10 Tips for Creating a Good User Experience with FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions can be a great solution if you find yourself answering the same questions over email and phone repeatedly. This much needed information would be accessible through self-service if it was added to your intranet opening up more of your time for other important tasks.

The first recommendation is to look at your current information architecture and add the answers to those questions in context. This reduces the numbers of places someone would need to look to find the information they are seeking and thus reduces the mental currency someone is spending on your site navigating to content. You can also use FAQ for clues where there might be issues in finding content in your current information architecture or challenges in the business process they are trying to complete.

If you have FAQs that don’t fit into your current IA, you might consider making a FAQ list. Keep these tips in mind:

Do not make up questions that are not being asked. This was listed as #7 in Nielsen Norman Group’s Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 2002. As they warn, “Infrequently asked questions undermine users’ trust in the website and damage their understanding of its navigation.” Your FAQ list should come from emails, live questions, help desk tickets, etc. You may need to make them more generic, so they answer questions for a larger audience.

Group your FAQs by topic. It can be incredibly cumbersome to scan these lists of questions and sorting the question in alphabetical order has no known meaning to the end user. If you group by topic alphabetically, the end user can use that information architecture to quickly drill down to the area they are seeking help. As you expand these topics, you may find you have enough FAQs to create a new SharePoint page and link it to your existing information architecture. FAQ pages should not be where information goes to die. It is where new information may be starting its journey on your intranet.

This might be a good opportunity to use SharePoint collapsible sections with your topic titles. As of December 2021 searching on the page with Control + F will not show results in the collapsed sections so this may be reason enough to avoid collapsible sections at this time. The text in those sections will appear in search. Explore my post on Using Collapsible Sections with User Experience in Mind to learn more.

Create a strong visual hierarchy. You want your topics to be the highest visual weight on the page followed by the questions. You might consider using a bold header for the topics, then a smaller header font for the questions. Nielsen Norman Group recommends printing the FAQ page then squinting at it from 10 feet away as a quick test to decide if the headings are big enough to locate quickly.

Avoid multicolumn layouts for questions. This goes against the natural reading pattern of the F-shaped reading pattern (where end users scan titles and continue down the page).

Direct end users to related content. Your FAQ might be the first of many subsequent questions. Anticipate the end users’ needs and link them to additional helpful information. Remember to use the 4S for better link labels and keep these links:

  • Specific- What they will find, not just “learn more.”
  • Sincere- Uou link to specific information, not a homepage that would require further navigation to access the mentioned content.
  • Substantial- The link can standalone without additional text. Remember that end users are scanning and link formatting typically stands out so an end user may read the link title and no additional text.
  • Succinct- Front load your link labels as people typically read the first 11 characters while scanning (source). You want the link to be just long enough to deliver on the above three promises.

Review your search queries to help with question phrasing. You can review the top queries, no results queries, and abandoned queries in the Search & Intelligence admin center. Use these results to help identify key words to put into your questions.

Don’t repeat the question in the answer. The end user is scanning and already knows where they are. Adding flowery language increases the mental currency spent on finding their answers. If it is a closed-ended question, start with Yes, No, etc.

Don’t duplicate existing information. If the answer in on another page, provide a deep link to that content so there is only one place to maintain the accuracy of that information.

Create an entry point for asking questions. If someone reaches the end of the page and their question is not answered, they will need an easy entry point to submit that question. This may be a link to a third-party ticketing system, an email address, a form, or a contact name. Make it as simple and painless as possible to submit these questions to increase the likelihood that your end users will take the time to submit their questions. For example, if you are using a Microsoft Form or SharePoint List you can capture the data for who is entering the question and you do not need to request that information.

Consider adding a date for when the question was last updated. This will help build confidence in your content as end users find the answers and are reassured it is relevant. This can also be used as an internal auditing tool to determine if FAQs are still relevant or should be deprecated.

Test your FAQs. The topics and information architecture may be obvious to you, but remember, you are not the user. Conduct qualitative usability sessions with 4-6 people (and up to 20) focusing on where they look on the website, whether or not they use the FAQ page and find their answer, how long it takes to find the answer (or give up), make note of all the places they looked first before finding that answer, and ask the user to think out loud throughout this process. Remember to conduct these tests on multiple devices to ensure you are just as effective on mobile as you may be on a desktop or tablet.

You should also test your page with screen reader software to ensure it is accessible to visually impaired colleagues. You may use a free tool such as Microsoft’s NonVisual Desktop Access.

What are some of your top tips for creating effective frequently asked question lists?

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