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Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009 at 4:06 pm

FAQ Page = A Sign Warning Drivers of Potholes

By Jeff Sexton
August 18th, 2009

Unanswered QuestionsThink about it: if those questions really are FREQUENTLY ASKED, why the heck isn’t your regular copy answering your visitors’ questions?

Unanswered questions keep visitors from buying/converting — that’s not theory; it’s a fact!

So why, oh why, would you knowingly allow your persuasive copy to ignore a frequently asked question?  Why would you possibly be content with hiding the answers to your prospective customers’ questions in an FAQ page?  Are you trying to weed out all but the most determined of customers?

shutterstock_34876813While I don’t have confirmed experimental numbers to back this up (yet), common sense says that for every customer willing to search for an answer on an FAQ page, there are dozens more who simply give up on the purchase or look to your competitors for the answer.

So instead of erecting a sign saying, “Beware of persuasive pothole, please drive around this hole by visiting our FAQ page,” and hoping your visitors are motivated and alert enough to navigate such an alternate route, why not simply fix the persuasive gaps in your copy.  Here’s how to do that:

If you currently have a FAQ Page, Here’s What to Do/Check

1) Determine where visitors are most likely to access your FAQ page. Look at your analytics to see where visitors are within their site visit/shopping process when they attempt to look at your FAQ. Do they do this early on in the process or later,  as a last resort?

2) Get a sense of context by going to those identified FAQ access pages.  You’re not just interested in the questions themselves, but in the context in which they are asked, so look at the page in terms of why visitors would be on that page.  Note that a persona-based or scenario-based analysis helps with this.

3) Go to your FAQ page and think about the emotional concerns behind the questions. Here are a few examples taken from actual FAQ pages, along with the emotional concerns that probably underlie those questions:

  • Will we have access to the instructor to ask questions during the online ____ course? Translation: “how interactive is this course – how much better is it than just buying a book or a CD  DIY-type course?“  Going one step deeper: “I’m afraid I might not get the support I need to actually improve my skill level — how can you reassure me that your course will help me actually kick ass, rather than being an unused resource that makes me depressed about my own personal suck-factor?”
  • How long will a [durable home good] last? Translation: “you’re asking a premium price and presenting yourself as the last ____, I’ll ever need – so what kind of proof do you have/historically, exactly how long will one of these suckers hold out?”
  • How do I know that my ____ is working correctly? Translation 1: “You’ve sold me on the theoretical benefits of your fancy schmancy _____, but I still feel like I might be getting suckered, so how can I confirm for myself that your device is really doing what you say before my 30-day refund clock runs out.“  Translation 2: “I know this is crucial to making sure my ____ doesn’t die an early death, so how can I reassure myself that I’m not breaking my very expensive and brand-new _____?”
  • What are your return/exchange/warranty policies? Translation: “Hey, idiot, you were too stupid to put any kind of point of action assurance near your buy/add to cart buttons and I’m not about to give you my money without knowing this stuff.”
  • What differentiates you from other _____? Translation: “Someone told me I should check you out, but I’m not impressed so far – either you’re oblivious as to how hard you’re making it for me to figure out what you do and why I should do business with you, or you just plain suck; so which is it?”
  • What kind of care/cleaning/maintenance does ____ require? Translation: How will this fit into my life?  Will I have to baby this thing?  Can it handle the normal knocks and dings of daily life without falling apart?  In 6 months or 2 years, will I look back on this purchase as a waste?

4) If you have live chat or a published phone number, comb through those records or ask your customer service reps for the questions people ask and where they are on the site when they launch the chat service or call in.  Once you have the list of questions gleened from Live Chat and Phone trasncripts/experience, repeat the process used in #3 by examining the emotions and concerns behind the question. How do those results differ from your FAQ?

5) Address underlying concerns or questions within your regular Website copy. You don’t necessarily have to do it with copy, as pictures, testimonials, videos, user reviews and other site elements can also address these concerns, but make sure the questions get answered.

Are there any excuses for having a FAQ?

