The Facts about FAQs
The Facts about FAQs
August 8, 2018
Frequently Asked Questions about FAQs and SEO

gWhat is an FAQ

The word FAQ is an acronym for Frequently Asked Questions. An FAQ is generally understood as a live document that keeps track of all the common questions that visitors or customers are asking, along with their answers.

FAQs exist only to be scanned: they are meant to allow customers to find the answers to their questions by locating the closest match in a list. For this reason, FAQ questions should be stated in the most straightforward and shortest possible way, using only a general vocabulary that users of all levels will understand.

If you are not willing or able to build and maintain a proper FAQ document, and if all you can do if throw together some fake FAQ to fill in the gaps, then you might be better off without one. There are other ways to provide answers to common questions than using an FAQ: instruction videos posted on a YouTube channel, blog posts on your website, authoritative answers posted on public wikis, and so on.

gWhat is a fake FAQ

FAQs should only convey a list of questions and answers. It is common nowadays for businesses to use FAQs as marketing tools and thus include subjects that were never actually queried by customers. Here are some examples of fake questions that should not appear in an FAQ.

  1. What is the list of features of [product]?
  2. How do I do [x]?
  3. How does [product] compare to [competitor]?

None of these belong to an FAQ document because they are neither questions nor answers. Real FAQs provide solutions to problems that typically occurs while the customer is either already using the product, or when a user expects a result that is different. Fake FAQs, on the other hand, are merely another mean to try and sell a product to the reader. These counterfeit questions should be answered elsewhere in the product or service documentation, or else provide through a different channel.

gWhat's the problem with FAQs?

The problem with FAQs is that in practice, the documents are neither maintained nor are they answering actual questions. Whoever came up with the idea of FAQs was a genius, but he or she probably didn't anticipate that nearly no one would follow the fundamental principles that drive the creation of such documents. These principles are not very difficult to grasp: in fact, most of them can be derived from the name.

Let's look at the three (3) components of FAQ building and maintenance.

gQuestions

FAQs need to answer questions. Not concerns and worries. Not directions. Not complaints. Not requests for handouts. Not some imagined dragon propped up by the marketing department or some creative salesperson. Real questions, asked by real customers or visitors.

To build and maintain a comprehensive FAQ document, you need to make sure that you have the proper processes in place. These processes should enable your business to:

  1. accept and record questions
  2. answer questions properly
  3. route both questions and answers back to the document's maintainer
  4. ensure that both the question and its answer are published in a way that can be digested by others

Getting these pipelines in place and ensuring that the information flows through is often a significant challenge for most organizations. The funnels in place often prevent customers from asking questions in the question, as if the business could go on pretending that everything has been addressed already and never needs any servicing. Remember that the more you avoid issues, the bigger the underlying problem grows.

gAsked

FAQs contain only asked questions. While the wording can be edited and the answer adapted to a more generic context, the item should be tracked. The entire purpose of an FAQ is to avoid wasting time providing verbal or written response repeatedly. If you or your organization finds itself answering the same questions over and over again, and if that question is part of the FAQ document, then you either need to make the FAQ itself more visible, or you need to revisit the text and rewire the question/answer more efficiently.

gFrequency

The questions listed in an FAQ document must be frequent. Issues that are not frequent should be addressed elsewhere: in the documentation, in the contextual help or by reworking the user experience to make the question disappear. These questions cannot be imagined as a probable by some enlightened analyst: the latter will invariably get it wrong. The frequency is what warrants the question's publication.

Frequent questions are, almost by definition, problem statement. That is why proper FAQ maintenance is important: they often lead to critical product changes. Imagine your company manufactures cars. You find that your customers keep calling, asking where you've hidden the button to open the trunk. What you should do is 1) make the documentation clearer about this subject, and 2) redesign the interior so that the trigger is easily accessible. If you decide to do nothing, the cost of repeatedly servicing customers over the same issue will quickly outweigh the cost of re-engineering.

gWhat about search engines?

From an SEO perspective, FAQs don't differ much from other types of content around your website. However, a well-maintained FAQ page should receive a relatively high percentage of all the hits on a given website over time. The more helpful the content, the better the ranking.

Well maintained FAQs can provide a source of active content that will help the host site climb the ranks in the search results page. You can turn FAQ answers into featured snippets and voice answers, two areas that will help your site maintain good standing.

The public FAQ document should be optimized for the keywords that your site, products or services are targeting and already ranking. While over-optimizing is always a bad idea, we recommend that the content of your FAQ follows the same rules as any published content. Even if you already operate a great business -- that is, if you are already targeting keywords that are in line with what your customers are looking for -- you may still need to review your FAQ to ensure that it follows SEO guidelines.

Search engines can also be helpful in identifying the questions and constructing the right answers. Google queries are often questions: identifying the most frequent queries about your product -- directly or not -- will provide you with both the question, the exact wording that people use, and its probable answers if any is available.

References

Why you shouldn't use an FAQ page, published on TurboFuture.com

SEO Dog

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