By: Nathan Seppelt on 10-11-2016 in Content Strategy, Google, Search, SEO

Despite FAQ pages being a staple of many websites, the question of whether these pages actually provide any value or are even useful is one that is (perhaps with some irony) frequently asked.

FAQ pages: friend or foe

The ideal Frequently Asked Questions page is a central hub where any website visitor can quickly find the answers to all their most pressing questions. Advocates for including these kinds of FAQ pages on websites often point to three benefits to support their pro-FAQ position:

  1. They give visitors quick answers to their questions.
  2. They show you understand your visitors’ needs.
  3. They’re a great way to add more keywords to your website – helping you to rank in search results!

But a closer look at the anatomy of an FAQ page suggests that these are precisely the things these pages don’t do well, and point to a better way to answer visitors’ questions and improve website rankings.

We’re going to pick on Krispy Kreme to make this point because (let’s be honest) Krispy Kremes might look good at first, but in the end they don’t contain much substance and just aren’t that good for you.

Krispy Kreme FAQ page

This is the traditional structure for an FAQ page, and it includes:

  • A main heading (an H1, for techies). Krispy Kreme’s is “FAQs”.
  • A snappy little intro.
  • Topic headings (H2s)
  • A whole bunch of questions paired off with brief answers.

The number of questions will vary for different types of websites, but Krispy Kreme have decided 62 questions are asked frequently enough to include.

Let’s dive in and start busting the benefits myths we listed at the start of this post.

Myth: FAQ pages give visitors quick answers to their questions

The logic behind a traditional FAQ page dictates that by putting all the questions in one place on a website, visitors only need to look in one place for their answer.

There’s a missing step here – you still have to find where the question is on the page.

FAQ pages don’t make this as easy as it can be. To see why, we can perform a quick experiment.

Pop over to the Krispy Kreme FAQs and see how quickly you can find out whether someone who suffers coeliac disease can eat their doughnuts.

If it took longer than it should have (it did for us!), there’s a couple of reasons for this:

One: With all the questions in one place, you had to sort through all 62 of them to find the one question that was relevant.

Two: The information you wanted was buried in there, but your question wasn’t. Sure, “We also use wheat in our doughnuts, including gluten, starch and flour.” gave you the answer, but you were probably looking for a question like “Can I eat Krispy Kreme if I’m a coeliac?” or “Do Krispy Kreme doughnuts contain gluten?”. The question the page does use, “I have food allergies. Can I find out what ingredients are used in your doughnuts?” might have been on your radar, but not as high as the others.

Three: It can be really hard to pick out key terms in a full-sentence question when you’re scanning for information. Think of the above question – “allergies” and “ingredients” are the most important words here, but they’re buried in the middle of the question. Jon Meyer from Kayako does an awesome job illustrating how hard this is with a bit of help from Will Shakespeare.

Myth: FAQ pages show you understand your visitors’ needs

We’ve busted just one of our three FAQ myths so far, but we can already start to see how these pages show that they really don’t understand their visitors’ needs.

Visitors want direct, informative answers to their questions really fast. Visitors who arrive at a page and can’t – within just seconds – see that it will answer their question are much more likely to turn around (not literally) leave.

This is a big red flag that visitors aren’t getting what they want. And it’s one that search engines are well-attuned to. When a user visits a page from search results but then quickly returns to the search results; Google interprets that as meaning the user isn’t getting what they need from that page.

Google is able to use that information as a ranking factor, and pages that visitors keep leaving quickly will move further down search result pages.

There’s another reason why this page structure doesn’t communicate an understanding of visitors’ needs.

Keeping with our coeliac example, for someone who can’t eat gluten finding out whether they can safely eat Krispy Kreme’s doughnuts is an important thing to know. If you really do believe that a question is important to your visitors, a single paragraph answer in the middle of a list of kinda unrelated questions may not be the best way to show you understand how important it is.

Krispy Kreme gluten question

Myth: FAQ pages improve your rankings in search results by adding keywords to your site

Because we’re truly in SEO territory now, a slightly more technical approach is needed to debunk this myth.

If you want to just jump down to our tips for best practices below, we totally understand.

But if you do want to know why a traditional FAQ page isn’t a great idea from a Search Engine Optimisation standpoint – read on.

Before a page can rank in search results for any keyword, search engines need to be able to see what the page is about, and how relevant it is to what users are searching.

Old-school SEO thinking goes along the lines of “Well, if the page features the keyword enough times, in enough places, search engines will know it’s relevant.”

Today, search engines are much more sophisticated than this. Google looks at the content on a page as a whole and takes into account a broader range of terms to determine whether a page is relevant to a keyword, query or even a topic that people are searching for.

A traditional FAQ page contains many questions across a broad range of topics. This diversity (which you could also think of as a lack of focus) impedes a search engine’s ability to determine what it is about and what it should be ranking for.

In addition, there are some components of pages like titles, headings and URLs that are particularly important factors search engines will look at to determine a its relevance to a search. Most FAQ pages tend – unsurprisingly – to use the terms FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions in all of these places, although these are unlikely to be what website owners really want the page to rank for.

faq.org FAQ search result

Here’s what you should be doing instead

Coming back full-circle to our FAQ page benefits-slash-myths, these are still things we should be aiming to achieve for website visitors who need answers to their questions:

  • Provide quick answers to their questions
  • Demonstrate that you understand their needs
  • Improve your visibility in search results

The best way to achieve all of this is to make sure you really do understand what questions visitors are asking and having a dedicated page for each of those questions.

Step One: Find out what your visitors are really asking

As a Digital Marketing and SEO agency, this is where we’d dive deep into keyword research and analysing what audiences are talking across the digital landscape; but there’s a much easier way to quickly find out what just your website visitors are asking.

If you have a search box on your site, you can hook it up with your Google Analytics to see reports of what people are searching for on your site. The Site Search report includes how many visitors search for each term and ranks them by popularity.

Amazon.com search bar

Your site probably won’t have as many internal searches as Amazon, but if you have a lot of terms, search for words like “what” or “how” that are more likely to be included in questions.

If you don’t have many terms – or you don’t have site search, you can also look at:

  • Search queries bringing visitors to your site (you can see these in Google Search Console).
  • Questions your audience are asking in forums and on social media.
  • Emails from customers.
  • Feedback from your sales team.
  • Polls & surveys for website visitors, your email list or customers.

Step Two: Create individual pages for each question

When you have your list of frequently asked questions – that are important to your visitors – you should create a dedicated web page for each one.

This helps visitors coming from search results come straight to the answer they’re looking for, but it also shows visitors as soon as they reach the page that they’re in the right place for the answer they need.

And because each page will be focused on just one question and one topic, they will be much easier to structure and write so search engines can understand them.

Search engines also love natural language – things written the way people really talk – so the using the question itself as the page’s main heading and title tag is one of the best ways to help search engines understand the page.

You should still have an FAQ “page”, but it should ideally be an index of all the topics you cover rather than a full list of questions and answers. The idea of the index is to help visitors find specific answers quickly, so focus on using topic keywords rather than full sentences.

ebay.com FAQ page

FAQ pages have a long history tied closely with the evolution of the early internet, but many ideas about how FAQ pages should be structured haven’t kept pace with the web’s evolution since.

Despite the vastness of the internet, users expect to be connected with very specific information extremely quickly and will just as quickly leave a page they don’t immediately see is relevant. The best way to meet these needs, not just on FAQ pages but across entire websites, is to answer them with specific, well-tailored information.