Well….yeah.  Sometimes when you really need a “knowledge base” library, but you don’t want to call it that, or when you want to make the hard core geeks in your audience feel better about asking their un-frequently asked questions, a FAQ page can work.  Just make sure you ALWAYS provide links back to sales pages from within your FAQ answers.  Once you’ve answered the visitor’s question, move them back onto a persuasive path.

Oh, and sometimes there are some Q&A’s you might actually want to hide, like in this Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 FAQ – notice the first question ; )

IE8

But seriously, realize that an FAQ is basically a junk drawer; you’re shoving stuff there because you haven’t taken the time to find a proper home for it.  You realize this question may come up, but you haven’t figured out where it would come up – do the hard work to uncover the context and emotion behind the question and finding a better place for the answer within your copy becomes relatively easy.

[Editor’s note: The author of this post is now blogging at jeffsextonwrites.com

Add Your Comments

Comments (38)

  1. Good stuff, Jeff. I’d also add that “in-site search” reports can be mined for hints on even more unanswered questions.

  2. I love it! I never thought about the FAQ page like this, but you are completely correct. I am going to go change a couple pages now.

  3. What frustrates me about FAQ pages is. Some are made up by the company before they do business. Or the questions are not real nitty gritty questions. For me, most of them are useless because they are common sense 99% of the time. For example “I’ve lost my password, what should I do?” I just saw one today that said “How do I contact Customer Service?”

  4. Hi there Jeff.
    This is a very relative article. I just realize that my site has no FAQ page yet. I understand how it is important. But I also realize that this page should also be created with the right structure to help and keep your visitors, readers, followers and clients. Thanks.

  5. This is one of the rare occasions I find myself disagreeing with you Jeff (or any of the FN team for that matter)! Not completely disagreeing, I think the ideas about using the FAQ to feed back into and improve the persuasive copy are great. But I disagree with the final conclusion strongly.

    An FAQ isn’t a place for stuff you can’t find another place for, everything that’s in an FAQ should be included elsewhere in the site. Who made a rule to say that information on a website can’t be repeated on more than one page, I never heard that? I also think it’s a mistake to assume that users only jump to the FAQ when they are lost, or to look at one specific question. I know I don’t.

    In my humble opinion, an FAQ is an integral part of good navigation and presentation for many sites, if only because many users see it as a norm. In the same way as having your logo hyperlink back to your home page, FAQs are part of the fabric of the internet and they should be there because people expect they will be there. They provide a safe and easy place to get an overview of what a company or product does, as well as answers to individual questions. For me, as a user, they are often the first port of call, not the last resort when I get frustrated by unanswered questions.

    I’d be interested to hear more research on how they are actually used, but I want to tell you how I often use them, because it’s completely different to the purpose they were originally conceived for and how you – I think – perceive them. I very often go straight to the FAQ when I’m browsing something new to me. I do this because I find it often helps me get a flavour for the product or service quickly, and also gives me a great insight into the decision making process. I expect the website copy to tell me the answers to my questions, sure, but the FAQ will tell me the questions too – which saves me some brain ache. Lazy? Probably, but hey, I’m a user, I’ll do what the heck I like and if you want my business then you’d better work around it.

    Sometimes I don’t want to be persuaded, I don’t want to be sold to, and I don’t even want to give you chance to develop momentum and shove me down your funnel. I just want a simple list of facts and an insight into what other people may be asking, before I decide whether to engage with the website further.

  6. One more small point. FAQs are great for organic search. This absolutely should not be allowed to impact negatively on the user experience, and doesn’t need to. But repeating information from elsewhere on a website in an FAQ allows you to utilise the Q&A format to match precisely what users are looking for when they type questions into Google or Bing – which they often do.

  7. Barry,

    I’d have to agree with you that a FAQ that is a REPETITION of previously covered questions, is probably a good idea – for the very reasons you just mentioned. I’d only throw in the caveat that I would still want to ensure the FAQ had links back out to the regular copy for each answer, so that the FAQ Page doesn’t become a “dead end.” But, yes, given those reservations, I’d definitely have to concede to your point.

    That said, how often do you come across what you are describing? I rarely come across FAQ’s that operate in that manner. Far more often, the FAQ page is exactly as I described it in the article: a junk drawer and the repository of really valuable persuasive material that should be placed out within the Website’s main sales copy.

