Hi, I’m Tom Forrester-Paton, and I’m a writer for Webfirm. All content writers need to put themselves in the shoes of the visitor to the site for which they are writing, and try to figure out what particular itch that person is trying to scratch. Some of these are self-evident, and “positive”. They want a flat screen TV – you sell flat screen TVs – so far, so good. They want their TV to be durable – yours are bomb-proof – that’s another itch scratched. And so on. But these itches are about what the visitor wants to get. He or she is also likely to have a slew of itches which aren’t about getting, but about avoiding.

In my case, I have an ancient TV the size of a Winnebago. I keep telling myself that I should get a good flat screen. But it’s a fairly big-ticket item (we’ll come back to that later) and while I’m aware that it’s part of a technology that is constantly advancing, I don’t really know the details. Maybe if TVs were something I bought every few weeks or months it’d be different, but I don’t and it isn’t.

And I’ll be damned if I’ll go through the grief of purchasing the thing and installing it and putting the old one out for Council Clean-up Day, only to find that my friends come round and tell me I should have bought the one that lets you use it as an internet browser, or, for all I know, an egg timer (you may at this point be starting to see how ill-prepared I really am to shop in the home entertainment space, which also consists of a Betamax, Amstrad, mini disc player and Sega dreamcast and my Nokia Ngage). My friends will laugh at me, I shall feel inadequate and pathetic, and may quite possibly have to forget ever buying the T.V in the first place.

My problem is – I don’t know what I don’t know. But while I may not know what I don’t know about being a flat-screen TV buyer, I’ll probably recognise it when I see it! Actually, make that if I see it. What I need is someone to educate me. Of course I could ask my mates, but they’re too busy laughing at me. So I’ll do what most of us do and go online.

FAQ text

Put Your FAQ Top, Left and Bold

And if I find a supplier of home entertainment kit with a nice, big, fat FAQ button, top, left and bold, I’ll hit it. And if I find that the “Frequently-Asked Questions” scratch all my itches, including the ones I didn’t know I ought to have, I’m well on my way to becoming a customer of the guy who owns the site. And to getting a TV that won’t earn me the contempt of my peer group, who used to be my mates.

So should your site have an FAQ, top, left and bold? With some commendable exceptions, businesses, even when they have an FAQ page, stick it off to the right of a bar of tabs, or down at the bottom – in the boondocks of their page, where it ranks, in terms of visibility, somewhere just above their privacy policy. For some sites, this is not disastrous. B2B sites, where the visitor we are appealing to is part of our “trade” and can be expected to be well-educated about the product, can perhaps expect visitors to find their own way to the FAQ page. Moreover, the visitor will look to it for strongly factual information which they won’t feel foolish for not knowing! For these guys, a straightforward FAQ which does no more nor less than it says on the tin, and is at least reasonably findable, can be OK. An FAQ like this doesn’t change much – let’s call this kind of FAQ “static”.

“Dynamic” FAQs

The business that sells a big-ticket product, with a strong lifestyle component, to a naïve customer who shops for it infrequently, needs a “dynamic” FAQ, and they need it top, left and bold. What do I mean by “dynamic”? I mean that the questions it contains, while certainly “Frequently Asked”, will be selected and arranged so that the answers to them scratch the right itches, in the right order, and do so in a way that prepares the visitor to appreciate the virtues of “our” product over its rivals. It’s likely to change as your marketing develops. A dynamic FAQ is one that tells a story, creating a sequence of “aha” moments for the site visitor – it’s the training space where we teach our visitors to become our customers. The first questions in a dynamic FAQ should, first and foremost, reassure the visitor that we “get” their anxiety, and the following questions should go on to allay it.

So does your business need a dynamic FAQ? Here are the questions I think we should be asking:

$ Investment – is it a “big ticket” item? In dollar terms, anything in four figures is a sizeable purchase for the typical online shopper. The bigger the price, the stronger the fear of misspending you must overcome.

Social Investment – In my case, the social cost of a bad decision was also a big factor. A large number of products embody a lifestyle component that represents a heavy social investment.

Frequency of Purchase – are your customers likely to be adept shoppers in your space? Are they knowledgeable enough to appreciate the virtues of your product over its rivals?

Consequences of Purchasing Error – How hard is it to fix a mistake? In the table that follows, the Cosmetic Surgery example is perhaps the grand-daddy of the “buy in haste, repent at leisure” purchases, so I’ve started with that.

Time for a chart?

I thought so, so here’s my FAQ Indexing Tool – FAQIT for short. The further the Xs are to the left, the higher the FAQIT rating and the greater the need for a dynamic FAQ:

FAQIT rating

Very High




Cosmetic Surgery    
$ investmentcross   
Social Investmentcross   
Consequences of Purchasing Errorcross   
Rarity of purchasecross   
Unknown Unknownscross   
Building your dream home    
$ investmentcross   
Social Investment cross  
Consequences of Purchasing Errorcross   
Rarity of purchase cross  
Unknown Unknowns cross  
Flat Screen Tv    
$ investment cross  
Social Investment  cross 
Consequences of Purchasing Error  cross 
Rarity of purchase cross  
Unknown Unknowns cross  
Buying a Pair of Socks    
$ investment   cross
Social Investment   cross
Consequences of Purchasing Error   cross
Rarity of purchase   cross
Unknown Unknowns   cross

With the exception of the socks, all these products and services should have a dynamic FAQ.  If I’m looking for a flat-screen TV, FAQs about other products in the retailer’s catalogue – let’s say home security equipment – are just getting in the way of training me to be a flat screen TV buyer.

On a final note, most businesses should consider an FAQ page for each product category and should consider structured data markup so that the answers can be displayed directly in a Google search.

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