By Stephen Kenwright published March 18, 2014

Why Your Web Content Strategy Should Include Answering Questions

colorful questions-where?-when?-who?Social networks like Twitter have ushered in a new era of customer-care content. Unfortunately, for many businesses, this has come to mean that a social media manager’s time might be completely consumed by answering customer questions on all of the many platforms on which your company operates. While there will always be a place for social media in crisis management, there are more productive ways for marketers to use their time than by spending it on personally addressing customer complaints.

As an alternative, including carefully compiled frequently-asked questions lists (FAQs) and other Q&A content as part of your web content strategy provides a much greater opportunity to expand your brand’s influence — as having the right people answering the right questions in the right places for your customers can achieve much more for your brand than just damage limitation.

How to find the right questions to answer

There are tons of sources you can mine to get examples of the questions consumers might be asking that are relevant to your business. Here are just a few:

  • Social media
  • Quora
  • Webinars and Google+ Hangouts/Helpouts
  • Tumblr
  • “Ask Me Anything” (Reddit, etc.)
  • Blog comments
  • Internal search functions on your website
  • Keyword search data from Google/Bing Analytics and Webmaster Tools platforms

How to find the right places to answer questions

Yahoo!-owned microblogging platform Tumblr can be a hugely useful Q&A tool. Visitors to a Tumblr blog can be encouraged to leave questions, which, when answered, become individual content pieces.

The value in answering an individual user’s question directly — using owned Q&A platforms like Tumblr, as opposed to rented real estate like Quora — is that one of your influencers has already identified himself, and your response is owned content that can be distributed easily. A glowing review from a person with a few friends can be more powerful than a passing mention from a social media rock star, so it’s worth nurturing a one-to-one relationship with a user that has shown an interest — he may even become a lead.

However, you’ll probably achieve the best content marketing ROI by answering questions on your own site. It’s the first place customers will look when they want to know more about your business, and it’s where you want to direct any kudos you get for lending a helping hand. It’s also why investment in new channels is not necessary when you’re looking to factor Q&A into your web content strategy. Your site’s FAQ section is ideal for this, and the sad truth is that most businesses are not using their FAQ pages to their full potential.

Here are a few content challenges that can be addressed by incorporating Q&A content in your web content strategy:

Problem: Frequently repeated questions

Simply put, if you are frequently being asked the same questions about your product or service, the last place you want to answer that question is on a deep page that may only be accessible via your footer. Instead, you want to add visibility to your answers, so that it’s easier for your potential customers to recognize your interest in addressing their needs.

For example, if you’ve noticed that significant numbers of users seem to be asking a few of the same questions about your company before they buy from you, consider adding content to a highly-accessed section of your site, like your About Us page, to answer them.

If significant numbers of users want to know about your product before they buy it, your copy isn’t working hard enough for you. Your product pages have to explain what needs your product meets; so while obscure questions in FAQ sections are fine (e.g., “Does product X also do this?”), obvious questions are not (e.g., “What does this product do?“).

Problem: FAQ pages are too technical

Many websites use FAQ sections as guides on how to use a product to perform a certain function. There’s nothing wrong with this, and bearing in mind that users will typically use a search engine to find this kind of information, it’s important to host it on your site — it’s standard customer care.

However, just because you may be explaining detailed processes, it doesn’t mean that the content has to be complicated and filled with jargon and tech-speak. In fact, it should be just the opposite. For example:

  • Be sure to include visual content, such as simple diagrams, whenever possible.
  • Provide step-by-step guidance through any complicated processes users may encounter.
  • Be sure your content speaks in a clear, concise way, and avoid using jargon or technical terms that not all readers may understand.
  • Ensure that helpful content is optimized for mobile, as users often want the guide in hand, literally, while they go through the process.
  • Make sure it’s easy to print and email — or consider also offering it as a PDF download to make it easier for readers to share it with others.

By following these suggestions, you can create guide content that serves as a valuable resource, helping your company increase its search traffic — and build affinity by providing information that may help customers make a purchase decision, or be more satisfied with one they’ve already made.

A great platform for answering questions in a step-by-step process is SlideShare, which allows you to condense long-form content into simple and visually engaging conversations. As an additional tip, try embedding your SlideShare presentations on your FAQ pages alongside the other content, giving users a choice of how they would most like to consume your content.

Problem: Unique or complex questions

Demonstrating how your product meets a need is one thing, but your target market has a lot of needs. As a target customer makes his journey from stimulus to experience, he or she may have questions or want information that is specific to a unique situation, or that you may not have anticipated. Make sure it’s easy for consumers to get in touch and ask a question they can’t find the answer to anywhere else – this is the kind of customer service that gets you talked about – but ask for notes from your customer service department whenever they get asked something difficult. There doesn’t have to be a huge number of people asking a particular question, but if you’re the only one answering it, you’re the only one who stands to win customers.

