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I feel like we might be missing a bit of context here, ironically enough. If you’re building a marketing website, with the primary purpose of being a place to consume content, you probably are doing something wrong if you depend on FAQs. The idea that FAQs are an intermittent step to get to the real writing is accurate in this case. Actually, getting a client to generate FAQs might be a good way to start them thinking about the information they need to convey.

However, if you’re talking about something like SaaS with high levels of interaction and user learning happening at every turn, that’s a different story. A list of not-my-question isn’t the right answer, nor is throwing your users into a dreaded forum where maybe they’ll find something useful… or maybe they’ll immediately leave because forums are usually insane places.

“Bad design” can be the result of any number of constraints (budget, company priorities, legal requirements, nutty CEOs) and we should always strive to solve the root of a problem. But just because we’re not there yet doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to provide support for users in other ways.

The idea of simply re-labeling your FAQs to “support” really skirts the deeper issue. If you still have a page of Q&A that ignores user experience, how is that label really any better?

Help content has been drastically overlooked, and content strategists that simply say “burn the FAQs!” haven’t been helping. The reality is that users need support, and smart self-service help content can be the most economical and effective option for many companies.

I think the biggest issue with FAQs is not the information itself, but the fact that we don’t take the time and care to craft an experience around how users might find, consume, and use knowledge—and the potential for really positive experiences as a result (e.g., I was trying to solve a specific problem, did that, then found a way to kick it up a notch with a related feature or hack).

We need to think about how users are searching for information and answers, their level of expertise with technology and the product, what next steps will be relevant for them (and what steps are erroneous), etc. We need to be selective in what information we show at any given time to provide a curated, helpful experience instead of a tidal wave of quasi-relevant information.

Speaking of which, have you seen MailChimp’s self-support? This knowledge base inspired me to my current position (working as a help content strategist), and I think there’s a lot to learn here about how to turn users with problems into users who are deeply engaged and sometimes in love with a product.