10 Reasons why FAQ’s are bad for Intranets & Websites

| January 9, 2014 | Comments
faqFAQs or Frequently Asked Questions are a common content type found on intranet and web sites.

FAQs are a popular way of providing answers to common questions from customers and site visitors.

But, is it worth wasting time and resources to write FAQ’s?  Are FAQ’s useful, engaging content for site owners and their audiences? Do FAQ’s deliver any value in the current online environment?

Where did FAQ pages come from?

FAQ pages were the first attempt at user friendly content on static websites 10-15 years ago.  Before Facebook, Twitter or the humble contact form, if a website visitor had a question, they had no way to ask it!

FAQ pages arose from the pre-web world of ListServ email lists.  ListServ was simply a jumbled stream of topical threaded conversation. Administrators would collate all the common questions into one page so that they did not have to repeatedly answer the same questions from members.

This practice was repeated on static websites because FAQs became a powerful tool to keep ListServ members and administrators happy.  Lack of feedback channels on static websites ensured FAQs remained a popular content type.    However in today’s online environment, FAQs are becoming irrelevant.

10 Reasons why FAQ’s are bad for your website or intranet site.

  1. FAQ’s = copy cat content. FAQ’s have been so prevalent on sites over the years. Understandably, most believe an FAQ section is essential component to make their site useful for their audience.  Content strategy delivers useful, usable web and intranet sites, not FAQ pages!
  2. FAQ’s = lazy content.  FAQ’s are the lazy option for creating online content. FAQs are generally full of information that site owners want to tell their audience, but they can not determine the best place to put that information on their site.
  3. FAQ’s = outdated content type. The online world of the Internet and Intranets has evolved significantly since the days of static websites and email distribution lists where FAQ’s were useful content components.  Today’s online environment, if a person has a question, they will use social media like Facebook or Twitter. In the workplace, staff are asking questions on enterprise social platforms like Yammer, Jive, Chatter, Socialcast or Sharepoint.  People do not have to refer to a list of questions and answers to find the information they are seeking.
  4. FAQ’s = ugly content When you visit a site, do you click on the FAQ section first?  Do you like to scroll through a list of questions and answers to find the information you are looking for?  If the site analytics reports are showing your audience moving away from the content to the FAQ section, it is a indication of problematic site content.  Your audience will only visit the FAQ section if they can not find answers to their questions in the content.
  5. Lots of FAQ’s = lots of problems with the product or service. If you list a large number of FAQ’s on your site, it can potentially highlight to customers that your products or services are prone to many design flaws and problems.  If you have common questions from your customers about a product or service, it is an opportunity to address the design problem so that the next customer does not ask the same question!
  6. FAQ’s = Attempt to patch up content flaws. Before creating a FAQ page, ask yourself why the FAQ page should exist at all.  FAQ’s are often used to patch up flaws in poor content on a website or Intranet site. If an FAQ page is answering questions that the rest of the website or Intranet site should answer, then fix your content. Focus on providing a positive user experience for your audience by placing the right content in the right place at the right time with a content strategy. Adding a FAQ page is not an adequate solution.
  7. FAQ’s are rarely questions people ask frequently. Providing a list of questions that you think someone may have and providing canned answers is an old and inefficient way of helping your audience. It also takes time to determine the questions that people may ask!  Isn’t better to devote that time and effort to solving problems with your content in the first place?
  8. FAQ’s undermine the trust of your audience. Good site content, page structures and interface design all combine to create a positive, intuitive experience for site visitors.  Your site audience should be able to find information where they expect it to be.  Steadily growing your FAQ section in response to customer questions only serves to undermine your site visitors trust in the content. This practice also negatively impacts their understanding of the overall site navigation.
  9. FAQ’s patronise your audience. FAQ’s have a simplistic information design that can be patronising to your audience.  An FAQ reads like a condescending role play conversation between the eager inexperienced user and a wise expert.  This form of information design does not contribute to a positive user experience for your audience.
  10. FAQ’s are reactive content. Some FAQ’s are used to provide solutions to significant product or service failures. If an FAQ is to be used, it should provide simple answers to real frequently asked questions, not solutions to failures in the product or service.

Are FAQ’s useful and engaging content?

FAQs can be considered useful if they answer a ‘real frequently asked question’ from your customer base.  However, this should only be temporary content while the problem that is cause of frequently asked questions from customers is corrected.  FAQ’s can not be considered engaging content. Whilst an FAQ may assist with a customer problem, the content does not engage a customer to offer a suggestion for improvement, respond to a call to action  or engage in conversation online.

Do FAQ’s deliver value in the current online environments?

The value that FAQ content provide to customers in current online environments is minimal.  Many customers are now turning to social media to directly interact with brands online by asking questions and engaging in posts.  In an enterprise environment, similar behaviours can be seen with employees asking questions on Yammer, Jive, Chatter or SocialCast.

If an FAQ content is needed on a temporary basis for a product or service, these platforms can be used to provide valuable user input into commonly asked questions.  Analytics apps and data driven design decisions also assist with obtaining valuable customer feedback so that the FAQ or other online content is customer-centric and valuable.

Tags: , ,

Category: Intranets, Websites

About the Author ()

Teale Shapcott is a multidisciplinary User Experience expert passionate about making websites, software and intranets easy to use and engaging for people. Teale’s career has spanned 16 years of design experience moving from graphic / web design to user interface design to designing processes and customer experience for corporate intranets. Teale enjoys weaving together different disciplines and perspectives together to solve complex design problems. When she isn’t busy designing great experiences, Teale can be found, camera in hand, looking for beauty, inspiration and fresh perspectives.