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What makes a truly effective FAQ?
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) are a group of commonly-asked questions that describe the most important actions or concerns that your users may have when using your website, app, product, or service. The most effective FAQ have several aspects, all working together.
At its most basic, a FAQ is MOST effective for users when it:
1) is written or spoken naturally from the user’s point of view using clear and plain language*
2) fully covers common steps and informs the user and/or clearly directs them to the next step in their journey
A two-way street
A FAQ is, in essence, a two-way conversation. The question must be plausible and realistic. The answer must be an appropriate response directly matched to the question in its complexity and tone. At best, the FAQ sounds and feels conversational and not stilted, patronizing or “flowery.”
That aha! moment
An effective FAQ should, at best, provide a crucial piece of the puzzle (or even the whole puzzle!) that the user is looking for, right at that moment in time.
A FAQ is a two-way conversation that provides a piece of the puzzle that the user is searching for at that moment.
Where should you display your FAQ?
What an effective FAQ can do…
For your users
- EASE FRUSTRATION Your product or service is an “Open Book”–no longer a mystery, or worse, a source of frustration
- PROVIDE FREE SELF-SERVE SUPPORT Your company’s reputation is enhanced in the eyes of your users by providing a free support service (a FAQ or other kind of user assistance) that addresses their most important and basic concerns
- GIVE TIMELY HELP You have provided help when it is most needed and at a user’s most frustrated moment, rather than requiring them to input their name and email address, get in a dreaded queue, or wait for that “call back” which never comes or happens hours or days later
- SHOW UNDERSTANDING AND EMPATHY You have clearly and transparently outlined the “gotchas” that may hold up a typical user’s actions or transactions
For your business
- SAVE TIME, REDUCE WORKLOAD: Users of your product or service take less time and ask fewer questions of your Support team
- PROVIDE COMPLEMENTARY SUPPORT Your company’s reputation is enhanced by providing well-written and well-designed free support that complements other user help systems or company contact methods
- COMBINE WITH OTHER SEO EFFORTS You have capitalized on and managed an often overlooked aspect of your site’s SEO, make you eligible for rich results on Google and other searches
- INITIATE A FEEDBACK LOOP You gathered a to-do list of enhancements to include in your product or service
- HIGHLIGHT YOUR COMPANY’S VALUES You showed that your company believes in employing best practices both for your website by building Support into your website, not treating it as an afterthought.
Should I design my FAQ?
There is a hot debate (OK, lukewarm-ish) going on in the FAQ world about whether or not you should “design” your FAQ. Will it be distracting? Does it enhance your product or service, or help explain it in some way? We believe that the design of a FAQ–the overall look and feel, the visual impact and eye catching style–can be an integral part of your FAQ, when done correctly. Even if you aren’t adding design elements to your FAQ, you still may want to use a Design Brief to map out your ideas.
ALT-text and images
Also, if you are using any kind of images, be sure to utilize ALT-text effectively so that blind, partially sighted and neurodivergent folks who use screen readers will fully benefit from your FAQ–and for other good reasons, too. There is a lot of science behind this, so don’t just take our word for it. Margaret Warren of Image Snippets is one of the experts in the field of metadata authoring.
For effective FAQ design ideas…
See our story about creating a gender-neutral CafeFAQ logo for how we believe that working your ethos and values into your design can work for you. In the story, we also share how we used a black-and-white icon design to work through our visual ideas for a company logo. We live in a visual world. Just think for a moment about how much access to video has changed us in the last few years.
Lost? Get design help
Enlisting the help of a professional designer or videographer is great way to breathe life into a new FAQ or update an existing one to better represent who you are. Also, consider filling out a Design Brief to solidify your design goals and handing that over to your designer. A picture is worth…
Getting the help of a professional designer is great way to breathe life into a new FAQ or an existing one.
Incorporating feedback for your business
FAQs provide a user feedback “loop” between the user and your website, app, product, or service, giving you valuable insight into your company’s processes and strengths and weaknesses. Running statistics on your FAQs (like the most looked up terms, the least clicked-on questions, etc.) can often be as or more effective than random user surveys or questionnaires, which many users balk at or simply do not have the time to fill out carefully. (That said, a survey or questionnaire can give you a healthy head start in the fact-gathering phase of your FAQ.)
Effective FAQ examples
To get a jump on your FAQ and make sure you cover the bases, be sure to check out our 7 Easy FAQ Templates to Jumpstart your Fabulous FAQ. You can use our downloadable Google Sheets templates (no sign in needed!) to start your FAQ or just use them as a double check for the questions you have so far. Our templates cover the basics for Login, Password, and Account info, Installation and Software questions, Payment Methods, and other effective FAQ topics.
Need some inspiration? See our latest inspired posts on frequently asked questions that are creative, inspiring, AND effective.
*Plain language is clear, straightforward, and uses only as many words as necessary. SEE our article about phrasing FAQ questions the best way for more info on how best to craft the text of your FAQ and to see some actual FAQ questions examples in action. Also SEE plainlanguage.gov for more info on the language guidelines for the U.S. Federal Government.
Credit: Frustration by ahmad gunnaivi