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FAQs and FAQ Design: Helpful For Your Audience or Not?

FAQs and FAQ Design: Helpful For Your Audience or Not?

3 minute read

FAQs and FAQ Design: Helpful For Your Audience or Not?

3 minute read

FAQs and FAQ Design: Helpful For Your Audience or Not?

Robert Mills

Founder, Fourth Wall Content
FAQs - yay or nay? For our monthly Big Question, we asked nine content experts for their thoughts on whether or not FAQs are useful for audiences, or a way of covering up wider issues with content and user experience. Or maybe, as is often the case, it depends?

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Laura Robertson

Content Strategist and Co-founder, Contentious

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).

Lizzie Bruce

Freelance Content Consultant

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.

Ron Bronson

Manager, UX Product Design at 18F

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.

Richard Prowse

Deputy Director of Service Design, University of Bath

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.

Gerry McGovern

Writer. Speaker. Developer of Top Tasks Framework.

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.

Sarah Winters

Author of Content Design

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.

Kathy Wagner

Founder of Content Strategy Inc.

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.

Rebecca Hales

Head of Content Design and SEO for BT, EE, and Plusnet

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.

Iain Broome

Independent Writer and Content Designer

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.

About the author

Robert Mills

Rob is Founder of Fourth Wall Content working with clients on content strategy, creation and marketing. Previously, in his role as Head of Content at GatherContent he managed all of the organisation's content output and content operations.

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