The Truth about F.A.Q. Sections

“Frequently Asked Questions” is a phrase we all know and love. Or is it? Good question. Perhaps our familiarity with the format of FAQs blinds us to the fact we may not be getting what we need out of them.

The FAQ model has been used as early as the 13th century in Christian literature. Being that it’s 2011, 3.7 DESIGNS thinks you should revisit your FAQ section if you currently have one or were considering one.

Some FAQs for your FAQs:

  1. How frequently are “FAQs” actually asked in your perception?
  2. Who is asking these questions?
  3. What if a user does not find what he/she is looking for? What options does he/she have?
  4. And most importantly: WHY would a user find himself/herself in the FAQs?

Some answers for the FAQs of your FAQs:

  1. If the same questions are consistently being asked by your user base, this should be a red flag to restructure some of your information. Important and relevant information should be easy to navigate to!
  2. Questions are usually asked by your users, who may or may not know anything about your company, organization or product prior to arriving on your site. So when you’re considering which questions to address in your FAQ, remember it’s not actually YOU doing the asking.
  3. If a user does not find what he/she is looking for, this is again a red flag to reorganize some of your content in a way that people actually find what it is they’re looking for. There must always be a “last ditch” option (ie. A well-designed footer or navigation with a phone number or other method of contacting a real person).
  4. If a user is confused to the point he/she is resorting to an FAQ section which probably contains a hodge-podge of information, it is likely not the user’s own fault.

The job of a user interface designer and information architect is to make sure visitors to your site stay there as long as possible and ultimately perform a desired action. An FAQ section is often thought of as a “catch all” for miscellaneous questions that might arise. If a user feels lost, he/she will most likely not feel motivated enough to reach out and make that call to action.

So what can you do to prevent or minimize these undesirable results?

  1. Organize your FAQ into categories instead of it becoming a dumping ground for afterthoughts.
  2. Name the FAQ section something else. If all the FAQs relate to “shipping information” then simply call that section “About Shipping Information.”
  3. File your FAQs into their proper “about” or informational sections and eliminate the “FAQ section” altogether.

We here at 3.7 DESIGNS are proponents of number 3. While it’s a considerate notion to have an FAQ section on your website, it is often misused and an excuse for a lack of information architecture. So, don’t be lazy! You owe it to your current and future user base to keep them efficiently informed so when/if they decide to contact you, they are doing so with the utmost confidence.