You’ve built your brand, got the requisite funding, created your company ethos, hired the best people and designed your beautiful new website. All that’s left to do now is—sigh—to write the FAQ. Well, at least it won’t take too long and you’ll never have to do it again.
For many companies, this is their approach to writing an FAQ page—and it’s an entirely understandable one. It seems like tedious, dull work, a task that takes hours; only for the resulting work to be hidden away in a dark corner of the website. And so it is done in a slapdash, that’ll-do manner before being published and forgotten.
But a poor FAQ could actually be far more costly than the few wasted hours spent compiling it. Petovera’s Matt Ackerson believes that, for many companies, their FAQ section represents a huge missed opportunity to drive sales.
'FAQs should not be written just for the sake of filling space on your website,' writes Ackerson. 'FAQs are an opportunity to convince cautious buyers.' In other words, this is automated, static objection handling.
When you consider that, according to market-research firm Forrester, 70% of consumers prefer using a company’s website to answer their queries rather than contacting customer-support agents, it’s clear that FAQ need to be taken more seriously.
The customer doesn’t know you and doesn’t trust you. They want more information but are reluctant to pick up the phone to call. The FAQ are an opportunity to advance the conversation with customers and put their fears (AKA objections) at ease so they are ready and willing to buy from you', Ackerson continues.
But for those of us who have been phoning it in over the years, writing a good FAQ is not as easy as it sounds. That’s why we’ve put together a few tips that can help you use FAQ to help customers and drive sales—and even help you enjoy compiling them.
Keep It Simple
Let’s start off with the numbers. How many FAQ should you have?
Aim for a minimum of five and a maximum of ten. Fewer than five questions will arouse suspicion among customers that you either can’t be bothered to write a proper FAQ or that you’re not being honest about potential problems. More than ten looks like your product may have too many problems with it and can be extremely confusing.
Make sure you remember what the 'FA' part of FAQ stands for: the questions need to be frequently asked. This means that you provide the answers to the most common questions, regardless of whether they seem obvious to you or not. It also means that you do not record every single niche query your company has ever been asked in the FAQ. (That’s what customer support is for.)
Keep It FAQ!
FAQ pages often become a repository for items that companies don’t know what to do with. Don’t turn your FAQ page into a dumping ground for things that could be better placed elsewhere on the site. It will only cause clutter and confusion, robbing the FAQ of their purpose.
If you’re stuck for how to begin, take inspiration from the best FAQ pages of your competitors. Compare and contrast what you find helpful and what’s not so helpful. Above all, try to look at the FAQ through the eyes of a customer. The best way to do this is to simply talk to customers as much as you can before writing the FAQ. Look through emails for feedback you’ve encountered and ask customer service what the most common queries and complaints are.
Once your FAQ page is up and running, implement a feedback system that allows you to gauge whether the page really is helpful to the customer. Have a feedback form in a conspicuous position on the page and encourage the customer to spare a small amount of their time filling it in. If you’ve created a feedback form that is short, sharp and to the point, it could be worth telling the customer via a popup exactly how little of their time you require. A phrase like 'Can you spare 25 seconds to help us improve your user experience?' could be a way of improving the amount of feedback you receive—and thereby enhancing the FAQ page.
Ask For Help - From Your Customers
Ackerson even suggests that you go one step further and let the customer write the FAQ themselves. 'Once you have a minimum number of customers (e.g. 10-20) who have bought your product and had a favorable experience, send each of them a survey via email with your FAQ. Tell them you want to put your FAQs “in the language of the customer.”’
This customer-focused approach will also help you in terms of the style of writing required for FAQ. Steer clear of business or technical speak in favor of a more informal, conversational style. Again, speak to customer service to find out how customers refer to specific problems and reflect this in the language you use in your FAQ. Remember, you’re pitching this to customers, not business partners, and simplicity and clarity are key.
'There is only one boss: the customer,' said Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. 'And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.' If the customer can’t understand what you’ve written, they are likely to take their business elsewhere. Don’t let that happen.
Categorization is a great way of simplifying things for the customer. Separate questions into a handful of common umbrella categories so that it is easy for the customer to see exactly where they should be looking.
As discussed above, FAQ are often written for the launch of a website and then left to fester for months, rotting away like a discarded old tome. Eventually, an inquisitive customer will come along, blow off the dust and peer at the yellowed pages. 'Can that be right?' they’ll ask themselves. 'That doesn’t sound right.'
