If You Have FAQs, You're Doing Something Wrong

Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQs, as they’re affectionately known, are a staple on the majority of informational and e-commerce websites. You can find them on a wide range of super popular sites, from Newegg to Digg, from Myspace to ABC.

Unfortunately, they’re a cop out.

FAQs are a quick way to address an issue, but like the trivia section on Wikipedia, there’s likely a better place to put it. Let’s take Digg as an example and see how this can be improved.

Two Digg Examples: Taking Advantage of FAQs for Your Users’ Benefit

Taking a look through Digg’s FAQs, we stumble across this one:

I am getting a bad IP address warning when I try to login. What can I do?

Admittedly, I don’t know how to trigger a bad IP address warning, and I really don’t plan on trying. But this illustrates my point; the only people that need to understand this are the people that are receiving said warning. Therefore, it would only make sense to make sure this message shows up when a user receives such an error. If it’s covered in that way, then it’s one less thing you need in the FAQs (that shouldn’t be there to begin with).

Let’s tackle a FAQ question that’s more suited to all users, rather than a specific subset. Surely this is reasonable to have in a FAQ, right?

How do I change my Digg homepage to a different topic?

I’m sure there are plenty of people that would love to set the Digg homepage to just be technology that aren’t aware of this. A simple solution would be a little notification at the top of the subsection to let them know they can set the current section as their homepage. This is a win-win for both parties. Digg can use the information as additional trending to help improve their algorithm, and users now have quicker access to the information they want, and don’t have to skim through information that may not interest them (such as celebrity news).

Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a help section. Help sections are a wonderful thing. They differ from simple FAQs in the fact that they’re typically organized into categories, and dedicate a larger body of text, sometimes even an entire page, for each question. The better your help section is, the less human capital (I.E., your time) you have to spend answering questions.

You should treat your FAQs like a to-do list, however. Seriously, try it out. Go through each question, and see which of two categories it fits into: things that can be solved by improving the UI on your website, or things that can be best served by a more detailed section in a help area. Everyone will benefit from it. Your users will have an easier time navigating and using your site, and you’ll spend less time dealing with e-mail questions, and more time with working on the cool things in life.