I am re-designing a product site, and the client insists on having a FAQs section. I originally placed it in an area of low prominence on the site, but now the client is questioning it. What is the value of a FAQs section and how prominent does it need to be in the navigation on a product promotional/educational site?
From a personal experience, I find FAQs quite useful, specially in services websites (and essential in the case where there are fees and legal issues involved). Advantage is, a FAQ page allows to anticipate questions, which can be translated into spending less time on mails and phone calls, and saving the users time spent hunting for answers. They are quite popular so don't underestimate how many visitors will use it.
Some reasons why a FAQ might go wrong:
- Because the questions are actually not frequently asked or interesting,
- Because they are not intuitive,
- Because they are not really needed.
You say you are doing a redesign. Do you have any statistics about previous usage, if there was one? Not all sites need a FAQs page, it depends on the product and how redundant it can be to have one. Does your client have the contents already thought and written? Reading them would be the best way of knowing if you need this page. It's users who tell if a FAQ question is needed.
There's not much to loose by adding a FAQ to the site, but why adding something that is not needed? That goes against the "principle of simplicity" that we designers value so very much. If you do, make sure you gather the right questions and you use a good format for it, that enables the user to hop between questions without loosing where they were.
Although I think that yisela is right, IMO FAQs are defective by design, DOA.
If users keep asking a question (thus the "F" in FAQ) then it's because something is not well explained somewhere else, and this is wrong because it forces the users to find out their answers in two steps (raise question, find answer), instead of simply not needing any answer (zero steps).
An answer to a question is something somebody needs to know in order to use our UI. The more the user needs to know, the lower the usability of that UI.
Consider, for example, the CLI (command line interface) like in PC DOS or UNIX. The users have to write commands out of the top of their heads, they have to know it all, and the FAQ is called the manual. Users tell each other "RTFM" that means "Read The Manual" as anybody knows.
On the other hand we have GUIs where the users simply click choices and ideally need not know nothing.
In between there are applications that although being GUI-based, force the user to acquire bits of knowledge in order to use them. For example the Windows explorer requires the users to know that dragging files across disk drives copies the files whilst dragging and dropping in directories of the same disk the files are moved.
This idiosyncratic behavior can result in data loss or other problems.
And stashing this bit of knowledge in the FAQ would not relieve the designers of such interactions of their responsibilities. Will the system tell RTFM the user who just lost a bunch of important files?
Ideally the UI should communicate its behavior so that the users could use it without having to read and remember nothing additional.
The users should only be requested to have knowledge about the application's domain. If they lack it then a list of questions and answers is not a document correctly structured for learning.
In short, if users keep asking a question one must handle it as a bug, find out the cause, and redesign in order to preempt the question.