OK. I want you to think of a question that you are asked over and over again by people when they meet you and “How are you?” doesn’t count! Thought of one yet? It gets pretty annoying doesn’t it. Think how much time you have spent saying the same thing in response to the question…

Question Time

I am often asked what it is like to be tall. I suppose I should explain that this is because I am 6ft 5€ and therefore when people meet me for the first time they are sometimes inclined to comment on my height (generally if they’re a bit on the short side). The answer I give is pretty much the same each time and something along the lines of being tall is good apart from when I am in a house with low door ways… Oh and finding trousers that are long enough is a bit of a pain.

It might be easier if everyone carried around a card with the answer to the question people always ask them printed on it which can be flicked up at the appropriate time! It won’t come as a surprise then that this is what websites that have a Frequently Asked Question or FAQ section are doing. They are saving time for the user and the company; making life easier for their users and giving visitors the facts in a simple and uncomplicated fashion. Oh, and one more€¦ they create highly useful written content for your site €“ the theme of all of these blogs! More on this in a bit but I need to continue selling the concept first before we go into the benefits of FAQs as a content booster tool.

Influential

I first came across the power of FAQs in my previous life supporting rural community development projects. This involved attending a lot of of public events in village halls and other public buildings across Somerset. Sometimes this would mean giving presentations but it would always entail answering a lot (and I mean a lot!) of questions from the people in attendance and the organisers. The answers I gave would be so well rehearsed that I could pretty much just switch my brain off and start talking (not that different to what I do most of the time!) and it was because of this that I sat down one day in the office and typed up an extensive list of FAQs which  went in the brochure I would take along to the community events. People were consequently better informed about the basic stuff and more inclined to concentrate their questions on the more complicated issues.

The idea behind this was that rather like the never ending question about my height it could on occasions feel  a bit like the film Groundhog Day with people asking quite fairly the questions that other people had themselves asked many, many times before. I never blamed anyone though for all they were doing was trying to understand the issues better and find out more about the subject and this should be encouraged.

Infrequently

Funnily enough the term Frequently Asked Questions should probably be something along the lines of €“ Frequently & Infrequently Asked Questions because a good FAQ page in my opinion makes every effort to include those questions that don’t get asked often but never the less are good questions and there is always a chance they may be asked again.

This leads me at long last onto the point where the link between content creation and FAQs is unveiled. You may have already guessed that their relationship is similar to my previous blogs on the subject of content creation in that the more FAQs you have then the better it is from a content creation perspective. You therefore have a carte-blanche to make the FAQs section as informative and in-depth as possible. Really think about the kind of questions that you would want to ask if you were in the position of the person browsing the site and don’t feel shy about adding to many in the list as long as they are helpful. Remember that content creation doesn’t mean filling up the site with lots of rubbish in the same way that if you’re going hiking you don’t fill the rucksack with rocks before putting your rain coat on top just to make your pack look full. No. You fill the rucksack with useful stuff that you will need during the day; a pack lunch, thermos, map, a compass, spare clothes and so on. The same applies to websites and content creation.

Forget the rocks. Remember the useful stuff.

The Truth…

I mentioned already about the practice of adding FAQs yourself and putting yourself in the shoes of the visitor to the site. It is worth pointing out that often FAQ lists are not really FAQs but more questions that would be asked if the list wasn’t here and site visitors were left looking for the answers to questions such as delivery times, your returns policy regarding unwanted items etc. In other words quite often they are made up as a sort of pre-emptive strike (FAQs not missiles).

There it is, I’ve said it. If this genuinely comes as a shock then look at it from a marketing point of view for a moment. The two things you are setting out to do have been achieved. No.1 €“ you are helping your site visitors by providing them with useful information and answering their queries. No.2 €“ you are constantly creating fresh and worthwhile content every-time you add another FAQ. The alternative to not making the list up and then adding genuine questions into it is that you set up your website, await enquiries and then once you have a sufficient range listed then you create an FAQ section. When you think about how much work this can create and how many people might wander off in search of another site altogether I think you will agree that this isn’t the option to go for. A little bit of poetic license never hurt!

