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FAQ Options for Websites

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages are a very useful tool that allows websites to provide information to users in a very readable format. Their uses vary.

They can be used to make clear concepts that the rest of the site may take for granted. That might be something like, "What is a cloud?" Or they can be used to highlight more advanced questions that the website doesn't wish to address in regular content. 

That could be something along the lines of, "What is the difference between Ku and Ka bands in satellite communication?" But most often, FAQs are used to answer questions that customers literally ask frequently. Like, "Why don't you post prices on your site?"

Here we are going to look at various tools that will allow you to create FAQs on your site. These include the simplest HTML tools, free-standing FAQ tools, and add-ons for blogs. 

There is nothing especially complicated about FAQs all by themselves. But they can get large, and most websites find uses for multiple targeted FAQs. They can be very complicated and thus difficult to manage without some help.

What is the purpose of FAQ pages?

No matter how extensive, clear, and precise your documentation is, people will still have questions. Part of this has to do with the way documentation works. Part of it has to do with the way people read documentation. Part of it has to do with the fact that your documentation probably isn’t as clear as you think it is.

Since most people are probably trying to do similar things with your website, web application, or product, it is very likely that many people will have the same question, or remarkably similar questions. Questions that get asked frequently.

Creating an FAQ provides the answers to these questions in one helpful collection.

Manual FAQs

It is possible to just create FAQs by hand -- no database access, just a little HTML. You could put questions in bold or italics, and normal text following it for the answers. But this is not the proper way to code for a number of reasons -- including SEO. 

A lot of people put questions under heading tags (usually h2) and the answers in normal paragraph tags. Probably even better is to use description lists (dl). Then the question is left justified and the answer indented.

Of course, all of this can be controlled, along with the fonts used for the titles and descriptions, with a little CSS. With a little more CSS, you can add collapsing and expanding answers, so that only questions are displayed when the FAQ is first loaded. Even more can be done with event handling using some JavaScript.

But if it is going to get that complicated, it is probably better to use some kind of FAQ tool.

Stand Alone FAQs

Many websites are focused on the FAQ style of presenting information. This applies to single page websites all the way up to fairly complicated websites and intranets. But even sites that only have a part dedicated to FAQs often find that they need the power of a standalone FAQ tool. 

There are three well-known tools that fall under this category: phpMyFAQ, FAQMasterFlex, and DocFAQ. Unfortunately, FAQMasterFlex and DocFAQ are not currently supported. These aren't of much use except to developers at this point. Luckily, phpMyFAQ offers as much as any user could ask for.

PhpMyFAQ

It is probably best to think of phpMyFAQ in the way you think of blog or forum software. It offers a complete administrative and user interface. Any number of FAQs can be created. These can be subdivided into user defined categories. It can be set up to use most major databases: MySQL, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL Server and SQLite3. And it supports dozens of languages, even those that run right-to-left such as Arabic and Hebrew.

PhpMyFAQ provides extensive user and group permissions with regards to viewing and editing content. Along with this, users can add comments to questions. And perhaps most important, the whole system comes with a powerful search facility.

For those using intranets, phpMyFAQ integrates LDAP, so that existing authentication and permission on the intranet can be used with the FAQ software.

PhpMyFAQ is free software. There is a great deal of online documentation and support for the product. But for customers who need special support, it may be purchased from the development team. They offer services for altering and expanding the existing software and for integrating it into customers' existing infrastructure.

FAQ Add-On & Plugin Options

One of the problems with a standalone FAQ system like phpMyFAQ is that it doesn't integrate seamlessly with your existing software. It can be difficult, or even impossible, to make it look the same as you blog.

If you have an existing blog, and you FAQ requirements are not too great, it is usually best to go with an add-on or plugin.

WordPress FAQ Plugins

As by far the most used blogging platform, WordPress has the advantage of attracting a lot of developers writing plugins and templates for it. There are currently at least eight FAQ-oriented plugins for WordPress. 

The two most popular are Spider FAQ and SP Faqs. Most plugins allow users to create FAQs with customized shortcodes for inserting into blog posts and pages.

Other FAQ Add-ons for CMSs

Drupal offers one primary way to manages FAQs: the Frequently Asked Questions module. It supports categories and various options for formatting. There is an add-on for this module: FAQ Ask. It allows users to leave questions, which are queued within the blog for the website maintainers to answer. Once the question is answered, it is automatically placed on the FAQ page.

Other blogging platforms offer add-ons that provide FAQ functionality. For example, there are a handful of Joomla! extensions.

FAQs and SEO

Sometimes, people search based on topics. They type in single words or phrases like “discount web hosting” or “WordPress.”

But that is getting to be a less and less common way for people to interact with search engines.

More and more often, people are typing out entire questions into their search bar. People don’t just want to know about “discount web hosting” in general, they want to know “What is the best web host company for a WordPress blog?” or “How can an FAQ improve my Search Engine Optimization?”

By putting the entire text of a potential question into the header, title, and URL of a page, and then answering that question in a way that people find useful and shareable, you have a good chance of ranking well when people ask that question.

Summary

Ultimately, what most matters in an FAQ is the content. Before deciding how best to present and manage your FAQ, you should spend some time designing it -- figuring out how you want it structured and just what questions you want to answer. Once you know this, you will be in the best position to figure out what software you need.

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