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Do you really need an FAQ?

Robert Mills • 4 minutes

This video is the fourteenth in our Content Strategy Advent Calendar series.

Here, Sarah Richards discusses FAQs. Do you really need one?

Content strategy advent calendar: Day 14 – Do you really need an FAQ? by Sarah Richards.

Video transcript

Hello content people. Happy Advent. My name is Sarah Richards and today I’d like to go through frequently asked questions with you.

Now lots of organisations have a frequently asked questions. an FAQ page, on their website don’t they. Now I have this conversation a lot and I want to go through some of the things I hear and the questions that I have for that.

Some people have said to me that they use FAQs when they’re launching something new because they know questions will be asked. Ok, but if those questions are to do with, say a service, and you anticipate so many people are going to ask them, why don’t you put the information that people need at the point that it’s relevant to them? Why would you put it on a separate page mixed in with probably a whole bunch of information that that person is not interested in at that time. You’re forcing them to look through other irrelevant information that they don’t want. That’s not efficient.

I understand that older users particularly love them, so do many people of all ages, but when I ask why I often hear ‘it’s where the important information is.’ Well I really struggle with that. We know that people search with specific terms in mind.

How many of you have searched for a company’s FAQs? If you want delivery information, you’ll search for your company’s delivery. So what’s in the FAQs for delivery that isn’t on the delivery page? And why isn’t it on the delivery page?

I find frequently asked questions information often duplicates other information. Some people have told me that that’s where people find it so that’s where I’ll put it. Well, they will find it if you put it there, probably, once they’ve waded through everything else. Try not putting it there. Try putting it on a task orientated page. You might find that they find it there just as easily.

I saw an article once that said search often doesn’t work and it’s more expensive to fix search than it is to put up an FAQs page. Well I get that, sometimes that can happen. But for most people, Google is the homepage and their search works pretty well if you follow all the usual rules and the structure for really good content. And if the search is on your site, sort your navigation, sort your search out, put the information on the right task orientated page. Putting up duplicate information or the same sort of information but slightly in a different other place, is just a sticking plaster so you shouldn’t. It’s not a proper solution.

Imagine, you’re sitting at home and maybe you’re panic buying some Christmas presents, I’m not judging, I’m just saying, and you search for delivery information from a company from a search engine. You know that the lucky recipient if your gift likes that shop and you need to know that they’ll deliver in time. I said earlier, you’re not going to type FAQ into the search engine from Google. So you type delivery and then the company name. You get two sets of search results. The delivery page and the FAQ page. Which one do you go to? There’s two, from the same company, right in front of you. How do you think that’s going to make you look?

It’s confusing. For some it’ll look like you can’t get your act together. You’re duplicating your own information and you’re fighting with yourself in search. Now as a potential client, you need to go to probably two pages to find out the one piece of information that you need. Well that’s daft. Why don’t you just put it all on one page?

Finally, you know that you’re helping out your competitors right? One person on Twitter told me that they use frequently asked questions to find out what other people are saying about certain products and services. Then they build those questions, or the answers to those questions, into the product or service that they’re building. They’re one step ahead of you. They’re doing it right. They’re doing at the time that the user needs the information.

I will put it to you that frequently asked questions are generally just duplicated, totally unnecessary and if you do it in a different way, nobody ever cried that they’re not there.

I would like to wish you a very very happy Christmas, or whatever it is that you’re doing this December, and I’d like to wish you a very wonderful 2016. See you later.

About Sarah

Sarah Richards

Sarah’s been working in content for far longer than she admits. She started as a graphic designer, fell into copywriting and was shoved, quite unceremoniously, into content quality assurance.

After working at Saatchi’s and Ogilvy’s, Sarah took on a short stint in government.

Ten years later, she was still there and led the Government Digital Service’s content team to cutting government content by 82% for GOV.UK. She’s banned words from Whithall and her team won the D&AD Black Pencil in Writing for Design – the only time a black pencil (the top accolade) has been won in that category for the 16 years the global competition has been running.

Sarah now consults and provides training in content strategy and content design to governments and organisations around the world.

Content strategy advent calendar: Day 14 – Do you really need an FAQ? by Sarah Richards.

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