Start From The Start

You may be thinking how do I compile a list of FAQs? Well, like all the best things in life, the solution is nice and simple. The first option to go for is not surprisingly the list of questions that you have been asked in the past by customers. This is a good starting point and will give you a framework of different areas to expand on as time goes on. If your site is new however and you are just starting out then it is likely that you will have to go for the DIY option and put yourself in the shoes of the site visitor. Don’t just try to do this on your own as not only will you probably have lots of other tasks to think about but it always pays to have a fresh pair of eyes look at something you have spent ages looking at. Ask your friends, family, colleagues €“ just about anyone – to have a go at this as well. Tell them to think about the process your customers will go through €“ ordering, delivering, time spans, your returns policy, requesting different types of stock, colour options etc etc. The list goes on and ultimately the nature of this will depend on the objective of your site. Last but not least… look at other site’s FAQs for someone once said that mimicry is the highest form of flattery and on the web this rule applies just the same as elsewhere. If you can manage to find a site promoting similar things to yours that has its own FAQ section, then you can do worse than to take a few notes on how they have gone about structuring it and the types of questions and answers shown.

Real Life

It is about time that we looked at a couple of examples of sites that have used FAQs to good effect. The first example is a site called tumbelina.com who are a troupe of international acrobats. Their site is pretty cool in itself with some amazing video footage of their acrobats performing to audiences around the world. Despite the fact that there is lots of information provided in the other sections on the site €“ Home; About; Acts; Galleries; Clients;  & Blog there is still a whopping sixty questions and answers in the FAQ section. Yes, that’s right, sixty. They cover a wide range of areas and prove a vital point when it comes to discussing the inclusion of an FAQ section. No matter how well you set up your site there will still be missing things or missing information. Probably only little things but from a customers point of view it is the little things that can make all the difference. This is why FAQ sections are such a brilliant thing to have on your site as they give you a flexible tool for filling in the information gaps in a controlled fashion instead of simply over stuffing other parts of the site.

Back to tumbelina.com who have sensibly broken their FAQs page down into categories based on their different acts with a general questions section at the top of the page. The alternative to this is to simply have one long list with no individual sections. An example of an FAQ page of this sort can be found at pluginsolarpanels.co.uk a fantastic new enterprise helping households and businesses to go green with yup, you guessed it, plug in solar panels. Because they have a relatively modest number of FAQs (under twenty) they are able to list them in one group. In this instance this works well as the site visitors do not need to scroll down through endless questions to find the one they need. As the questions start racking up, putting them in categories is not a bad idea as it makes the search process easier for your visitors and will help to save them time if they are looking for something specific rather than just generally browsing through the list.

Stack ‘Em High

Racking up content is exactly what this series on Content Creation is all about. The big difference between this method of making new content and the last couple of blogs (all about customer reviews) is that you are going to have to do the work yourself rather then get your customers and visitors to write it for you as you can with reviews! How boring I hear you say but it could be worse. For as time goes on and you have your core list of FAQs established, the questions and the answers that end up on the list will be those prompted by your customers and site visitors. Keep a pen and paper handy and then get them up on the site as quickly as possible before you either lose the piece of paper or someone asks the same question!

Hide & Seek

Once again readers I need you to put yourself in the position of a visitor to your site, happily browsing through the different pages. Finding the FAQ section is a boon for you as there are a couple of things you need answers for. Only little things but you are in a rush. Now think how frustrating it would be if having whooped with delight (in your mind not out loud!) when you found the FAQ section if you then don’t find the answer you are after. Which leads me onto my next point…

What do you do if the answers your visitor is looking for aren’t listed in the FAQs? Well, the people at pluginsolarpanels.co.uk have got the right idea if you ask me. To the right of their expanding FAQ list they give their enquiries telephone number or you can click a button to request a call back and provide them with a brief outline of your question. Easy as falling off a log for them and for you. Make sure you return those calls and emails or woe betide you! Once you have the customer on the hook so to speak don’t let them wriggle off and take someone elses hook instead all because they got fed up waiting for you to get back to them with an answer to their enquiry.

There You Have It

Who would have thought that FAQs could be so important for your site and dare I say it, so interesting to read about (OK, perhaps not…) There is no doubt in my mind that FAQ sections are definitely more than just another part of your site but instead are a way of interacting with your site visitors in an in-depth and useful way. Not only will the visitors benefit from the information you can give them on every conceivable subject but you get lots of benefits too such as saving time and keeping your customers happy and better informed. What is more, having a really good FAQ section shows the site visitors that you are serious about helping them to become better informed about whatever it is your site is promoting or selling. Need I say it but in a competitive market this is no bad thing. But on top of all these benefits for you sits the biggest one of all. Drum roll please…. enormous amounts of top quality, useful and informative content for your site that will keep on building up as long as either you or your customers keep on thinking of questions that need answers. Like I said earlier, the more the merrier, just leave out the rocks (and don’t forget the sandwiches).

Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

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