Are FAQ pages right for your site?

FAQ pages are everywhere on the web, but are they actually the best way to answer questions? Will FAQ pages draw your potential clients in, or confuse and distract them? This came up recently in my main LinkedIn group. Some of my colleagues love their Frequently Asked Questions page.  They feel it’s a place they can talk directly to potential clients.   I’m definitely on board with using content to answer questions, but FAQ pages have pitfalls which are often overlooked.

I’ll share these pitfalls with you – and the alternatives that may work better for your site.

Why are questions and answers so powerful?

The best web content meets a definite need at a specific time.  And content that answers questions delivers this in spades.

Think about it from a customer’s point of view.  Let’s say Pete needs a financial planner and is thinking about engaging Joe, but wants to know if he can trust Joes advice.  “What qualifications does Joe have behind him?” Pete asks himself.  Joe’s website gives him the list of degrees and diplomas.  Immediately, Joe’s achieved two things:

1. He’s progressed the sale: Pete may have other questions before he’ll sign up, but this one is answered.

2. He’s built rapport.  Pete will feel like Joe’s responsive and upfront.  Its a gain to Joes brand, and his relationship with Peter that goes beyond that single transaction.

This is a sales example, but questions and answer format work just as well with after-sales information, like support requests.

What are the downsides of a catch-all FAQ page?

There’s a very specific type of FAQ page which lets you down: where all the questions and answers are grouped on the one page.  That’s the most common approach, but it’s also the least likely to work.

1. They aren’t designed for users’ needs

You can have relevant, well-crafted information on your site, but if it’s not accessible, it won’t get read.   Accessibility goes beyond just publishing the information; it’s about structuring and signposting the information so each user can easily find what they need. Remove the structure, and you’re left with the needle in the haystack.

Most catch-all FAQ pages lack structure or coherence: theyre a long jumble of questions and answers.

Let’s bring Pete back in with his question about Joe’s qualifications. Joe’s website has 20 FAQs on a page, and one of those FAQs answers the qualifications question.  It’s right down the bottom. For Pete, the other 19 are irrelevant.  Worse: they are distractions.  Pete has to sift through these 19 questions to find the one bit of information he needs at that time.  The other FAQs may be relevant to another customer, but not to Pete.  Unless he can find what he needs quickly, he’ll leave.

2. They don’t help your SEO

Pages perform well in search engines when they are oriented around a defined topic, whether that be ‘men’s running shoes’ or ‘coaching for small businesses.’   Catch-all FAQ pages spread themselves too thin and cover too many topics to make an impression on search engines.  So by using a single FAQ page, you may forgo an SEO boost for that page – and your site as a whole.

What are the alternatives to a catch-all FAQ page?

1. Topic-based FAQ pages

IT companies use topic FAQs to great effect.  You might’ve seen it yourself.  You go to the ‘support’ page, and see whole set of FAQ pages, grouped under different topics. FAQs for ‘downloads’, FAQs for ‘application support

Sharpening the focus of an FAQ page to one topic area solves both the problems I’ve just raised.  Because the page only covers one area, people like Pete won’t need to search as far to find what they need.  And because the content is about one thing, you’ll get that cluster of inter-related terms and phases, which search engines love.

2. Question and answer format at large

You can use question and answer format for any piece of content.  Take this post, for example.

Should questions underpin all web content?

Yes. Why leave it up to your FAQ page to give people answers? The fundamental drawback of catch-all FAQ pages is that they force an artificial split into two types of web content: ‘content that answers people’s questions’ and ‘everything else.’ Sometimes, this becomes a license to ramble. To avoid the hard decisions about whether information stays in or out.

If your content isn’t answering people’s questions, you’re wasting their time.

You can use questions as a touchstone for your entire site.  Look at each piece of content and think, ‘What question would this answer?’ Your contact us page – that definitely stays, because it answers the question ‘How can I get in touch’.  The pictures of your cat?  Not so much.

And if you still feel like FAQs are essential, there may be gaps in your core content. Does your product description leave questions open? Does your About Us content give a clear picture of who you are and how you work?

Instead of waiting for clients to jump across to the FAQ page for the answer, could you give better service by answering the question then and there?

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