by Joanna Ptolomey
What’s the skinny on FAQs?
I am betting that some of your services offer users FAQs. Have you thought about how useful they are?
When I am testing products usually one of the items on the ‘must have’ list is ‘where are the FAQs’? It is also one of the items that I am most likely to be asked to develop for a product or an online service. It is therefore strange that time and time again the feedback I get from users is that many very rarely use the FAQ section or find it helpful.
I am quite good about what the users may need to know, but recently I have been questioning have I really thought about the users and their needs? Is the FAQ a requirement or an outdated section?
I think FAQs do a certain job. They can certainly provide a lot of extra information for me and for anyone else who wants to read about the product or features. The idea of the question sounds good, but it may actually takes a person longer to read and understand rather than say just a heading. It may not always be so useful on another different page to where they are now.
I see a service that did go with the FAQ idea but with a user’s perspective that seemed better to me. Rather than someone like me, or yourself, anticipating questions that users may or may not ask, why not use community generated questions such as a UK university service that changes and lists their most recent questions. Nice touch, it is searchable too.
Quite often I find that FAQs can duplicate content elsewhere on a service. Users very rarely like ‘more is better’. It can make a product or a user experience seem pedantic and cumbersome to use. But how do you structure FAQ content differently?
If it really is a commonly asked question then it needs to be structured in a way, preferably close to where a user may need it. Recently I experimented with information notes buttons close to the page features and dedicated pages to really important information. All beta – we will see how these ideas work for users.
I have also discovered that FAQ content can interfere with search results. A real annoyance with some search optimisation tests recently. Duplicate search output always makes an unhappy user in my experience.
I am constantly learning on the job and as I write this post I blush with the knowledge of some perhaps poorly thought out user help content and FAQ by myself over the years. Perhaps I am too harsh on myself. But I should also convince providers that this area needs more thoughtful consideration around user needs.
I don’t think FAQs are on their way out, but a more user centred approach should be considered. By the way – how are your FAQs working out for you?
Joanna Ptolomey is a freelance information specialist who specializes in how people/organisation/communities find, use, share and manage information in health. In particular, developing technology platforms, via aliss.org, as well as facilitating and supporting the journey of change, developing supporting educational material.