Make the Perfect FAQ Page for Nonprofit Websites

FAQs ((How to you say “FAQ?” Do you say “F.A.Q.” or “fak.” I’m in the latter group and realized how tricky the split pronunciations can be for grammar. Which of these is right: 1) “Does your website need a FAQ page?” or 2) “Does your website need an FAQ page?” That second one drives me CRAZY but I suspect there’s no good solution other than completely avoiding the phrase.)) are old school. They existed before the web, and there was a time when it seemed that every website had one.

Since then, they’ve faded from popularity, but two new articles from Nielsen Norman Group and my own observations have both really convinced me that FAQs have a place on modern websites.

Why FAQs?

There are so many reasons why a good FAQ page—or pages if your site is large enough—improves a website. The Nielsen Norman Group article “FAQs Still Deliver Great Value” lists many:

  • Quickly link visitors to other relevant content.
  • Provide a useful overview of your organization in a conversational tone. ((The article notes that people without specific questions still read FAQ pages.))
  • Create an excellent page for SEO, assuming you answer questions people search for.
  • Reduce time staff has to spend answering user questions via phone or email.

How Do I Make a Good FAQ Page?

First start with the two “no, duh” rules of FAQs. You’ll find that most bad FAQ pages violate one or both:

  • All FAQs should be frequently asked.
  • All FAQs should be questions.

It seems obvious, but it’s not uncommon to see questions that nobody cares about and/or aren’t questions. (“Explain the synergies created by our patented cross-regional conglomeration techno-strategery.”)

To make sure you really are using real questions, see if you can actually find examples of people asking those questions:

  • Comb through any emails, social media, and forums you are active in.
  • Talk to front office staff who are often the ones answering basic questions.
  • Think back to the most recent conversations you had with stakeholders.

Put all those things together and you should probably end up with a good FAQ page that includes as few or as many questions as it needs and no more.

How Do I Make a Really Good FAQ Page?

Assuming you’ve got your questions ready to go, it’s important that the design of your FAQ page facilitate reading, scanning (as in “quickly looking over”), and navigating.

Again, the Nielsen Norman Group has great recommendations in “An FAQ’s User Experience” ((GAHHHHHHHHH! See Footnote 1.)):

  • Support “jump links” or in-page navigation both from a list of questions to answers and also “back to top.” ((As a bonus, having these links means the ability to send links in email or social media to specific questions on the page.))
  • Use contrast, font weight, and text size to distinguish between questions and answers. You should probably be using headings for questions, so hopefully your site automatically makes questions larger.

A note of caution: Beware hidden content

One popular layout for FAQ pages uses expandable sections that show only the question. A user clicks on a specific question to reveal the answer. The Common Core website has an example of expandable FAQs. This is “slick” and achieves one best practice of showing a list of questions; however, it comes with big downsides:

  • It makes it very hard to read many questions at once since each click adds to the page’s interaction cost. It may help users with specific questions but it hinders users who want to scan or read the entire FAQ. A user who wants to read all the Common Core FAQs—or print them—will have to make 34 clicks to do so.
  • In-page search (CTRL/CMD + F) can’t find text that is hidden.
  • Designs like this can be implemented in an accessible way, but they often aren’t.

Despite recommending FAQs, the Nielsen Norman group specifically tackled this type of layout in “Accordions Are Not Always the Answer for Complex Content on Desktops” and mostly recommended against it.

How Do I Keep Up a Good FAQ Page?

Briefly, it’s also worth thinking about how FAQs can help your organization improve itself. The best FAQ pages suggest ways to improve how you serve your stakeholders. How can you prevent people from even needing to ask a question and just meet their need immediately?

That means the best FAQ pages inform how your organization works. Review your FAQ page often, remove old questions that aren’t asked any more, and add new questions that arise.

An Example: New York Times King v. Burwell FAQ

Here’s the page that made me write this blog post. It was a FAQ page so beautiful that I just had no choice but to show it to you. Here’s the small-screen view which I actually like more than the large-screen view:

King v. Burwell FAQ on Upshot Blog
A beautiful FAQ page on the New York Times website. (Note: The page was edited for this screenshot to show more of the page. The real post has more questions and a longer first answer.)

It hits every single best practice and maybe even establishes a new one:

  • Answers real questions that people care about. It did at least for me. I read the article straight through and it touched on some issues I had wondered about but not heard analysis of.
  • Provides in-page navigation that allows you to jump to questions from the question list, jump back to the top, and link to specific questions, like the penultimate one.
  • Clearly distinguishes questions from answers. It’s incredibly easy to both scan and read.
  • A summary and clear title helps the visitor understand the purpose of the page.

And finally, I absolutely love the answer “previews” that help a visitor get a quick overview of both the article and the specific answer. In many cases, a short answer is all some people need but a longer one is required in special cases. This model may be a perfect way to serve both cases.

A Nonprofit Example: Donors Choose

Donors Choose uses a unique multi-column layout for its “How it Works” page.

Donors Choose "How it Works" FAQ

By keeping both the list of questions and answers short, Donors Choose packs a ton of helpful information into a small space.

Talk Back

What do you think about FAQ pages? Still not convinced? When might a FAQ page not be a good fit for an organization?

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