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How to make a killer FAQ web page

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page is one of the most misunderstood web pages around. Too often when I’m browsing through an online business site and want to know something simple, I find myself staring down a wall of text. I just want to know if I can pay by credit card! But though the answer may be buried in the huge lists of questions, my heart sinks.

Considering that smartphone users spend an average of 15 hours per week researching purchases on mobile sites and apps, businesses do themselves no favours by putting too much information online. Here are some FAQs that will help turn your own collection of FAQs into a killer page loved by your online visitors.

What's an FAQ page really for?

A surprising number of businesses seem to be confused about the purpose of their FAQ page. Specifically, they don’t seem to realise who they’re meant to be helping. A gentle hint, dear customer service staff: the FAQs aren’t there for you.

  • They are not there to save you time (so don’t even THINK about using them as a shortcut to answering customer emails by writing “You can find the answer in our FAQs”).

  • They are not there to give your company a chance to be smart, sarcastic or cute, or to show off your mad writing skillz.

  • They are not there as a disclaimer for any and every issue which might conceivably arise.

FAQs are there for one purpose, and one purpose only: to give potential customers the answers to the questions they are most likely to ask, but which didn’t fit neatly into the structure of your website.

What if I can't come up with a simple answer to a FAQ?

The KISS principle, supposedly coined by the US Navy back in 1960, should be foremost in your mind when you’re coming up with your FAQs. Keep It Simple Stupid! KISS reminds system designers that things work best when kept simple. If the purpose of the FAQs is to enable customers to find answers quickly and easily – and it is – then it makes sense that the FAQs should be kept to a minimum and answered clearly and concisely.

What if you can't? Composing your FAQ page provides the ideal opportunity to take a good look at the answers. If you can’t describe something clearly and concisely, chances are that you can improve whatever it is you're doing. Because if you don't really get it, how can your customers?

As an example: if your business ships goods, can the shipping charges be summed up in just a few lines? The usually fabulous Amazon really lets itself down here, with a long list of shipping charges that require a calculator and a clear head to figure out. If yours is the same, consider introducing a new policy. Ehm, how about free shipping?

What should I do with Rarely Asked Questions?

Less is more. Your FAQ page should only list the things that customers most likely want to know. The more questions and answers you have on this page, the more difficult it becomes for a customer to find what they’re looking for. So leave out the Occasionally Asked Questions, and stay far away from Rarely Asked Questions.

Many businesses seem unable to resist the temptation to think up a few extra questions to bulk out the page. Your FAQ page might (if you’re very lucky) only have two questions on it to start with. That’s OK; in fact, it’s ideal. Just keep an eye on the sorts of things customers keep asking you. If you see the same issues coming up over and over again, you’ll need to do one of two things: either add a new FAQ to your page or, if necessary, alter your business’s policy in that area to make it simpler.

So what should you do with questions that are occasionally or rarely asked, but that are asked? Put the answers in your knowledge base and use them as quick replies. You can use quick replies to whip those responses out quickly, without slowing down the people who are looking for the FAQs.

Can I fill my FAQ page with everything I know?

Each page on your website has a specific job to do. It should be finely tuned to do that job and no more. Far too often, FAQ pages are considered a place to dump all the information that didn’t really fit in anywhere else. Resist the urge to get it all out there; your customers’ needs will be much better served by allowing those with less common questions to contact you for the answer. That leaves your FAQ page uncluttered by extra info and allows it to serve its true purpose.

Even if you only have half a dozen FAQs, you should have a short link of each question at the top of the page with a link to the answer (keep those smartphone users in mind). Then customers can scan the FAQs and click on the one they want without needing to scroll through pages of text. Keep in mind that it’s in your own best interest to make it easy to find the answers – then customers are less likely to need to send you an email.

That said, don’t hide your contact information! Ensure that your customer service email address (and contact info for any other channels you use) is listed on the page as well.