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Fake FAQs

Marketers have borrowed the FAQ format from instructional websites in the hopes of giving complex, confusing, and discouraging information about their products the appearance of user friendliness.

Why do websites have FAQs? Why don’t they just answer their visitors’ burning questions right on the web pages themselves? Isn’t that the heart of sales and customer services?

Jeff Sexton makes the case against FAQs this week on the blog at the marketing site GrokDotCom.com.

However, I think he’s going up against a straw man. In my experience, while a few companies may be naively burying compelling marketing content on the FAQ page, most are using the FAQ page to hide problems. They use it as a dumping ground for required warnings and other “small print” disclaimers, as well as a place to put the ugly details about cumbersome naming or numbering conventions that can’t be rationally or quickly explained on marketing pages.

In short, marketers have borrowed the FAQ format from instructional websites in the hopes of giving complex, confusing, and discouraging information about their products the appearance of user friendliness.

Here’s an example from HP’s refurbished-products sales site. This FAQ answers the burning questions “How can I tell what the desktop form factors are?” and “How do I decipher part numbers for refurbished products?” (Warning: The answers to these questions may lead people who do user-facing design to bang their heads on the their own desktops — regardless of form factor.)

1 comment on “Fake FAQs

  1. Jeffrey Lemkin

    Good piece, Karen! But what horrible things does it say about me when I confess that after jumping to the HP page, I found it tedious, but entirely comprehensible!

    The form factor bit was a little silly, but the other stuff – even the part numbering – was fine, and, I imagine were I to have purchased a refurb unit, fairly comprehensible.

    Cheers

    -Jeff

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