FAQs get a flat “no” from me. They suggest a failure of information architecture and a lack of understanding of users' needs and priorities. Also, acronyms are bad and this one is no exception. Not everyone will know what FAQ stands for. If something really is an OPQ (oft-pondered query) or an RIT (really important thing) the answer shouldn't be buried in a list of FAQs. Take the time to research and understand what content your users need and want, and why. And instead of using FAQs, use that intelligence to craft ECD (excellent content and design).
Answer users’ questions, about information they want to know, in your main content. Not hidden away in a separate section. Another argument against FAQs is that they're not front loaded with unique content for easy scanning: because they all start with question words. And the questions are not necessarily phrased in the way a user would ask.
On FAQs, if they are truly frequently asked questions, it's a benefit to your users not to bury the content on a page where they'll have to sift to (potentially) find what they need. I've always preferred integrating the content onto main site pages, putting the content front & center where it's more likely to be found by site visitors.
FAQs are a good indicator that there may be an issue with your content. Most are created because people think by bringing frequently asked questions together on a single page, they will make it easier for people to find the answers they are looking for. This doesn't reflect how people actually behave online. If you're asked to create an FAQ, sit down with the person who has made the request and find out why? Often the problem will be related to findability.
An FAQ is an oxymoron. If the question is genuinely frequently asked, it should be in the architecture of a site. If lots of people are coming to your website looking for a job, do you put information on getting a jobs into an FAQ or do you create a Careers section? If potential customers are constantly asking about price, do you put that in an FAQ or do you create a section called Prices? FAQs are lazy design. Create a proper navigation and you won’t need them.
FAQs are a learnt response. People like them because they are short, easy to read and get to the point. I’d ask why the rest of your site isn’t like that.
It’s best to avoid FAQs entirely and design topic- and task-based content around user needs. But if you work in a large, complex organisation with blurry lines of authority, that may be unrealistic. In which case, reduce and redesign. We worked with one client to reduce over 250 questions across 17 FAQ pages to 60 questions (that were, in fact, frequently asked) across 6 topic-based pages. For this organisation, and the constraints involved, it was a huge win.
Your website is no place for FAQs. So often those questions have never been asked, let alone frequently. If a question is truly an FAQ, then the answer probably needs to be on your site but should be part of a journey that addresses a user need. We've removed almost 2000 (!) FAQs from BT's website in recent months. There are still more to go, but we're confident that serving information to people at the point in an experience when it's most useful to them - rather than make them hunt for it - is the right thing to do.
For what it’s worth, I don’t have a particular issue with FAQs like some people do. I do think two things though. First, if you need an FAQ section then there is a very good chance that you’ve not explained yourself clearly elsewhere on the site. And second, an FAQ page is so common, perhaps it’s reasonable to have one if that’s what your specific audience will look for? Yes have the information on your site in a more sensible place. But for an FAQ-hunter who wants it all laid out, maybe pop a link to one in your footer too.
Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways,WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and ContentOps at leading industry events.