F*cking Awful Questions

Why your FAQs are probably adding to your anxiety rather than alleviating it.

I need to clear a couple of things up...

Before I dive head first into a mini-rant about why FAQs bug me so much, I wanted to say I’m not judging anyone’s abilities to write amazing or utterly shite FAQs.  

For the most part, the FAQs I’ve come across in my professional capacity (aka someone a lot of businesses have paid really good money to help dig them out of some serious cash hemorrhaging problems) have been a mix of both.  

The problem is less about how they’re written, and more about the psychology of how they’re presented, and consumed. 

There are some things to note here, however.  

If your inbox is overflowing with people asking you, what you consider to be F*cking AWFUL Questions, and you find yourself yelling ‘BUT I’VE ALREADY ANSWERED THAT!!! why do people keep asking me it?’.  Stop and ask yourself, well. Why? There has to be a reason. 

Trick question, sorry… there is a reason why, several in fact, and I’ll get to them in a mo. 

What motivates people to go to a website?

Why do you go to a website?  That’s not a rhetorical question, I want you to pause here for a moment and ask yourself why you came here, to this website, today.

Probably because you clicked on a link that promised a slightly amusing, thought provoking topic you’re interested in.  You came here to consume information.  

Why did you go to the last clothing website you visited?  Probably because you wanted to browse and / or buy something.

Visiting a website is normally governed my a motivating factor that drives us there. 

I can be pretty much certain that nobody is motivated to go to look at FAQs on a website.  However, as a consequence of that motivating factor, we may need to ask questions that the content hasn’t answered. 

So the trigger point for someone either contacting you to ask you ‘F*cking Awful Questions’ is because they haven’t got the answer they want / need, can’t find it on your site or can’t find the FAQs.  

I need to stop for a sec and say, I don’t make a habit of going looking for FAQs just because I haven’t found the answer to the question I want answered.  I will first try to find a topic that matches what I’m after. 

The science bit

You can skip this bit if you like, but it does offer an explanation why people don’t go looking for your FAQs when you think it should be obvious that they do. 

When you visit a website, whether you know it or not, you have a question pre-formed in your mind before you get there (I have more to say on this soon).  

  • I want to find…
  • I need to buy…
  • I have to get…
  • I want help with… 

The last one can be a bit tricky as it can be a primary or secondary need, but I’ll get to that. 

If you’ve read the wonderful Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” this is about System 1 and System 2 thinking.  Or Conscious and Sub-Conscious mind. 

If you’ve gone to the website directly (either by typing in the web address in the browser or Googling it), your next action is to browse that page and try to match your pre-formed question with the content on the page. 

There is research that shows people will give up if they can’t find what they’re looking for, or expecting, within 15 seconds of being on a page.  

As someone who has spent many, many years researching how people use websites, and actively watching people use them, this data is very accurate.  

I like to apply Newton’s Third Law when it comes to whether a website matches the language that people expect:

Newton's Law (2)

You may have the Harry Potter equivalent of FAQs, but they may not be found and therefore they’re, about as much use as a chocolate teapot. 

Frequently Asked, are you sure?

This is my biggest problem with FAQs

From a personal perspective, I dislike FAQs because I don’t actually trust that they are FAQs

Trust Issues

Borrowed meme, I don’t actually have trust issues with raisin cookies I prefer them to chocolate ones, but you get the idea.

In most cases, I have found that FAQs tend to be someone thinking that a question might get asked so an FAQ is created, buried in a section called FAQ and left to gather dust.  In essence, they’re less an FAQ and more of a “MGA” (aka Might Get Asked). 

You see, we, as humans generally aren’t stupid, or idiots.  When we look at FAQs and come to a judgement that they don’t answer the question, are probably MGAs rather than FAQs.  We end up with trust issues. 

"I'll just put them somewhere more obvious"

Nope.  No, seriously.  Stop.  

The minute you’ve damaged your trust relationship with your customer, the harder you’ll have to work to turn their frown upside down. 

Think of it this way, remember a time when you pissed off a girlfriend, boyfriend, sibling, parent etc.  Did you have to do a fair amount of ass kissing to get back into their good books again?  

Exactly.  Now try to imagine a relationship where you’ve lost trust with someone without ever knowing them.  

Don’t worry, it’s TOTALLY fixable.  However, to get there, you’re going to need to make a few adjustments elsewhere in the site. 

It's elementary, Watson

I’m not sure that’s something Benedict Cumberbatch would say to Martin Freeman, but yeah, you get the idea. 

OK, I’m giving you the very short & simple answer here, because the more complex one is in my ‘Un-f*ck your FAQs kit’ when you can get by bunging your email address in the box below. 

Take a handful of the questions you’re being asked, you know the ones that are making you go slightly insane, and read them with an open mind. 

I’m fairly certain, that the questions will fall into the following categories:

  • Product or Service Description
  • Payment Information
  • Delivery (Shipping) & Returns
  • How to use
  • Other

OK.  If most of your questions are about the product or service description, have a look at what you’ve got on your website.  Does it answer these questions?  If the answer is ‘no’ then you need to start here.  Look at whether you need to re-write them, or if you need to add content to them.  

If you sell ‘things’ do you have a payment information and a delivery (shipping) & returns page?  If not, I would recommend putting one together (I will be covering this in another post / eBook).  You should put the page in the footer of your site and link to it from every page where you sell something.  

The reason why you do this is two fold.  Firstly, Google ranks your site better in SEO if you have a lot of links between content on your own site, and secondly laziness.  My rule of thumb is this 

Create once, use many saves time, reduces error and makes your life easier

In this series

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Get the Un-F*ck your FAQ Kit

Look forward to checking your emails again

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