1. How do I know when something needs an FAQ?
As the name suggests, FAQs are frequently asked questions – not a collection of the random thoughts or comments you feel the need to share with your readers.
Find out what these questions are by quizzing your customer services team. What are consumers constantly calling about? And why can’t they find this information on your website? It is hidden or just written in a really confusing way?
You should also check Google Analytics to see which of your web pages have a high bounce rate and a low dwell time. If these are your product or services pages, then rewrite them. Your consumers might be hitting your site looking for specific information – and then heading to your FAQs section when they can’t find it.
Think hard about the specific questions your consumers might be asking about your products and answer them on that product’s dedicated page. Only common queries – such as questions about returns or opening hours, for instance – need be addressed in your FAQs section.
If your questions tackle the right topics in a clear and straightforward way, then fewer people will feel the need to call you – freeing your customer service staff to deal with more complicated issues.
One company that is very good at being audience-facing and talking to users in their own language is ELECSA, the certifications board for building and energy contractors.
Above: ELECSA’s FAQs page uses plain English to answer the hugely specific questions asked by electrical contractors.
2. Should FAQs always be questions?
It may seem strange, but you’ll often come across FAQs that are not questions at all. You know the kind of thing – long, unwieldy paragraphs of jargon-filled gobbledygook that don’t address any specific queries.
This obviously isn’t helpful. The Q&A format, however, makes things easy for your users by providing simple answers to their questions. You know the idea: Having a problem? Here’s the answer. It’s a tried-and-tested content format that’s easy to write, easy to understand, and will introduce consistency to your help pages.
Writing questions on behalf of your users – and in the first person – will force you to get inside their heads for a second and actually think about what their needs might be, rather than your own. If you’ve got a new product or service coming out, for instance, think about your different audience types and try to anticipate what questions they might be asking about it.
A good way of doing this is to create a series of distinct user personas. If you work in a museum, for example, think about who might be visiting your site and their reasons for doing so. You might have Mandy the middle-aged mum of three, who wants to know where she can get a coffee while the kids are in the play area. Or Tom the secondary school teacher, who probably has a lot of questions about the hand-outs he can print off for Year 10.
As best practice, start your answers by directly addressing a closed question with a ‘yes’, ‘no’ or if need be an ‘it depends’. A lot of FAQs go round the houses (eg ‘While we take every care to blah, blah…’) before they actually answer the question, which can be frustrating for the reader. Cut to the chase and get your answer in up front. To add more variety, think about how you might lead in to your question with a use-case statement (eg ‘I can smell gas. What should I do?’).
3. How many FAQs are too many and how do I maintain them?
There’s no ideal number of FAQs – it depends on your organisation and what you do – but allowing them to proliferate can be damaging.
There might not seem to be any harm in creating FAQs on every tiny detail of a product or service, no matter how unlikely to be queried, but a cluttered FAQ section will be difficult to use and looks intimidating. If you are going to go into minute detail, organise your content into sections – perhaps with collapsible menus – so that your users only need to read the FAQs relevant to their query.
Be wary of padding out your FAQ section too much, however. It will grow organically over time anyway, and will need regular auditing and occasional rewriting to reflect your latest products and industry regulations. Try scheduling an FAQs review every 6 months or so to make sure your information is still accurate and relevant.
And a word of warning: don’t ever feel tempted to mix in promotional copy with your help content. Product promotion belongs on product pages. Using FAQs as a filing cabinet for press releases and promos will clutter the section, damage its credibility and make your readers confused and frustrated.
4. How do I keep tone consistent across FAQs?
As with the rest of the content on your site, your FAQs page should be written in line with your tone of voice guidelines. Just as you would follow a robust editorial process when writing a blog post to ensure consistency of tone, you should do the same when writing help content. What’s the point of writing with a fun and friendly tone across your website if you’re going to sound cold and robotic when responding to your customers’ questions?
You also need to stay well clear of jargon. That might not be easy if your FAQs demand technical explanations, but stick to the principles of plain English and you’ll be well on the way to writing in a helpful and human manner. You might like referring to the latest iThing as a two-way audible relay device, for instance, but to everyone else it’s just a smartphone. Follow these tips from George Orwell to stay on the right track
Nutmeg, an online investment management service company, eschews jargon really well, using simple language to explain complex financial investment issues.
Above: Nutmeg’s FAQ section uses simple language to clearly explain complex financial investment issues
FAQs are supposed to be functional, but you can still have fun with your tone of voice – just as long as you don’t let it cloud the clarity of your answers. Internet retailer Firebox, which specialises in offering unique gifts and lifestyle products, gets really fun and friendly in its returns page FAQs
Above: Firebox preserves its fun and friendly tone of voice in its FAQs page. Looking to return an item? ‘The early bird […] catches the free-returns-worm.’