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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
What does FAQ stand for?
FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions. Some people like to say that it actually stands for Frequently Answered Questions.
What is an FAQ?
In the early days of their use, an FAQ referred to just a single question that was frequently asked. There were "FAQ lists" that contained a series of FAQs and their answers. Over time, FAQ came to be synonymous with an "FAQ list."
What is the purpose of an FAQ?
No matter how extensive, clear, and precise your documentation is, people will still have questions.
Part of this issue 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, or remarkably similar, questions -- questions that get asked frequently.
Creating an FAQ provides the answers to these questions in one helpful collection.
What is the difference between a knowledgebase and FAQs?
Knowledgebases are more extensive and are pretty much always database driven. FAQs are more concise. But as FAQs get more complicated, the distinction between the two concepts gets hazy.
How did FAQs ever become such a big thing?
The "question and answer" approach to pedagogy dates back at least to Socrates (although it was he who asked the questions).
The whole of Matthew Hopkins's 1647 classic The Discovery of Witches was written as a series of questions ("queries") and answers.
But FAQs really got going in the early 1980s with email lists (and later newsgroups). To keep bandwidth and frustration down, FAQs were created so that new list members didn't ask questions that the old-timers had answered over and over and over.
From there it grew to a more general way of distributing information in a simple form.
Do I really need an FAQ?
Probably not. Most websites don't have them. But your website users will let you know if you need one.
If you get lots of the same questions over and over, it is time to put up an FAQ. It doesn't matter if the answers to the questions are answered somewhere on your site; your users clearly aren't finding them.
When users get frustrated, they often go straight for the FAQ.
How can FAQs improve my product or service?
The process of actually answering the questions people regularly ask can help you clarify why they are asking them in the first place, leading to better product development and process improvement.
Answering individual questions via email or other means helps the situation, but it is different with an FAQ because you are forced to answer a generalized form of the question in a way that will help as many people as possible.
Where should I host my FAQ?
First, decide if you want to use an FAQ-specific app, or a larger CMS. Then, find a web hosting company that supports the software you want to use.
What's the biggest mistake people make with their FAQ pages?
Sometimes, websites make their FAQs hard to find -- which destroys the whole point of having one.
Don't make your users click to "About Us" and then to "Site Map" in order to get to the link for the FAQ.
If you have an FAQ, a link to it should be prominently displayed on all your pages.
How do you pronounce FAQ?
"Eff Ay Queue. " No one says "fack." At least, no one should.