FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) should not be a standard.  I have said it before and I will say it again.  FAQ pages are overused and outdated in an age where Web pages become increasingly easy to use and find information.

A recent client project that I am working on brought this issue back to my mind and after thinking it over in more detail I am writing a about it again just to better organize my thoughts and add some bits here and there that I have learned since my last writing in Jan ’07 that further solidify my position.

Misnomer

Lets start with the fact that nine times out of ten, a FAQs are not even that.  They a list of generated questions that the company or organization perceives to be common questions that are put out there before the site has presented itself to generate questions.  When a client comes to you for a brand new Web site, one of the things that most people know and want is a FAQs page.  What FAQs does that client really have at this point?

Investing in Content

The FAQs page is often a dumping ground for pieces of content that don’t seem to logically fit anywhere else, or perhaps are added later after the site it full built and deployed.  In both these cases the content was not well thought out or organized.  Nine times out of ten the content fits better into a content area rather then FAQs.

Step through the logical progression of a user for a moment.  The user is looking for something, something specific.  They surf through the content sections they thought it might be relevant in with no luck, then perhaps turn to search, then maybe the FAQs, or maybe even the sitemap.  By now you have forced the user to do a lot of looking when if you developed the content well up front they would have found what they were looking for on step one.

So why not invest in that content in the first place and find ways to integrate and fix the issues of customers having trouble finding that particular content. Create links to more developed content pages that talks about the subject in more detail then a paragraph.  Make the content (if it already exists) pop out a little more using heading tags.  You could even add that same FAQ to the sidebar of a content page that is related.

The point here is with a little more work and thought there are better places to put these bits that the customer will find in the first place rather then having to hunt  in the FAQs page.

SEO Considerations

When you look at FAQ pages from an SEO standpoint they really provide little or no value.  Small amounts of undeveloped text from all sorts of different topics with no content to back it up all on one page.

If these are “really” your most frequently asked questions why not (as I talked about in the above section) invest in some content to answer these questions clearly to better help your customers?  Dedicating content to these questions should  improve their search rankings and make them easier to find via search weather that be your internal site search or external like Yahoo, Google, or alike.

Not All FAQ Pages are Bad

So as with almost everything there are exceptions to the rule, and in fact there are some sites that do FAQs very well.  Linking the questions to highly developed content sections instead of using the FAQs page as the only source of that data.