    Also, if you go to the majority of the Top 10 Highest converting websites, you’ll find a rather conspicuous absence of FAQs. Not exactly scientific, I admit, but those sites do seem to get along OK without a FAQ…

    - Jeff

  8. FAQ’s are good for drawing some visitors through Google, but they usually contain junkinfo.

  9. Hi Jeff – quite often, although smooth links back to the main funnel are rare. Because of the way I use them that doesn’t bother me so much most of the time, but it’s a good idea.

    It’s true that many FAQs are rubbish, or badly written, or contain spammy text written only for SEO, or many other faults. But these things are also true of many product pages and even home pages, and no-one thinks the solution is that we shouldn’t have those! Just because lots of people do something badly doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to do it well.

  10. [...] Sexton makes the case against FAQs this week on the blog at the marketing site [...]

  11. Jeff,

    Very good post, spot on and original

  12. Our FAQ page links back to the content of our site for each subject.

  13. Customers have become smart these days.Hiding answers gives them a straight forward impression that there is some sort of lack of quality or value in the product you are selling and may result in loss of sales.Your main page should answer all the questions to make your customers get directly involved in the sales process..

  14. Just a quick correction to an earlier comment I made regarding a lack of FAQ pages on the Top 10 highest converting Websites. What you find when you go through the Websites of the Top 10 Highest Converting online businesses, is that they are increasingly using their footers to serve as a sort of FAQ Directory, and that clicking on the Customer Service link will take you to a page where customer service info is often dispensed in a Q&A format, often under the title of “Frequently Asked Questions.” Is this the same as the kind of FAQ page I describe in my article? I’d say it isn’t, because the questions are all customer service related, and not a grab-bag of questions. But on a strictly technical sense, these sites do have content labeled FAQ, making my earlier comment at least partially inaccurate.

    - Jeff

  15. With one big client I spent a lot of time listening in to customer service calls. I learned 2 things:

    1) Every session was worthwhile in learning more about the motivations and concerns of potential customers.

    2) A lot of their concerns and questions were not product-related – more to do with convenience issues like parking at our locations, payment options, etc.

  16. “FAQ is basically a junk drawer; you’re shoving stuff there because you haven’t taken the time to find a proper home for it” -Ive never really thought about it like that before, but I think you are right. It’s lazy using a FAQ on a website. Each questions should be worked into the sales process to make sure the customers questions are answered. If its not a frequently asked question, then do you need to bring it up on the site?!

  17. I’m not sure I totally agree with you because if a FAQ page is done and implemented correctly is can be an easy source information to the potential customer. The key to it is not to have a link in some obscure place that simply says FAQ. I prefer to have a drop down list of common questions and as straight forward answers as possible. With over 5000 items for sale adding a lot of the information that doesn’t directly relate to the product in question would make scrolling and absolute nightmare and if I put it to low nobody would find it anyhow. I think this is more of a case of how it’s done than anything. I see to many people try to jam keywords and links into their FAQ’s to make them worthwhile to the customer.

  18. I disagree with your assessment of FAQ pages. I often recommend adding them to my clients’ websites. The search engines love them, and visitors do too. They invariable get a lot of hits.

    It’s easy to add lots of good quality content to your website with a well-done FAQ page. It’s an opportunity to reiterate key facts, features and benefits. The content will be chock-full of keywords. And it can answer any objections or concerns your prospects may have.

    The FAQ page shouldn’t be a place where visitors have to search, hoping to find answers to their questions. Rather it’s a way to provide information, much of it complementary to your other pages, in a format that many people find easy to read — QA style.

    Sorry, can’t agree with you on the pothole theory. I see FAQs as just another smooth road that ultimately can lead prospects to the BUY NOW button.

  19. @Susan: I think you just proved Jeff Sexton’s point when you say FAQ’s “get a lot of hits”….the entire point of his article is that if the only place the key information is to be found is in the FAQ then it’s an indication of failure on the part of the site as a whole. The FAQ ought to be the failsafe for otherwise losing a visitor, not the first line of customer presentation.

