Are FAQs really frequent?

17 March 2015

Three customers go to a website… None of them can find what they’re looking for. What do they do?

The designers of the site might tell you they’d look in the Frequently Asked Questions.

Really? Are FAQs really that attractive to site visitors trying to find a particular piece of information or complete a task?

Why are they called FAQs anyway? Are they frequent? Who asks them? Are they just questions? Surely they’re answers too.

Over the years, I’ve written a lot of FAQ sections for large websites and I am usually the one who comes up with them. They weren’t the result of an extensive poll of customers’ queries or the culmination of a Q&A session with the call centre.

They were just collections of every extra piece of information I thought was relevant to a new site section of piece of functionality.

So where did FAQs come from?

According to Wikipedia, they are as old as the internet itself (circa 1982). Apparently NASA was a bit taken aback that new users of ARPAnet’s SPACE weren’t downloading old messages to find the information they were looking for. They just posted questions instead

Fancy that, internet users wanting a simple way to find information. Who’d have thought?

Not long after NASA invented FAQs for the SPACE mailing list.

It’s been a while since 1982. The internet has change almost beyond recognition, but we still have FAQs.

Ask yourself this… when was the last time you actually went to a website’s FAQs and found an satisfying answer?

If the answer is “recently, and yes I found just what I wanted” then I take my hat off to that site (or you). I’m fairly confident that the answer is more likely to be “I didn’t even realise the site HAD FAQs”.

Please Mr / Mrs information architect… use your imagination and set those “FAQs” free. Let them live with the content they “answer” questions about. Put them at the foot of the page or (going out on a limb here) incorporate them into the content as … CONTENT.

What do you reckon? Doable?