Whatever happened to FAQ pages? Ask a content designer.
In the beginning was the word. In the bible at least. When it comes to building new websites or refreshing old ones the word is usually the last thing anyone thinks of. Instead what tends to happen is that an organisation hires a “web person” and doesn’t give the content much thought until the design and wireframe are finished. Then there’s a lengthy delay while the “web person” waits for the content that the website owners thought the web person would provide. Eventually, the business owners realise that they’re expected to provide the content. They have a go at writing it themselves or try reworking old copy to fit the new website. Finally, someone suggests getting in touch with a content writer to finish the job which is where I usually come in.
There’s a much better way – bring the content writer in from the beginning. Or better again, hire a content designer. Sometimes I end up writing web content to fill a webpage that doesn’t need to be there. Why is it there? Well because that’s the way the web person has always built websites for businesses in that sector. Or because the previous version of the website had that page. I think some web pages are like the human appendix – we’re not sure why we need it, so we just leave it there unless it starts to cause trouble.
I recently finished a course with Content Design London. The discipline of content design is a relatively new one. It came about when Sarah Richards (of Content Design London) was redesigning the Gov.uk (UK government) websites to be more user-friendly and accessible. With her background as a copywriter, Richards brought a writer’s eye to the redesign. Content design brings in the writer from the beginning of a web design project. The writer/content designer is involved throughout the process helping the business and the web designer to come up with a website that delivers what the web users (or customers) want. Crucially, content designers are trained to use the language that the customers themselves use. It puts the users’ needs first, rather than what the company thinks the website should have.
Not so frequently asked questions
The “but this is the way we’ve always done it” approach is no longer good enough. You might have noticed that the once ubiquitous FAQ (frequently asked questions) pages have all but disappeared. Part of the reason for this is the improvement in search engines and to web users’ increased confidence in finding what they need. But it’s also a result of much improved web design, web content and (ta da!) content design. In fact, should you wish to wind up your content designer simply suggest that your website really needs an FAQ page and watch their reaction.
SEO scores are not the only way to measure success
Businesses which are willing to take the step of bringing in a content designer from the start will be rewarded with a much better website, more user-friendly and accessible to all. The web copy will be more readable and speak in words that the customers themselves use. Since a website is a reflection of the business, making things easy to follow creates a favourable first impression. It’s your first chance to show that you care about your customers. Readability and accessibility can also increase your website’s SEO score. Content design is research-based, focuses on the psychology of reading as well as designing with data in mind. It’s not about dumbing things down, it’s about adding value by making things easier to understand and find.
But it goes beyond language, keywords and SEO. Content Design is about organising information in a way that builds trust with the audience. It starts with the users and puts their needs front and centre. It’s a problem-solving approach which is collaborative. Ideally, it will involve a team of people who are familiar with the product or service the website offers and the customers or users as well. Richards even suggests writing in pairs and having group critiques, “crits,” where all team members can give honest, constructive feedback on the web content. For those of us more accustomed to working solo, working collaboratively and having our work publicly criticised presents a challenge. But knowing that it can result in better content and a more useful website makes it an irresistible challenge.
Content designers are armed with a checklist created by Richards in order to sign off and publish their work. The fact that it’s just four yes or no questions illustrates that she practices what she preaches. Just don’t call them Frequently Asked Questions.
If you liked this you might enjoy my blog post about who does what on a web project.