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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions
FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions - we've become accustomed to looking for them on web sites we visit. But, should we? If everyone is asking, why didn't we anticipate the questions? Here's a look at answering and anticipating the questions your visitors are probably asking.

FAQ sections are good signs your original content is bad.
Things Your Readers Should Never Have to Ask

There, I've said it. Providing a FAQ section is not a good practice for any web site.

If you already have built a FAQ section, begin dismantling it. Look at the content on your site with new eyes and find ways to rework it so the answers are where they should be - on the page that covers that topic and near the beginning of the content. If you ask me a question and then I start into a monologue about the theory behind the answer, you'll tune out before I give you the answer. Get to the point and answer my questions!

Put yourself in your site visitors' shoes - you visit a site hoping to answer a question or perform a task, only to find you get part of the answer or can't complete the task. But, wait - there is a FAQ about this! Now you can visit yet another page on the site to find out what you need to know to find your answer. Armed with this new information, you are able to start over and do what you set out to do in the first place.

If this is happening on your site, take a step back and really understand why people are visiting your site. Don't think about your goals for visitors, think about their goals. If you are able to help them meet their goals, they may just stick around and help you meet yours, or, at least, listen to the message about your goals.

Think of the web as a conversation - an exchange of information, asking and answering questions, an actual dialog. Remember the 5 W's? They apply here, too. Everyone who comes to your web site has a question - How do I ...? Where can I ...? What is ...? When is ...? Who does ...? Why? Perhaps the answers will be on your site, perhaps it is a question that requires a face-to-face conversation. Regardless of how the conversation proceeds, the visitor should not be abandoned. If the conversation needs to continue offline for a particular topic, say so, and immediately give them the way to reach you.

How will you know what questions your visitors have? If you have compiled a list of frequently asked questions, you are on the way to delivering the right stuff to your visitors. If you don't have this information, yet, be very conscious in gathering this information. There are very direct ways people will ask - if you have an online forum, a contact forms, a place for people to leave comments or send you emails - you are helping them help you tailor how you organize and present your content to them. You can also learn from some indirect methods - search terms used to find your site, search terms used within your site, navigation patterns, landing and exit pages, and time spent on a particular page can help you identify the visitors' questions.

Certainly not every question will be answered or can be answered in a single post on a topic. You may have where the answers the same question may vary. The way to deal with this is to put contextual links to related content on the pages. This is similar to having a 'if you liked this, you may also be interested in ...' section on each page. Amazon has been very successful with this model of presenting other content. Use Tags to link similar content. You'll be amazed at how effective the communication strategy is for presenting your message clearly and encouraging better dialogs with your visitors.

Have some good reasons for including a FAQ section on your site? Post a comment and let me know!

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