5 Reasons Not to Use FAQs

Inevitably it comes up during a website redesign: What to do about the FAQ page. For many years, I have made the point to stakeholders and clients that if a question is truly frequently asked, they should address it in well-written content in the place where a visitor is expecting to have the question answered.

Many posts have been written, many debates have been had. Instead of rehashing all of them, let me debunk some of the myths and misconceptions out there in an attempt to stem the tide of poor content and maybe one day do away with FAQs once and for all.

#1: Users expect them
Users expect them only because they are accustomed to crappy websites that don't answer the questions they have. But don't take my word for it. Here are some responses I got from people who are not content or user experience professionals when I asked

  1. Why do you use FAQs?
  2. Do you find them useful?
  3. What would make them stop using them?

I use them when I can't otherwise find the answers where I would expect to find them on the website.

Last resort. By the time I click there, I’m frustrated.

I hate them-usually. Many are unorganized. I only use them if there is no contact information for a business. I’d rather email or phone.

I use them when I can't find a tab that related to an issue or problem. Or when ordering something to look for specs that are not in the description or helpful feedback.

Honestly, I use them when I've run out of other options. They are my last stop in frustration, just before I give up on the website. I don't use them unless I can't easily find the information I am looking for on my own.

I use them when the website isn’t well organized and I can’t find the information I was originally looking for.

1) Because it's not obvious how to find the thing I have a question about or I want more information that the sales pitch blurb. 2) Mostly, not always. 3) Putting the information upfront in a logical easy to find location.*

To be fair, there were some positive responses.

I use them all the time and often find them helpful.

I often go to a FAQ page as one of the first places when checking out a new company to see what they're about. I avoid About pages because they tend to be personal vs. a FAQ giving more direct info. I do find them useful. I guess it depends on what type of site it is, though. I don't know what would stop me from using them--though occasionally I wish a site had one because if you're looking for certain info and there isn't a tab for it, it would be in the FAQ.

I regularly use them, especially if I’ve already looked through the site and have more specific or more technical questions (e.g. the specifics about how a certain product works or if something applies to what I think is my unique perspective).*

So yes, people use them. But not for the reasons you should be proud of.

#2 It's a top page on our site, we can't get rid of it
See #1. Have a goal for your site that involves improving the usage of pages that correspond with top tasks instead of generic, fallback-option pages like FAQ. In other words, having a content strategy.

#3 Our competitors have them so we should too
Copying what others do without knowing why is a recipe for failure. The web is full of sites that look very much the same and are organized similarly. Instead of investing in user research, it's easier to assume that others have done it and that's why they've set up their sites the way they have. Guess what? They probably just copied someone else. Unless you know what your competitors' goals are and if their website (or specific content) is helping them meet those goals, keep your eyes on your own site and create something that works for your users so you can meet your business goals.

#4 Content/page with important information is too buried
This has two problems. First, important for whom? Your audience or your CEO? If it's important to your audience or it's something new that they need to know about as part of a top task, then don't bury it. Include it in context their journey. If it's for your CEO, well, maybe they need to be reminded that it's not about them, it's about their customer/member/donor. (I know, I know! Easier said than done, but it's true. Learn to speak their language. If they want more revenue/donations/members, they need to focus on the needs of those people.)

Second, why are you burying content? This may be the case when you have a multi-level hierarchical site map that forces users on a never-ending journey of clicks. But if you have a flat structure based on a model and you organize your site based on user journeys, then all content needed on a journey is just a click or two a way.

#5 They're good for search engines
This was new for me. But after reading what has been posted by reputable sources, I disagree. Just like users, search engines want answers to questions people ask. They will find it on a well-designed and structured page that is useful to the audience just as easy as a page dedicated to answering questions people may or may not ask frequently.

The format of using questions and answers is not the same as FAQs. Sometimes the best way to present content is with questions and answers. We'll see more of this advice as voice search becomes more popular and Google increasingly favors snippets. As with all SEO guidelines, the best advice remains to create quality content that meets a user need. Once you do that, everything else follows, including having your technology support your on-page SEO techniques. But that's another post...

More Ammunition

Here are some of the more recent and my frequently referred-to articles. I agree with 100% of what they say.

FAQs are the dinosaurs of web navigation
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
No More FAQs: Create Purposeful Information for a More Effective User Experience

In summary:

  1. FAQs are good for writers but bad for users.
  2. There are better ways to answer actual frequently asked questions than creating a single page (or section!) that answers questions.
  3. FAQs don't solve the problem of poorly organized, crappy content.