I really get angry sometimes when I read Frequently Asked Questions pages that don’t answer potential readers’ questions … only questions the site owner would like to answer. Get over it, kids – if you want to come over as honest and open regarding whatever it is you offer, you need to answer the questions potential customers, stakeholders et al really are likely to ask. Warts and all. Not what you’d like them to hear.
BUT: do you need an FAQ page in the first place?
Well no, maybe not. I don’t have one here on HTWB, but in my case of course there isn’t a complex or detailed story to tell.
Where I think an FAQ page is very useful is in the case of products and services that do have a complex or detailed background. That can be for one of the following, and no doubt several other, reasons:
The product/service has many very similar competitors – FAQs can help you differentiate it in a factual and probably more believable way.
The product/service is complex and you don’t want to clutter your main sales/descriptive text with too much technical detail – FAQs allow you to explain the technical issues in a tidy, easy-to-refer-to way.
Particularly with a new business and/or product service, an FAQ page is a useful place to reaffirm your “pedigree” by using questions and answers that highlight key credibility issues.
FAQs can provide you with a helpful “catchall” that covers a relatively random range of topics in one place, and can supply a suitable repository for topics that you can’t quite place anywhere else.
Correctly structured, an FAQ page can deal with numerous queries that might otherwise tie up you and your staff in responding to emails that are not necessarily useful leads.
FAQ and Help pages – are they different?
On some websites and in some print publications you’ll see that these two functions often are combined. In some ways I can see the point of doing that, but unless you have very few issues to address, overall I think it’s better to keep the two separate.
That way you can split off anything negative from the positive points. Negative or potentially negative “FAQs” – e.g. “what if my order doesn’t arrive” or “what do I do if the goods arrive damaged” – are better contained in a “Help” section. That leaves the FAQ page free to deal only with positive, benefits-led factual information.
1. Forget what you think your readers/customers/prospects want to know – go out and ask them. Encourage them to be truthful even if it means posing you questions you can’t answer immediately (go and find out the answers quickly though!)
2. Develop your questions and answers based on that reality. Use the questions as asked by your readers/customers/prospects if you can, otherwise make them up based on your honest
interpretation of what readers want to know.
3. This may seem obvious, but make sure your answers really do answer the questions. The questions are not there to provide a jumping off point for a sales pitch or technical essay – you have a duty to provide a sensible answer right away.
4. Even if your product/service is aimed only at consumer markets, in general it’s better to keep your FAQ answers positive without being overtly “sales” orientated. The place for sales copy is elsewhere on the website or printed material.
5. To ensure that your answers do support a sales message, however, focus them – in a factual way – on how readers benefit, not on what features your product/service offers.
6. Keep your writing style conversational, even if the question/answer is very technical. Use believable words and phrasing, based on the way people in your target markets talk. Almost more than anywhere else, the FAQ page is NOT the place to use pompous language and “corporate speak.”
7. Keep answers reasonably short. If you need to go into a lengthier explanation, link to somewhere else where readers can get the full story. Long blocks of “answer” are off-putting.
8. If your product or service is highly technical/complex consider offering two FAQ pages – one for general business purposes and one for the “tekkies.”
9. Make it easy for readers to contact you direct if your FAQ page doesn’t answer their questions – there’s nothing more frustrating than not finding the answer you need and then having trouble getting that answer by email or telephone.
10. Before you publish your FAQ page, run it past a selection of your readers / customers / prospects and ask them to perform a “reality check.” You may find they come up with some very helpful ideas for improvements and edits.
More help with that FAQ page … and beyond:
“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English
“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English