Is Your FAQ Page Delivering the Right Answers? Here’s How to Find Out

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FAQ page

I’m a big fan of a well-written FAQ.

We recently shared a post on this blog about using your website’s FAQ page as a customer service tool. Did you know that in a recent Forrester study, 60 percent of customers will use a self-service resource when one is available instead of contacting customer support?

If your FAQ page (or help page, or knowledge base) is doing a good job addressing your customers’ questions, then it’s a very valuable member of your customer service team.

But, what if it’s doing the opposite? What if your FAQ is frustrating your customers?
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Your website analytics can tell you a lot about how well your FAQ is performing, but analytics data can get rather confusing. So I’d like to share a simple process I use to make sure my company’s help documentation is addressing our customers’ needs. It only takes a few minutes a week, and you don’t need any extensive training.

For this process, you’ll need access to your website’s analytics. I’ll be demonstrating with Google Analytics here, but you should have access to this same data in any other analytics tool.

Searches are customer questions

More than likely, your website has a search box of some kind—perhaps on every page, but hopefully on your FAQ page. You can learn so much by paying attention to what your customers are typing into this search box.

Consider this: with every search your customer performs, she’s asking your website a question. She’s explaining what she needs, and more importantly, she’s showing you how she asks for what she needs.

To help us get at this important data, we’ll focus on two metrics:

  • Search terms (or queries)
  • Search pages

In Google Analytics, you’ll find these metrics in the Behavior section, under Site Search:

A quick note on date ranges

When you’re digging into your search analytics, it’s a good idea to think about how much data you want to sort through. Many analytics tools default to showing you data for the last 30 days, and this is a good starting point for seeing a bigger picture of your customers’ search activity.

I’ll recommend the date ranges I like to use for the analysis projects below, but please feel free to set any date range you prefer.

Let’s start with search terms

Your analytics tool should display a list of the terms your customers are searching on your website most. Here are the top ten queries I found for our help center for a recent week:

(Your list of search terms will usually contain more than ten queries, and we’ll be looking at all of them in our analysis.)

Analysis #1: Your top search queries

This is a good analysis to perform about once a quarter. To get a solid sense of what terms your customers are searching most on your website, look at your search terms over a long date range, such as 90 to 120 days.

What are the most-used search terms over that time frame? Are all of these terms addressed on your FAQ or Help page? If not, it’s time to make updates.

As a side note, it can also be useful to monitor whether your top queries change each time you do this analysis. Watching your top search terms over time may help you identify seasonal patterns in your customers’ needs, and that information could help you better tailor your customer service.

Analysis #2: Is there more than one query for the same question?

This is a good analysis to do regularly, using a 14 or 30-day date range. Sometimes, your customers may have more than one search term they use when they search for a particular answer. Different people use different terminology.

Here’s a great example from our help pages—customers looking for a billing receipt for their recent charges have been known to type all of these queries into our search form:

  • Invoice
  • Bill
  • Receipt
  • Statement
  • Payment History

So, we need to make sure all of those different search terms will deliver the same result! If a customer searches for “statement” and can’t find our article about invoices, then our help pages have failed him.

Depending on how your website is constructed, you may use any number of methods to make sure different queries lead to the same result. If you’re not sure what’s best for your website, you may want to consult with your website manager or internet service provider.

Analysis #3: Looking for patterns

For this analysis, you’ll want to pay attention to the search terms that are lower down on that list of queries—the ones that don’t seem to be used that often. You might assume that these aren’t important search terms, but if you keep an eye on them, they can reveal needs your customers have that you aren’t addressing. This is another good analysis to do with a shorter date range, like 14 days.

Here’s another example from our help center. As I was doing my periodic scan of customer search terms, I began to notice the queries below. There were never very many searches on any of these at one time, but a couple of them showed up every time I looked.

And you can see how they’re pointing to a very specific need—our customers were wondering whether they could use our web-based software offline:

  • Offline
  • Can I work without internet?
  • How to export my work offline
  • Uploading my off-line changes to the software
  • How to work outside the software
  • I don’t have internet. Can I still see my work?
  • Editing my work when I’m not online

If you can identify trends like this in your search queries, then you can add content to your FAQ or help page that addresses the need.

Another approach to this analysis is to use a very large date range, like six months or even a year, and look through that large list of search terms for trends. That can be useful if you’re doing this analysis for the first time, but after that, I like to keep tabs on my search terms more frequently.

Now, let’s look at search pages

If your website offers a search bar on every page, then a Search Pages analysis can be very helpful. With this view, you can see which pages of your website people are searching from, and what terms they use on that page.

This data helps you construct a picture of your customers’ thought processes, and gives you a good idea of what pages should link together on your website. It also helps you identify topics that might need to be on your FAQ.

I recommend a longer date range for this analysis, like 3 to 6 months. Here’s a snapshot from our recent search pages analytics:

What we’re interested in here is what searches our customers are doing from these pages. Let’s take a closer look at number 8 on this list, which is an article from our help pages about preparing a financial forecast. Our customers have done 26 searches from this page—what were they looking for at that moment?

If we click on that title link, here’s what we see:

As we can see, customers searched a lot of different terms (ten of the 26 are pictured here), and no search term was used more than once. But we do get a sense of what our customers want to know once they’ve read this particular help page, and that can help us tweak the content of that page. We might, for example, want to add a list of links to related help pages that address some of these queries.

We can also look for trends. It’s clear, for example, that several customers who searched from this help page were wondering how to export. So we can add some coverage of that subject to the page.

It’s an ongoing process

It’s true that everything evolves over time—your business, your website, and your customers. This is why it’s useful to do these kinds of analyses periodically, to make sure your web content stays aligned with your customers’ needs and where your company is headed.

This process doesn’t have to take a long time. I can usually complete everything we’ve discussed in here less than an hour. Staying in touch with our customers’ searches like this has really helped us keep our help pages well-tuned, so they can provide good customer service. I hope you’ll give it a try!

Posted in Customer Service

Diane Gilleland

Diane Gilleland

Diane Gilleland is a content developer and customer advocate at Palo Alto Software. She spends most of her time building and polishing the help centers for Outpost and LivePlan.