    Of course, I’m sure the FAQs *you* write are gems of literature. :)

    But Sexton correctly points out that the FAQ must mirror information that should be readily available elsewhere on the site — it should be a secondary search-for-info mechanism not a primary, and as such its traffic numbers need to be lower than the corresponding information found elsewhere.

    And, look at the actual paths people take. Do they go immediately to your FAQ? that’s because you’ve trained them to since the active window’s copy clearly isn’t compelling enough to answer their questions.

    Do they come to the site, bounce all over the place and then land on the FAQ? In this case, the FAQ is doing its job of “saving the sale” but this also gives a tremendously valuable clue that the bouncing around indicated inability to discover vital info.

    If you’re still in doubt, I propose a modest test: send 10% of your client site’s traffic to a new version of the site, one in which the ONLY content is the FAQ, and track conversion.

    I think I know which version will win. Are you confident enough in your FAQ writing skills to take the challenge?

  20. @ WRiter Way: Sexton is NOT making the point against FAQs — did you really read his post all the way thru? — he’s pointing out that most companies use the FAQ lieka broom closet for “couldn’t find any other place on my site to put this info”. Jeff isn’t saying FAQs are the problem, but rather than appropriate use of a FAQ is part of the solution.

  21. Yes, it might be possible to answer all the questions on different pages instead of trying to stuff them all into the FAQ page but the problem is that people instinctively look for the FAQ page. Of course, once they find it, most of them do not bother to read it completely. But it is almost like they expect to see it there and expect to see all the answers there. Plus, it might not be possible to answer every question via web copy especially if, like us, you are selling services as opposed to products.

  22. If I’m exploring a new site-especially a new service and I don’t see a nice big button for FAQ, I click out 50% of the time. I really don’t have time to explore all the pages of marketing talk to make my decision.

    Give me one central place to find my answers. So, improve on the FAQ page, but please don’t take it away!

  23. [...] articolo originale: FAQ Page = A Sign Warning Drivers of Potholes [...]

  24. [...] Do you have important content that is hidden away? [...]

  25. I still disagree with this. Every time I read F.A.Q. pages I already know the answers to the questions. Still looking for MY answer, I find myself at the bottom of the list every time. Then it’s off to another site.

    So I disagree. Please keep the stupid questions AWAY from your sales message. Give me the meat and close it out.

  26. [...] Questions" page? The Marketing Optimization Blog has, and it makes the great observation in FAQ Page = A Sign Warning Drivers of Potholes that if those questions really are FREQUENTLY ASKED, why the heck isn’t your regular copy [...]

  27. [...] have been lost in e-commerce due to unanswered questions due to inept product pages (And no, FAQ pages are not the solution) What about letting your customers answers questions for each other, like BackCountry’s [...]

  28. [...] have been lost in e-commerce due to unanswered questions due to inept product pages (And no, FAQ pages are not the solution) What about letting your customers answers questions for each other, like BackCountry’s [...]

  29. [...] Source:FAQ Page = A Sign Warning Drivers of Potholes Share and Enjoy: [...]

  30. [...] have been lost in e-commerce due to unanswered questions due to inept product pages (And no, FAQ pages are not the solution) What about letting your customers answers questions for each other, like BackCountry’s [...]

  31. Incredible strff!
    In some extent,FAQ pages are good for attracting some visitors. However, the contents
    on the pages are not always useful.

  32. The check list of FAQ page in this article is very useful there are many thing that I have to change in my website’s FAQ page.

  33. I never thought of a FAQ page being a negative thing. Although I do not 100% agree with your post you make many valid points.

  34. I just want to add that it will be helpful to constantly analyze what customers are looking for on the web site. Also having a well design search control that stands out. Some FAQ pages are too boring and users prefer to search instead.

  35. I never thought about the FAQ page like this, but you are completely correct. I am going to go change a couple pages now.

  36. FAQ pages seem more like holdovers from the internet 1.0. Even then, they are mostly made up!

  37. I still disagree with this. Every time I read F.A.Q. pages I already know the answers to the questions. Still looking for MY answer, I find myself at the bottom of the list every time. Then it’s off to another site.

  38. Good points. And also when sales copy answers all of these questions, a lot of customers will recognize how thoroughly you handle details and gain a greater trust in your product.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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