
The ‘normal’ place for an FAQ page is in your primary navigation, or in the footer if you believe it is of lesser importance to your site visitors. You can also do both. No matter its location, it’s best to label it simply as “FAQ”.
Remember organisation is key.
If it gets too lengthy, create categories of questions. And consider using an index at the top of the page so visitors can navigate quickly to the section or question they want. A Search option is also useful on long pages.
Make use of links.
If you do find that people search for things on your FAQ page that are already shown elsewhere on your site, you either need to revisit your site’s navigation to make it easier to find, or you can include a link to the appropriate page or anchor as part of your FAQ answer.
For example, if you already publish pricing on your product page, but people look in FAQ for pricing, add a Question such as “Where can I find your pricelist?” and Answer it with “Our latest pricing is published here.”
Enable more questions.
It’s almost impossible to predict every question that might be asked of you, so accept that your FAQ may not provide all the answers. You could add a comments field or inquiry form at the end of the page. Or just make your contact details are obvious on the FAQ page so that someone can ask you a question that hasn’t been answered. And then, of course, you may want to add it to your list.
A good example of an FAQ page
Twitter has an extensive FAQ section, but it’s organised, clean and clear (although slightly hidden within the ‘Help’ tab). The main support page categorises the Q&A and offers additional contact methods.
The Twitter 101 FAQ answers all the basic question for anyone new to Twitter, as well as a few troubleshooting answers. You’ll see that the answers are mostly short (as you’d expect of Twitter!) and make use of clear links to more detailed support pages.
At the top and bottom of the page, they point you to the Search box , as well as providing a link to their Help Center.
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That’s it for now folks. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve been meaning to write up my own FAQ page. So I’m off to make a start on that now. Perhaps you will too?