A reminder of the downsides of FAQs

Duncan Stephen
Monday 23 March 2015

FAQs are the dinosaurs of web navigation

Gerry McGovern outlines some of the key problems with FAQ sections on websites, including the following:

  • If information is frequently asked for, you really ought to focus on it more in your navigation.
  • FAQ sections are not user-centred because a user has no way of knowing if their question is “frequently asked”.
  • They are easy for writers to create, but inconvenient for readers to use.
  • They are often used not as a way of answering users’ questions but as another dumping ground for PR propaganda.
  • Questions are less scannable by readers.

When I wanted to update my address for my TV license, out of desperation I ended up on the FAQ page. The first question was: “Why is it important to pay your TV license?” Right. A definite FAQ…

Sarah Richards, who did excellent work for GOV.UK in creating useful content, has written a number of great pieces debunking the FAQ. “FAQs are convenient for writers,” Sarah has written. “They put everything in a long list; it’s all neatly organised and the ‘Q’ does a lot of work for you. But they’re more work for readers – questions take longer to scan and understand than simple headings and you can’t take any meaning from them in a quick glance.”

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One reply to "A reminder of the downsides of FAQs"

  • Shane Diffily
    Tuesday 24 March 2015, 8.09pm

    Yes ... and no. I did a fair bit of research on this topic a few years ago with customers of a telecomes firm. It founds that FAQs did have a place - though of course only within very strict criteria. "When implemented as part of an integrated support system (covering online & offline channels), FAQs can have real value. Examples from some of our client’s sister companies prove the point: - Following a revision of FAQ content in the Netherlands, the percentage of customer queries dealt with online grew from 23% to 35%. - Online support satisfaction ratings in Portugal were boosted from 7-out-of-10 to 8.9-out-of-10, following investment in the web experience." http://blog.diffily.com/2011_06_01_archive.html So not to be dismissed - but not central to strategy either.

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