Pop the FAQ: why you should use ‘questions and answers’ on your website
Everyone’s got a question. Nobody understands everything. If you think your website explains every possible detail about your business and its services I’ll show you someone who reads it differently. Chances are that even if you have covered all the angles, someone vital will miss the part where you explained in detailed bullet-points that very thing they were wondering about. Voice activated systems such as Siri or Alexa mean these exchange are invariably conducted in a questions and answers format. It’s a prevailing trend that is becoming embedded in the psyche of web users, however they search. So how to address these in a wider context? A good shortcut could be bringing back an old Frequently Asked Questions page – FAQ – in a fresh, customer-focussed way. With this in mind, here are some thoughts on how best to reimagine this Web 1.0 feature for a new era.
How the unloved FAQ could be reinvented
It’s become very voguish to imagine that familiar web tropes can be upended. This tends to be by means of a tidied-away navigation or renaming a familiar page, just to be different for the sake of it. We like to think that it’s possible to do new things – why not – but some boilerplate approaches should just be left be. I’m thinking of: About versus Our Story; Contact versus Get in touch; News versus Updates. There are times when innovation only serves to confuse. On the other hand, it’s important to know when to let go. Some features of a website just… go out of fashion.
Remember thumbnail images? Pages that scroll left to right? Pointless Flash animations? The idea that nobody would ever scroll down a page so everything had to be ‘above the fold’? As trends change, so does the way we design. Social media upended the notion that nobody would ever scroll, when now that’s all smartphone users ever do. One such website feature is the FAQ page – which had become a bit of a dinosaur. I’ve even been in meetings where clients eye-rolled when it was mentioned.
Then: in the last few years, all change with the growing usefulness of Siri and Alexa. This technology has meant that the initially peculiar notion of ‘asking the internet a question’ out loud has changed the way we search. It’s become increasingly common for people to ask Google something, anything – when they’re typing something now, too. So if web-users are becoming conditioned to use questions and answers in everyday web searches, it stands to reason that relevant, good quality answers on your website will show up in the resulting search. To the next, more general step, seeing information presented in this format throughout a site will feel like a natural progression.
Corporate businesses raise questions too…
Offering lists of questions in a corporate context might feel ‘a bit B2C’, but much like call-out boxes, pull quotes or lists of bullets, questions could serve to break up a web page and offer content in a good, digestible way. If such a feature is re-framed as useful information, particularly related to core services, you might just find that the business appears more helpful to potential clients. It’s a great example of a commercial approach to content that can work really well on business websites, if handled elegantly.
A good example of this could be section of the page focussing on core competencies that uses provocative, real-world or cutting edge questions with a considered answer. Dense content could be broken up and appear current and forward-thinking. Peppering a services page with professional questions and answers such as, ‘How does this affect my tax status?’, ‘Will our office move improve the way we use space?’, or ‘How do I choose the right speaker for our company getaway?’ feels contemporary and considered.
As an agency, our north star is that we think of the end-user first. Acting for our clients, that means whether they are talking to a prospective or ongoing client. When businesses think less about themselves and more about what somebody will need from them, their website feels ‘less about us, more about how we can help’. A website focussed on ‘how wonderful we are’ is read with indifference. Thinking customer-first, whichever way you go about that, isn’t trite, or even lightweight, but the approach every business needs to adopt. So it follows that answering users’ questions with a focus on service, expertise and experience will tend to be far more engaging.
How online shops can give the best customer service
Let’s move from the corporate angle to the retail. The dear old FAQ page is a mainstay of nearly every e-commerce site. It’s the one genre in which this feature remains, if not in vogue, then a steadfastly familiar trope. My worry is that these pages can oft be used as ‘dusty cupboards of detail’ rather than an actually usable feature. I still see plenty of staggeringly long pages where turgid text is broken up by drab questions that only serve the site’s owner. These pages can even be used as a legal loophole-covering exercise. Not great customer service.
To cite a couple of examples within our work, during a recent project we completed for German manufacturing business ORIS, an existing FAQ was rethought both in its layout and approach to content. Creating subsections, the information was divided between general, technical and service – meaning a user could quickly find the information they sought. Then we devised a neat vertical concertina meaning that only the questions were visible. A even leaner visual approach applied to our work for bespoke engagement ring specialist Taylor & Hart for whom we designed a crisp questions page, again with the detailed answers visible as a scroll-down. The carefully considered layout of these pages complete with clean, modern typography mean they have a graphic approach which gives the questions and answers – when opened – space and clarity.
Let’s be practical though. For retailers, an FAQ page is invariably a space where functional questions can be addressed, particularly related to topics such as the minutiae of deliveries, sourcing replacement parts or a first port of call for business-specific customer issues. Yet, that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. Retooled, these pages could be much more attractive to read. Thinking more laterally, perhaps there’s potential to helpfully point customers towards the wider range of a brand’s complimentary products or even explaining about upcoming developments. For instance – ‘we don’t have what you’re looking for now, but we’ve listened to customer feedback and are developing a new launch this May’. I’d buy whatever that company was selling.
Our website for ORIS – a great example of how beautifully presented questions and answers can reimagine the traditional FAQ page
A ‘questions and answers’ feature is increasingly important for SEO
Our business is web design rather than the ongoing mechanics of ongoing search engine optimisation. However dividing these two disciplines, or at least their setup, isn’t desirable. We see the groundwork of search engine optimisation (SEO) as central not only to considered structure of a site, but our design process and once built, the manner in which we add content to our sites. The simplest principle of good SEO is that a website needs to contain as much relevant content to its subject matter as possible – and be set up in the most accessible way, allowing for regular, easy updates. Thereafter, SEO is an ever-evolving (sometimes bewildering) series of trends, algorithms and priorities.
At the risk of stepping onto such shifting sands, it’s in this second category of SEO that our theme of questions and answers is pertinent. Web users are increasingly searching using language such as ‘where can I find some leather work shoes in size eleven’ rather than the pithier ‘brown leather shoes’. So, in fact there’s no need to be too ‘clever-clever’. Answering the most common questions about your brand or its products, you stand a far better chance of being helpful. It’s clear that Google is ranking pages with Q&A features higher as they directly address the evolving way users search. Consensus is that it’s worth chancing your arm and tweaking your website content to reflect this.
Riding the wave of nascent trends and finding that a winning formula is best hit upon via a little trial and error. So, where to begin? My recommendation is to start by reworking a tired FAQ page (or reincarnate it!). Secondly, try breaking up stodgy long-winded content elsewhere on your site, using the methods I’ve described. The over-riding principle is, through the prism of our questions and answers concept, to think anew about how your clients might search online for you.
Do you have questions of your own about your website?
Many of the sites we work on feature a questions and answers page, resolving users’ queries before they’ve even had a chance to send a customer support email.
If you’re looking for a design team to help with a new website that puts the end user first, while prioritising your marketing team’s agenda, please get in touch. Drop me an email or call on 020 7351 4083.