Your site can have the perfect information architecture (IA). It can also have the best web copy ever. However, it might still fail to answer some of your users’ most bugging questions.
Well, because it’s not possible.
If it were, FAQs wouldn’t exist.
But they do.
Because even with the best information architecture and web copy, you can’t beat the need for helpful FAQs. Yet a lot of site owners balk at the idea of writing them because perhaps they believe many myths about FAQs. Myths that make FAQs feel like the ugliest, most useless, and unnecessary element on a site.
But these are all, well… myths – time to smash the top 5:
1. No one reads FAQs
The #1 myth stopping people from adding FAQs: NO ONE READS THEM.
It’s either the web designer who puts this in the site owner’s head, or it’s the argument of the usability engineer, or perhaps it’s the site owner’s own assumption.
Whatever it is, there’s data to puncture this one. Desk.com’s research shows that 41 percent of millennials would first check an online FAQ before contacting support. Another study claims that 64% millennials prefer self-help.
So it’s clear: people are increasingly looking for FAQs (and reading them) because FAQs are an excellent starting point for self-help.
2. FAQs mean poorly written site copy
Ah.. this one’s my favorite. Lots of people justify the killing of FAQs by saying:
“Oh, if these are indeed your users’ most pressing questions… then your site copy (or content) should answer them (*smirk*).”
Now a site copy and content, no matter how well written, CANNOT “specifically” answer each question of a user.
Here’s what I mean:
Consider FAQs of a product that offers a full refund within 30 days.
If the site’s copy fails to give information about the refund – sure, blame it. There shouldn’t be a question like “Do you offer refunds?” (unless you don’t and don’t want to highlight it in the copy). The pricing page copy should really cover if you give any kind of money-back guarantees or refunds.
But what about this question: “I claimed for a refund but haven’t got it yet. What do I do?”
Now this question isn’t something that a product copy or its pricing page content can answer. But that doesn’t discount the validity of the question. It can definitely cause concern to a user when they don’t get the promised refund, so it does need an answer. But elsewhere —not in the site copy. IN THE FAQs!
3. FAQs are just made-up questions
Yes and no – that’s how I feel about this issue. And I think over-enthusiastic site owners are to blame for this one. Lots of sites DO sport FAQs full of have made-up questions. Instead of being real user questions, these are questions that the site owners wished (and hoped) their readers would ask.
In fact, made-up FAQs are so common that they landed up on the 7th spot in Nielsen’s report of the biggest web design mistakes (2002 edition).
R. Stephen Gracey shares a few funny samples about this:
Q. What is this product?
A. It’s a widget. It’s the best widget you’ll ever find. You should buy one.
Q. Is it hard to use?
A. NO! It’s the easiest widget on the market. You should buy one…
It’s unimaginable that someone would add these questions to their FAQs but sadly they do. But again, just because some sites do it, it would be unfair to believe that all sites do it.
Look at Ghost’s FAQs for example:
I’m sure these questions aren’t ones that the product owners sat down to write — these have to be “real” user questions!
While there are instances of superfluous questions, lots of FAQs are actually helpful and voice some real user questions.
4. FAQs have boring and hard-to-read answers
Users too have their share of FAQ myths. They often rush to contact support because they feel that searching for and reading through long, boring, and (sometimes) useless answers will kill their time.
It’s true: unless FAQs give useful answers with easy to follow instructions, it can be a pain to find help in them. However you can tell when a site makes the effort.
Take for instance, MailPoet’s FAQs. They’re a shining example of a slick FAQ experience.
(Oh and if you’re wondering… MailPoet uses a Hero Theme to implement their FAQ.)
5. A site search is better than FAQs
Often the anti-FAQ brigade argues that a site search beats FAQs. Now, this claim is highly overrated.
While site search is a useful function, most users can’t perform effective searches. Nielsen has repeatedly pointed out users’ poor search skills. He tells of how a user who wanted to buy a “highly protective yet girlish phone case” used the keyphrase “pink impact resistant iPhone 5 cover” to find it!
Needless to say, the user didn’t get what she was looking for. But the bigger problem this study highlights is that people use all kinds of terms to find what they need. This makes the site search approach to handling FAQs even more flawed because it’s not easy to map users’ keywords to support articles.
About trying to replace a site’s FAQ section with a search function, Nielsen says:
“Search is a frequently tried FAQ alternative, but search is rarely enough. The big problem with a search-only approach is that your vocabulary and your users’ vocabulary probably talk past each other. (The “verbal disagreement phenomenon.”) Regrettably, most people are also not skilled at forming effective search queries.”
That said, you can combine FAQs and search, i.e., you can power your FAQ and other support content with a robust search functionality.
If you go for a FAQ solution like KnowAll, you can have the best of both FAQs and search. KnowAll uses lightning-fast AJAX-based search functionality to fetch the most frequently asked questions and support docs around your users’ keywords.
Wrapping it up…
When done right, FAQs don’t just support current users, but they also help prospects make informed decisions. Besides, the more answers you offer via your site’s FAQs, the lesser support tickets will get raised due to them.
Don’t let the myths around FAQs stop you from delivering incredible FAQ experiences. What are some of the other myths you’ve heard about FAQs? Do share in the comments!