Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) are one of the most popular “patterns” or conventions on the web. FAQ’s is great for “content writers” but bad for your users.
Gerry McGovern calls FAQs (and PDF’s) an organisation-centric form of navigation and content. They are easy and cheap for the organisation but miserable for the users.
Why are FAQ’s bad?
Most of the time, the A in FAQ’s stands for “assumed”, most organisation guess or assume what users are asking questions about, instead of monitoring calls, web enquiries or customer feedback.
Most FAQ’s are written as an imaginary full question, this means a user needs to “scan” the questions, to figure out if the question is relevant to them as the “key words” are often in the middle or end of the question.
Whereas using heading’s allows for front loading the key words, for example, it’s easier to scan & find the heading “Renew my Passport” vs a typical FAQ will look like “How do I renew my passport?”
These “imaginary questions” can increase the cognitive load as users need to try “match” the question with their need.
The head of content, Sarah Richards, of GOV.UK said
“FAQs are at best pointless and redundant, at worst confusing and still pointless”.
A FAQ answer is often part of content somewhere else on the website, this means content becomes an unmaintainable nightmare for the organisation as a writer may update the content but forget about the question in the FAQs section – so users get duplicate or worse contradictory content.
Lack of order
FAQs pages are often, not well laid out and structured, they are just a long list of questions in not an obvious order or categorised.
If you really really have to create an FAQ page – here is a few things tips to lessen your users misery:
Real Questions based on feedback
Make sure questions & answers are unique not a copy of content found elsewhere on your website.
Should support existing content, not replace the main content.
Plain Language – your question and answer should be written using language anyone can understand – don’t fill it with jargon and abbreviations
Group by topics; better yet place on pages where the questions make sense, in context to support existing page content – if you have a FAQs page split up into multiple topic headings – you’ve probably done something wrong.
Keep it up to date and review them regularly
FAQs: Why We Don’t Have Them, GOV.UK
Are FAQs Still Relevant?, DigitalGov (USA)
Don’t Use FAQs, 18F.gov (USA)
FAQs Are the Dinosaurs of Web, Gerry McGovern
FAQs Still Deliver Great Value, NN Group
About Fraser Clark
I've been a professional developer for over 10 years. I've been consulting and developing websites & software for small businesses, multi-nationals & governments.