And often, it won’t be right—because the FAQ are no longer up to date. If this is the case, then they are useless and you would be as well not having them on your site at all. Make sure that every single change the company makes that affects the customer in some way is detailed in the FAQ. The best scenario that you can hope for in the case of out-of-date FAQ is that the customer contacts customer service for answers. The worst-case scenario is that the customer takes their business elsewhere.
Bring The Page To Life
Another major problem of FAQ pages is that they’re just so awfully dry. As a customer, we gawp at these reams of text written in abrupt yet wordy prose and think, 'I’m not even going to start.'
Yet they’re a huge opportunity to make an impression on the customer. As we’ve discussed, using conversational, customer-oriented language is one way to do this. Don’t be afraid of throwing in the odd wacky or quirky sentence, as long as it isn’t getting in the way of delivering information—the main thing that the customer has come to the site for.
Use the active voice rather than the passive so that the customer feels engaged: stay away from 'you will then be refunded' in favour of 'we will then refund you.' It’s a small grammatical tweak but you can see from the example what the active voice does: it makes things more personal and it drives home the point that you, the company, are doing something to help the customer.
Another way of piquing a customer’s interest is to populate the FAQ page with visuals. 'It’s a visual world,' said cartoonist Joe Sacco. 'And people respond to visuals.'
People are relying more and more on visual information than written information, so if you have a video that explains a particular query, link to it—it’s far more likely the customer will understand it than if it were written down. And if you’re talking about how an FAQ page can drive conversions, think about including a call-to-action button in a highly visible spot on the page. You can even link from the FAQ text to the signup page, as long as it’s done in a way that does not seem too overbearing.
When customers do decide to read FAQ instead of opting for watching the videos, they will tend to scan the page for pertinent information rather than reading every word. Size your categories and questions appropriately—they should draw the eye by being in bold and in a bigger size of font than the explanation. This means customers can get to the meat of their issue more quickly—and it also just makes things look nicer.
If you’ve ever been on an FAQ page with a search option, you’ll know what a help that is in finding what you want quickly and easily. The more time a customer spends searching for answers, the more likely they are to lose the will to carry on. Any help you give them to reach an answer as soon as possible will be reflected positively in your conversion rates. Customer inertia must be avoided if at all possible.
Another cause of customer inertia is the perception of risk. 'Many people who will be searching for your FAQ section will be looking for it to be reassured on how X feature works or on your billing and refund policy,' says Ackerson. 'Remember, people are inherently risk-averse, and in order to earn a sale, the content of your website, including the FAQ, needs to overcome the inertia of that perception that there is risk.'
A tried and tested way to go about this is to feature seals of approval on the FAQ page, customer logos of trusted brands with whom you’ve worked. These brands’ high consumer standing will reflect well on your business and lead the customer to trust your business more as some of their brand reputation rubs off on yours.
Creating a landing page for some of the more, er, frequently asked of the frequently asked questions is another way of driving traffic to the site through search engines. Often, the user will perform a 'long-tail search', or search for an entire question. If you have created individual landing pages for specific questions, your site will be displayed in any relevant Google searches. Customers who had no idea about your brand or product can then be directed to your FAQ page, see the call to action and—hey, presto!—you’ve got a healthy number more customers than you would otherwise have had. You’ve used FAQ to drive traffic, not just boost sales!
Make Them Easy To Find
Customers who have already found their way to your site should not have to use Google to find your FAQ, but it’s amazing how difficult it they can be to locate on certain websites. Make sure there is a link to the FAQ in the website’s footer and consider adding one in the dropdown menus that list product categories. Doing this not only makes the customer’s life easier, it promotes a feeling of transparency. The customer will see that you are ready to provide answers and that you are up-front about dealing with their problems.
FAQ: A Dialogue With The Customer
FAQ are there to build a bridge between you and a customer who increasingly does not wish to have his or her problems solved by personal interaction. They can help create trust in your brand, drive sales and bring new users to the site. With this in mind, they should not be impossible to find on the site, they should be written simply, directly and memorably, and they should not be a dumping ground for things you haven’t found proper categories for yet.
FAQs are a well-visited part of your site and a huge opportunity to sell your brand. Many companies don’t use them to their full potential—make sure you don’t fall into the same trap.
About the Author
A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.More Content by Geoffrey Walters