As part of our website redesign, over the last two months I’ve visited each and every page on the Lane website. As part of that process, we’ve cut a lot of pages, and at just 3413 nodes, the Lane website is now smaller and more svelte than it was when we launched it back in 2011 (and that includes more than 100 nodes that aren’t even real pages!).
But also as part of that process, I discovered that there were two categories of pages that had a lot of pages, and a lot of good information, but not necessarily a lot of value.
The first was contact pages. By convention, we try to have a page, usually located at a url like lanecc.edu/department/contact, which contains contact information for a department. This is an important page, and the way we structured things was an attempt to bring some standardization to the Lane website. But it also resulted in duplicate information (contact information is sometimes on the department homepage, and some departments also created employee directory pages). We’ll likely to contact pages differently next time around.
The second chunk was frequently asked questions pages. There are probably forty or fifty pages on the website that are full of FAQs. And while often the information in them is helpful, just by presenting that information in the FAQ format we may be making it less likely students will find and understand what we need to tell them.
For a good overview of why FAQ pages can be less helpful than other content, you should read this A List Apart article. A brief summary of issues:
- Duplicate content – many times information on a FAQ is contained elsewhere
- Lack of order – FAQ content doesn’t tend to flow question to question, making it harder to understand and process
- Repetitive structure – since all the content gets phrased as questions, you’re often introducing extra words to the page that get repetitive to read
- Increased cognitive load – often a student will come to your page with a specific question, phrased differently from how you’ve asked it, resulting in increased processing to determine if your question matches their question
I also think FAQs are problematic for people that aren’t searching for an answer to a specific question. If you’re just exploring a site, trying to determine if a program is for you then a FAQ often fails to guide you through content in a meaningful way.
If you happen to be stuck at home with some time to do website edits, one thing that would be really helpful is working on your FAQ page. Here’s my suggestions for slimming down, or dumping, your FAQ:
- Read through your questions, and make sure you still feel like each question is important. If one isn’t important, remove it. You might be surprised by how much old content is out there.
- Find any questions in your FAQ that have answers elsewhere, whether on your site or another page on our website, and get rid of them. Reducing duplicate content is possibly the most helpful thing we can do. We’ve found that many people have tried to be helpful by copying content from elsewhere on the website, ostensibly to simplify things for their audience, but almost always this ends up making the website bigger and more confusing.
- Find any FAQ questions that are related to some other page on your site, and incorporate them into the content on that page. For instance, if you have a question like “What prerequisite courses do I need to take before applying to this program?”, consider moving that content to your program application page under a heading “Required Prerequisite Courses”
- Are there any groups of questions that are related, and which could be combined into just a paragraph or two of more effective content, either on a new page, or as a new section on an existing one?
After all that, you may still be left with some FAQ questions which just don’t fit in anywhere. And that’s ok. Sometimes a FAQ provides the right solution. But even just shortening the length of your FAQ page can help students to better find information and improve the quality of your other pages.
As always, if you’re working on something like an FAQ and have a question, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.