An example of a site with an FAQ section that deals with ambiguous situations like this very well is Virgin Holidays Cruises.

nine categories-cruise info

Its online Cruise Guide maps out its buyer journey, from stimulus to experience, and contains information that is targeted to customers’ various needs through each stage of the purchase process. It’s true that some of the information can be found elsewhere on the web, but the Cruise Guide successfully collates this into a definitive experience and presents it as the story of buying a cruise holiday.

There’s no magic formula for answering difficult questions on your website, but there are plenty of options available. Take Mint.com as an example:

mint.com-FAQs

Financial products are notoriously difficult to navigate online, which is why Mint has made its FAQs as clean and concise as possible. It’s easy for users to find relevant answers, either by searching the FAQ, or through Mint’s community forum resources. And if that customer’s answers still prove elusive, Mint provides easy access to get the information he needs directly from a representative.

mint.com-need more help?

Finding the right way to answer questions

The examples above are very different in execution, but what they have in common is that they make it easy for customers to extract the information they need.

Developing a strategy for answering questions that will most benefit your users will take some work, but there are signs to look out for.

For example, the Ultimate Guide approach taken by Virgin Holidays Cruises banks on the company having the most comprehensive resources available anywhere on the web — resources purposefully built to be relevant to anyone considering a cruise and not just people who already cruise with Virgin. Mint’s vertical is wildly different — financial advice is already available on incredibly high-quality publications that users might well trust more than a services provider. So Mint relies on the fact that the information currently out there is difficult to navigate — its strategy wins because it makes consumers’ lives easier.

Ultimately, we know content succeeds because it helps people — and your business will succeed when you make finding out what your customers need help with a central focus of your web content strategy.

For even more ways to offer your customers exactly what they’re looking for, read CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright is Senior Content Strategist at Branded3 – a digital marketing agency which is part of the St. Ives publishing group – who are among the UK's leading authorities on the integration of search engine and content marketing. Previously B2B copywriter at FTSE 250 listed strategic outsourcing business MITIE, he has an MA in Renaissance Literature and a strong passion for digital media. Follow him on Twitter.

Other posts by Stephen Kenwright

  • Bill Cava

    Great post, Stephen.

    I have found through my experiences that prospect/customer questions are very powerful signals that can help guide many aspects of an organization (content planning, product development, community support). From a content marketers perspective, a question is a real opportunity — it’s both an opportunity to listen, an invitation to speak. It truly provides context, frames a meaningful conversation.

    But, as you correctly point out, finding these questions takes work.

    At Wisemine, we are entirely focused on this. Our mantra is, “what is your audience asking?” and we make it simple for content marketers to include prospect questions as part of their content marketing strategy.

    Our product is currently in private beta. If you’re interested in signing up, we’d love to hear from you.

    http://www.wisemine.com/?r=cmi

    Bill Cava
    Founder, Wisemine

    • Stephen Kenwright

      I’ve sent you a request, thanks Bill.

  • Adam P. Newton

    I like your idea of using the Tumblr platform as a place for Q&A, but how would you recommend addressing concerns that come from “Anonymous” users? They might opt to troll the site, as opposed to asking an honest question with a real need.

    • Stephen Kenwright

      It’s important to moderate – if you’re using Tumblr as a platform to generate questions you’re on the look out for ones you can answer, but there will always be ones you can’t. Obviously not saying you should dodge tricky questions, but it’s fine to avoid ones that aren’t legitimate.

      Thanks for the comment Adam.

  • http://www.brandingmedia.co.uk Matt Jackson

    I love Yahoo Answers and Quora as tools for content inspiration. Yahoo has a little too much in the way of spam now, but if you can modify your search efficiently it can still be useful.

    Q&A make great blog content because they’re short and simple, they’re relevant to somebody somewhere, and you already know exactly where to start marketing the content.

  • http://www.ce.org/blog Jamie Carracher

    This is a great article. I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of FAQ sections. I may be biased from personal experience, but I find that if an FAQ section is not well-curated, over time it turns into a “content junk drawer,” especially as the people responsible for that content come and go. It also enables people to take the easy way out. Don’t want to rewrite a piece of copy? Stick it in the FAQ.

    I think there are definitely instances where it makes sense, like financial institutions as outlined above. I’m just very hesitant to recommend them. Focusing on mining questions for content is a great idea, though. Thanks for sharing!

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