I came across a Facebook post linked to by @rahelab recently that prompted me to write this blog post. It said:
This jumped out to me because despite such pages being very popular, I’ve struggled to find reasonable justification for them in my mind for some time now.
I decided it was time to sit down and properly assess what I believe the issues are. I’ve shared my thoughts below and would love to hear what you think too.
My next task is to track down any research on the topic, or perhaps push myself and attempt to conduct some myself!
IAUA (I’m against using acronyms)
One of the first things about an FAQ page that causes my content alarm bells to start ringing is that FAQ is an acronym.
I have made it a rule of mine to avoid using acronyms as much as possible as they can be confusing and take for granted that the reader is going to know what they stand for.
Perhaps this is me being pedantic as FAQ is a well known acronym. I still don’t think it should be used as a title for a section though.
Especially not a section that contains such key, frequently asked about, information.
There should be a better place for the content
A well designed site will have the user in mind.
Information that people are frequently asking about should be worked into the site in a way that makes it easy to find and blended together with complimentary information.
Putting FAQs together on the one page suggests that the rest of the site is full of information that people rarely ask about or need to know. So to me that means that something is wrong.
Or perhaps the information is included elsewhere on the site. If so then see my next issue below.
Perhaps the content of the FAQ page can be found elsewhere on the site – great!
In that case, why duplicate it?
If you have ever worked on updating and maintaining content you will know about the pain having duplicated content can bring. Or if you have ever been on a site and found two different answers to the one question (as one page has been updated and the other has not) then you will also know the frustration this can bring.
The much acclaimed Government Digital Service design principles supports me on this point:
We don’t really use FAQs on GOV.UK. There are 3 main reasons for this:
- generally, we find FAQs duplicate other content on the site
- you can’t front-load FAQs so we are not helping usability
- you could unnecessarily add to search results with duplicate, competing text
So in short, FAQs should not duplicate content on any other part of the site. And content should not be in FAQ form if there is another, appropriate www.gov.uk format.
If your call-centres etc get questions that really are frequently asked, get in touch and we will help you find a way to take care of those user needs.
Section 2.10 of the Government Digital Service design principles
How frequently are the questions asked?
Call me cynical, but I have my suspicions that questions being answered on FAQ pages are not always that frequently asked.
Some things I would ask of any FAQ page include:
- How has the frequency of these questions been measured?
- Are the measurements being carried out on a regular basis so the questions can be changed if the results change?
In most cases I fear this is not the case.
Finally, having a FAQ page brings with it the potential to upset, alienate and annoy users. Something no website should do.
If someone goes to your FAQ page and the question they want answered, and think is quite a reasonable question that a lot of people would be looking for, is not there then they will be far from happy.
I found a witty piece on The New Yorker that sums up this point better than I ever could, so please have a look (and a laugh). It’s called F.A.Q.s about F.A.Q.s.