The end of the FAQ

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series All things must end

We’ve all seen websites that list frequently asked questions, or FAQ. Continuing in our series All Things Must End, we’re going to show that FAQ are training wheels from when the web was new and have no place on modern websites that are properly designed.

Training wheel
Image via Wikipedia

While there isn’t really anything inherently evil about a FAQ in and of itself, the problem comes from the fact that website designers actually now build these lists as a primary means of content delivery. They don’t wait until users actually start asking questions and compile a list, they realize a function of the website isn’t clear or explained properly and arrive at the solution of fixing that problem not by fixing the website but by including the solution in the FAQ.

FAQs also present a usability problem. If a user is curious about a specific issue and looks to the FAQ for the answer, he has to do a Jeopardy and actually formulate a question. The odds that his question is listed exactly the way he formulated it are pretty low, so he has spend time looking at each entry comparing it to his question to see if it comes close to matching.

The best way to avoid the throwback to the 1990’s that comes with including a FAQ on your site is to be sure that the website is easy to use and the content is easy to understand. If you anticipate that someone may ask a specific question, redesign the page so that the answer to that expected question is made obvious by the page content.

If you have a page that is designed to be strictly informational, don’t phrase the topics in the form of a question. Rather than the FAQ-style approach of a paragraph titled “How do I bid?” use the less-patronizing and more professional heading “Placing bids”. The content in the paragraph is the same content that would answer the question, but that same content can answer the question of “When can I bid?” and “Where do I bid?”. It’s easier for the user to understand, faster for him to find and doesn’t require that you call the page a FAQ.

Finally, if you build a good website that’s straightforward and easy to understand and you actually do get a bunch of users asking a specific question, don’t put that question in a FAQ. Use that feedback as a reason to reexamine your website pages and fix whatever part isn’t clear that is generating the questions.


By consciously avoiding the FAQ and fixing underlying problems, your website will be more usable, professional and accessible and you’ll have fewer questions asked about your company and processes.

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Aaron Traffas, CAI, ATS, CES

twitter.com/traffas | aarontraffas.com | aarontraffasband.com

Aaron Traffas, CAI, AMM, CES, is an auctioneer from Medicine Lodge, Kansas. He is currently community evangelist for Purple Wave in Manhattan, Kansas. Aaron serves as the current president elect for the Kansas Auctioneers Association and in the past has served on the National Auctioneers Association Education Institute Board of Trustees. He is a past instructor at CAI and co-wrote and instructed the ATS designation course from NAA. He currently instructs the Internet Auction Methods course offered by the NAA. During the summer, Aaron operates a farm in south central Kansas. Aaron is an active singer and songwriter and the Aaron Traffas Band's latest release, Enter: The Wind, can be found at iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
  • brandonhowe

    Good post. I have rarely found FAQs to be beneficial as a user; however, good design with a focus on the user interface most certainly is beneficial.

    Most of us try to cram too much information on a page, in order to not use a FAQ. However, much of information could be eliminated, if the UI is good.

    I look at my own website, and I see 25-30 things that add nothing to usability, and if anything distract from the content, which would be more usable if those things were not there.

    I can think of a vendor or two that might incorporate this as well. It would make my life easier.

  • You make some good points, though I think that the FAQ has become such a standard part of the website design process that I don't know how many designers are actually doing the right thing and trying to avoid needing a FAQ. We could all benefit from looking around our sites for elements that distract from usability.

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