Anyone who’s been anywhere on the internet ever has seen an FAQs page. A list of questions that range from the broad and timeless:
“How do I log in to my account?”
All the way down to the horrifyingly niche:
“How do I log in to my account if I forgot my password in 2003 and the piece of paper I wrote it on was still in the pocket of my baggy low-rise jeans when they went through the wash and the operator on your phone helpline told me to stop calling (“don’t you know no one uses the phone anymore?”) and instead to check this page to find out what to do?”
Most people have learnt to adapt to the difficulties of navigating an FAQs page and the format is still very popular for presenting large amounts of information.
But we want our users to find what they need easily, and trawling through FAQs is not the best way to do that. Here’s why.
They take too long to read
Simple, carefully worded headings take far less time to read than long questions while providing the same information. For example, “Borrowing books” can be read much more quickly than, “How many books can I borrow and for how long?”
In fact, you can skim-read all of the headings in this blog post in about ten seconds and know exactly why we don’t like FAQS.
Don’t forget, our content needs to be accessible to all of our users. Try using a screen reader to find a specific piece of information on an FAQs page and see how long it takes.
They cause duplication
If everyone who needed to put information on the University website used an FAQs page, we’d have no idea who was responsible for providing what answer to which questions. Plus, the information a user is looking for could appear in the answer to more than one question, making it harder for them to find what they really need.
It also takes much longer to assess what content we have on our pages in order to update it when we have to trawl through a whole list of questions. If we can’t find it, we or another team might make another page about exactly the same thing.
Duplicated content increases the chances of contradictory content. If a user finds two versions of one piece of information, they’ll need to get in touch to find out which one is correct.
And adding “What do I do if my FAQ is answered differently by two different FAQs pages?” to your FAQs page is definitely not going to work.
Gone are the days when people had the reams of free time required to type, “What is the weather in Bath tomorrow?” into a Google search bar. “Weather Bath” now brings up the full week’s forecast in five fewer keywords, leaving you more time to dig out your raincoat or cancel your plans to stay in and read blogs.
The closer our section headings match the keywords our audience is using, the more likely they are to find our pages.
Unless we collect a database of every question that our team’s been asked in the past year or so, count up the number of times each question has been asked, and only add the most frequent ones to our FAQs page, they are not actually frequently asked questions.
We can’t possibly list every question a person could ask us, and it’s very likely that our audience will go to the FAQs page with a very valid question just to find it doesn’t appear in the list and have to contact us anyway.
If our content is structured logically under simple headings, they’ll find it where they’re expecting to see it. Reliable content is trustworthy content.
They don’t meet our structured content standards
Typecase has been designed with structured content in mind. Structured content is information on a website that's organised into appropriate components and fields, making it easier for users to find what they need and for us content creators to manage our content.
Structured content means:
- information is predictable for users
- search engines can recognise the types of information on the page
- screen readers recognise page structure
FAQs pages are:
- unpredictable – the user doesn’t know if their question will be answered first in the list, last, somewhere in the middle, or not at all
- difficult for search engines to recognise – search engines are looking for the answers to people’s questions, not repetitions of those questions
- time-consuming for screen reader users – think how many questions they may have to hear before they get to the one they want
Luckily, it’s super easy to create a page that doesn’t use an FAQs format. The best place to start is by reading our guide to creating structured content.
Then take a look at our guide to writing good headings.
And if you have content you need to add to the website but don’t know how to structure it, you can always contact us for help.