Is Your F.A.Q. Worth the Page it’s On?

Frequently Asked Questions – that’s what an F.A.Q. page is about. But most of the questions in the FAQs we see are not actual questions asked by real people on a frequent basis. Often they’re contrived – they’re the questions we think we wish clients would ask, not the ones they actually do.

The best way to write a good F.A.Q. is to track the top 10-12 questions that real prospects and clients really do ask repeatedly and consistently, on the phone, in e-mail, and in-person. Make sure you consider both prospect questions and client questions. Write these out first, without the answers.

Next, write out the answers verbatim exactly as you usually write or say them, the way you actually talk – no fluff, no sales lingo, just the real language you use to answer real people. Hand it to other staff in the office to see if you’re missing any key points they usually add.

Now, you focus specifically on prospects, and augment the F.A.Q. with questions that prospects *think* but don’t necessarily ask. Remember, a prospect isn’t a client – they might pull up your web site along with three others from the search results. They don’t know you, don’t owe you, and you may never even know why they turn away if you don’t have good analytics.

Here are the basic prospect questions to add to your FAQ:

  • What services do you provide? (qualifying question) In your answer, mention any services you don’t provide.
  • What areas do you cover? (qualifying question) In your answer, mention any services you don’t provide.
  • How are you different than the competition? or “Why choose you and not someone else?” This is where you answer with your market differentiators. If you fluff this with salesy language (“the first name in rutabagas”), or sentiment (about truly caring), or things everyone else says too (about being fast, fair, friendly), it’s not useful. See our articles on market differentiators.
  • How do I…? (place an order, do business with you, start the process, etc) Whatever the next step is, that’s what this question should address.
  • What are some facts about your company? Don’t write an essay here. Give a handful of facts you consider pertinent, and link to you About Us page for more information. If this is longer than the market differentiator question and answer, it’s too long.

A lot of people think you need every question to be a hyperlink that takes you to yet another copy of the same question farther down the page, followed by the answer, after which you can go back to the top of the page. But you don’t have to do a lot of fancy linking for your F.A.Q. page to be professional. That technique was developed for large public forums that had far more questions than the average business site will. And if you end up getting more than 20-30 questions at some point, that’s a high class problem to have – you can consider making different F.A.Q.s (e.g. one for Prospects, one for Clients).

You can boost search engine optimization (SEO) a bit by having those hyperlinked questions done properly, with good SEO techniques, but if that reduces your ability to update the page yourself, the overall marketing value of the F.A.Q. is reduced, so you don’t really benefit, and it evens out. If you want it simple to update, just plop a title at the top, and then each question with each answer.

A lead capture form belongs at the bottom of the F.A.Q. page. You need to provide a way for site visitors to submit their own question, *especially* at that key moment in which they didn’t find it in your F.A.Q. (if you want the sale, that is). But also, never pass up an opportunity to capture lead information. Even if you don’t intend to do e-mail marketing drip campaigns, or a personal followup call or e-mail response, why miss any opportunity for your prospects to tell you who they are?

Keep in mind, even without any special effort at search engine optimization, a good F.A.Q. page will add fairly high SEO value to your site. It’s just that with additional SEO, it can add yet more value. But because your F.A.Q. utilizes original content that mentions your services and service areas in a natural language context on a page of extensive content, it’s excellent for your potential search engine value. If you routinely update the page with additional questions that you find yourself or your staff answering repeatedly and routinely, the page becomes a dynamic page, and that’s superb for SEO. Besides, a page of answers is an excellent value added search result, and so potentially a great marketing tool.

EFFECTIVE F.A.Q.s are ORIGINAL: The worst F.A.Q.s are stolen from other people’s FAQs. And if you haven’t noticed, we’ve written extensively and repeatedly about how search engines punish “duplicate content”. If you want to give the other person a boost (because they were copy-worthy) and you take a search engine slapping (because you copied), lift portions of their FAQs and drop them into your own. Don’t do it. Besides, the only way you could do that is by ignoring the method outline above, of writing the questions *your* prospects and clients are always asking *you* and the answers *you* give them, as close to the language you and they actually use as possible.

DO NOT PLAGIARIZE: Shoplifting other people’s site content means you’re not really taking even the minimal time to listen to your prospects and clients or care about the answers, and your resulting site content is going to have minimal value anyway. The myth of just throwing some ‘stuff’ at prospects having an effect depends on the notion that people are basically automatons, and we find that’s the worst marketing premise you could have.

Lastly, don’t forget your F.A.Q., but continue tracking those questions you find you’re always answering out in the field or in your office. If you find that you struggle with how to word something, writing an F.A.Q. entry can help you clarify how you want to respond, and test what’s effective. A good F.A.Q. humanizes your web site, making it feel like someone’s ‘home’, the lights are on, and it’s more interactive. As you encounter challenges, problems, or misconceptions with prospects and clients, update your F.A.Q. as a reference point for solving those dilemmas in the future. Above all, don’t treat your F.A.Q. as a static document that sits there gathering dust. It’s like your blog – if it’s getting bed sores from neglect, bring it front and center as your next web site improvement.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.

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