graphics/common.jpg Background

Customers often have the same questions when browsing through a Web site, whether they are on a PERSONAL E-COMMERCE (A1) or a COMMUNITY CONFERENCE (A3) site. A good way to answer these repeated questions is through a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. This pattern describes how to gather the questions, what the basic structure of a FAQ page is, and where to place the FAQ page so that it is easy to find.

graphics/common.jpg Problem

Customers often ask the same questions on a Web site, and it can be expensive and time-consuming to answer the same questions over and over.

Whether on a PERSONAL E-COMMERCE (A1) site, a GRASSROOTS INFORMATION SITE (A6), or an EDUCATIONAL FORUM (A8), visitors usually ask the same kinds of questions. Although Web sites must answer these questions, it can be expensive to answer the same questions repeatedly.

Let your visitors help themselves by providing a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, a list of common questions and their answers. A FAQ page makes it easier for people to search for answers themselves, while reducing help desk or response time costs for you.

First Identify Some Frequently Asked Questions

Start with a list of questions from your design team. Get everyone on the design team—from business and marketing, to design and usability, to programmers—involved in brainstorming. Draft a list of questions, but don't spend too much time organizing and grouping the questions yet.

Examine Your Competitors' FAQ Pages

Ask yourself which questions on your competitors' Web sites apply to your Web site, and see if their answers have better solutions than yours. Keep these in mind for the next iteration of your Web site.

Collect competitors' questions that are relevant for your Web site, but don't copy the answers. Provide answers that are relevant and appropriate for your Web site instead.

Supplement Your Questions with Those Collected from People in Close Contact with Customers

Collect questions and answers from people who have a great deal of contact with your customers. One such source is the people who conduct usability tests. What questions did customers ask when they were using your Web site? Were they unfamiliar with certain concepts? For example, if you have an auction site, did the testers understand how bidding works? If you offer wish lists, did people understand how they work? What were their concerns? Were they worried about having their credit card information stolen? Were they worried about returning products?

Another source of questions is the help desk staff. Find out which questions customers repeatedly ask by phone or by e-mail. Does the help desk already have a database to help answer questions? Can you get a copy of the help desk's e-mails and replies so that you can see what questions people asked and what answers were sent back?

Also talk to the marketing and sales staff. Inquire about the questions customers ask about the products. What features interest them? What concerns do they have?

See Chapter 3—Knowing Your Customers: Principles and Techniques for more information about understanding the needs of your customers.

Group Related Questions Together

After collecting questions and answers, decide how to organize the questions. If there are more than 40, use an organization scheme. For example, Figure H7.1 shows how Snapfish uses a combination of POPULARITY-BASED ORGANIZATION (B7) (see the "top 10" list on the right) and HIERARCHICAL ORGANIZATION (B3) to group frequently asked questions.

Figure H7.1. Snapfish has extensive help that offers a FAQ page and several categories of answers to common questions. The categories and a "top 10 list" make it easier for customers to find their question in a large set. Snapfish also offers a page for customers who need more help.

(www.snapfish.com, February 11, 2002)


On the other hand, if there are only a few questions, the easiest thing to do is to put all of them on one Web page, at the top, and then link the questions to the answers below (see Figure H7.2).

Figure H7.2. In many FAQ pages, questions are grouped together at the top and linked to the answers below or on separate pages.

(java.sun.com, October 20, 2001)


If There Are Many Questions, Add a Search Feature

Browsing through a long list of questions can be dull. Adding a SEARCH ACTION MODULE (J1) makes it easier to find answers to common questions quickly.

Use Redundant Navigation to Make It Easy to Find Your FAQ Page

Have multiple links to your FAQ page, including one from the NAVIGATION BAR (K2) to the FAQ page, labeled FAQ or Help. You can also locate the FAQ page under ABOUT US (E5) and on the PAGE NOT FOUND (K14) page.

Use a TASK-BASED ORGANIZATION (B4) scheme to link to specific questions on the FAQ page. For example, if the FAQ page contains information about shipping policies, make this information easily accessible on the QUICK-FLOW CHECKOUT (F1) pages, where customers are more likely to need it.

Use the FAQ Page Only as a Temporary Fix for Usability Problems

Do not rely on the FAQ page to help your customers overcome usability problems. Design the Web site to help customers successfully accomplish their tasks. Consider the FAQ page a redundant source of information. Your customers' goal is not to browse through the FAQ page, but to accomplish a particular task, and the FAQ page is just one way of helping them do it.

Encourage Your Community Site to Create a FAQ Page

The FAQ page can be a significant community-building effort for COMMUNITY CONFERENCE (A3) sites. Usually a few people take the initiative to create the first version of the FAQ page, and they post it to the community site. They collect comments, new questions, and new answers from other members of the community and then iteratively improve the FAQ page (giving due credit to the contributors, of course). Figure H7.3 shows an example of a community conference FAQ page.

Figure H7.3. Many community conference sites feature a FAQ page. This example shows a portion of the rec.birds newsgroup FAQ page, developed with the help of many members of the community.

(news://rec.birds, August 24, 2001)


graphics/common.jpg Solution

Start by identifying some frequently asked questions with the entire design team. Review the questions and answers in your competitors' FAQ pages to identify any questions your team might have missed. Supplement your questions with those collected from people in close contact with target customers. Use an organizational scheme to group related questions. Add a search feature if there are many questions. Use redundant navigation to make it easy to find the FAQ page on your site. Use the FAQ page only as a temporary fix if there are usability problems.

Figure H7.4. A FAQ page contains commonly asked questions and answers, helping customers help themselves.


Consider These Other Patterns

FAQ pages are useful for all kinds of Web sites, including PERSONAL E-COMMERCE (A1) sites, GRASSROOTS INFORMATION SITES (A6), EDUCATIONAL FORUMS (A8), and COMMUNITY CONFERENCE (A3) sites.

Short FAQ lists are usually organized on a single page; longer ones might use HIERARCHICAL ORGANIZATION (B3) and possibly POPULARITY-BASED ORGANIZATION (B7). Large FAQ lists should have a SEARCH ACTION MODULE (J1) to let people quickly search through the FAQ page.

Link the FAQ page from the main NAVIGATION BAR (K2) as Help or FAQ, or put it on the ABOUT US (E5) and PAGE NOT FOUND (K14) pages. Use TASK-BASED ORGANIZATION (B4), with pages linking to a specific question and answer on the FAQ page, depending on the task.

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