Why You Should Never Have an FAQ


You’ve probably seen FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on about a million websites. In fact, you might have created your own FAQ section from time to time - a convenient closet for content without structure. The problem is, FAQs are a terrible idea.

The FAQ had an innocuous enough start. In the early- to mid-80s, the FAQ was developed as a way to prevent users of mailing lists from asking the same questions, over and over. As new users would join the lists, they’d ask the same questions as the users who joined last week, going against netiquette that was developing at the time. Users were expected to join the list, and download the archives via FTP to catch up. Naturally, this rarely happened.

As a result, the FAQ quickly because a way to email out commonly asked questions and the correct answers on a periodic basis, as a way to make the use of the list more pleasant for all involved.

Through the 90s, as the web matured, the notion of FAQs migrated (naturally, some might say) to the web, with sites using the same technique to help answer questions that their users commonly held, and preventing the need to repeat these answers via support or otherwise. In this era - the mid 90s - our understanding of information architecture and the way to structure content on the web was, admittedly, a bit immature (although, quickly progressing).

That brings us to today. And the problem.

The problem is, we know a lot more about how to effectively structure content on the web. We know a lot more about how to think about the information architecture of websites and craft a narrative that naturally answers the questions our users have.

But, alas, the FAQ still exists. Today, the FAQ is used as a dumping ground, a place to toss content that the organization creates, but doesn’t have a suitable structure or strategy for. This is a red flag for content immaturity, showing areas where the organization either creates content without regard to a larger strategy, or doesn’t take the time to think about their content as a structured narrative, and organize things appropriately.

As an example, FAQ questions like “What does it cost?” or “How do I install it?”, are questions that should naturally be answered in the course of content consumption on the site, via product explanations and the like. There are myriad different types of FAQ questions, and in almost all cases, that content is far better suited to live in a structure that is more intentionally crafted.

The problems with the FAQ aren’t limited to simply a symptom of organizational content strategy immaturity. From a practical standpoint, FAQs are virtually devoid of meaning on their own, leaving them as a worthless component of wayfinding on a website. Good information architecture demands that we take care to consider each label we use, each path to content. Slapping FAQs in the navigation creates an empty hole with virtually no information scent about what a user can expect to find behind that label. (By the way, the word “Resources” is the same thing, and frankly, is just as bad as FAQs)

So, as you’re putting together the structure of your site or app, consider this: all content you publish should be part of a larger strategy and narrative, and the labels you use to describe sections or pages of your site should carry meaning about what the user can find behind that label. Don’t use “FAQs” as a crutch for poor information architecture discipline.

Related Posts

Review: Keto Diet

I recently gave the Keto (Ketogenic) Diet a try. Suffice to say...it works.

You Don't Need to Get it All Correct Immediately

Too many people wait on shit to be perfect. Get it close, leave out some stuff, and set yourself up to quickly iterate.

Using Foundation 6 in Angular 4 (or 2)

How to use Foundation for Sites 6 in Angular 4 (or any version 2+)

Great Products Need Great DevOps

In the quest for shipping great products, DevOps is often overlooked, and that's a mistake

How I Increased my Water Intake by 500%

We all need to drink more water, but it's hard to get in the habit. Here's a simple trick I used to get a 5x improvement on my intake.

Three Secrets That Made Cutting The Cord Easy

After decades of being attached at the hip to cable, I finally cut the cord, and it's been amazing. Here are three secrets that helped me get the most of it.

How to Onboard a Product Designer

If you're bringing a product designer or UX designer in to help you design your product, there's a bad way to do it, and a good way to do it. Here's how to make sure you're doing it right.

Review: Slicing Pie

Slicing Pie is a new way to think about company equity splits, and it blows away the old methods you've probably used.

When Troubleshooting, Follow the Process!

When you're trying to troubleshoot something - a car that won't start, or a business that isn't working - follow the right process.

The Art of Finding a Way

Being resourceful and relentless is one of the keys to being successful (and a great shipper). When in doubt, find a way.