4 Things Your Website Should Do to Help Your Visitors Help Themselves


Let’s face it. Too many websites and web apps are confusing. Too many visitors struggle to understand everything they need to. They don’t always accomplish their goals. Adventurous visitors use trial-and-error to figure things out. Others simply quit and go elsewhere. In fact, we know that 57% of web users will abandon a site the moment they have a question without a ready answer. Google makes finding competitors easy.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. It’s really difficult to design a completely usable, intuitive website or web app. People work for years to become proficient designers. And human users will always have questions, even with the most user-friendly designs.

Admitting this means realizing that people are going to need help on our sites or apps from time to time. And that’s where we do deserve some blame. Why? Because customer self-service help on most websites really (really!) stinks. A miserable 61% of website self-service attempts fail. This is despite the fact that recent surveys show 91% of users say they would use a knowledgebase if it met their needs, and 75% indicate that self-service is a convenient way to address customer support needs.


I have studied and built web help systems for years. I even co-founded AnswerDash to make customer self-service on websites better by providing context-sensitive point-and-click Q&A. From my experiences, four actionable insights have stood out that really help website visitors help themselves, saving them time and frustration, and saving you money.

1. Make your customer self-service help visible. (Don’t hide it!)

In an effort to reduce help requests, some websites bury their support email address or phone number. But when it comes to customer self-service help, you want to make it as visible as possible, because customers are ideally helping themselves. If they do, your time and resources are saved, and your customers are empowered. Despite how obvious this seems, on many sites, the help link is tiny, placed way up in the top-right, or way down in the bottom footer.

Websites hide their help because they don’t want it to “get in the way” of visitors. But it is crucial to remember that it is not help that’s getting your visitors’ way, it is the questions your visitors have in the first place that are in the way. And worse than the questions you receive are the questions your visitors never ask before jumping ship.

Make your customer self-service help as visible as possible. Give your visitors a fighting chance to resolve their own questions. They’ll feel empowered if they can. And younger users want to solve their own problems without contacting you for help.

2. “Help” is the worst thing you can name it. Call it something else. Anything else.

Ironically, most people do not think a link called “Help” is going to be helpful. We have done such a poor job at putting value behind that word, and have required users to do so much work, that the perceived cost-benefit of the term “Help” is very poor: usually a lot of work for not much benefit.

AnswerDash once conducted a small study of help labels and the results were telling. We tried multiple different help labels across several different commercial websites and observed the percentage of visitors that engaged with each. The results are shown below:

  • Answers! – 2%

  • Q&A – 6%

  • a ? icon –4%

  • FAQ – 8%

  • Get Answers – 0%

  • Help – 2%

It seems that almost anything gets more engagement than “Help.” Of course, these results aren’t definitive and there are many more labels (and icons) that could be tested, but it’s pretty clear that people don’t expect “Help” to actually be helpful. Others have keyed into this insight, too, by suggesting that customer support teams craft content in Q&A form rather than thinking abstractly about what would be helpful.

3. Put your self-service help in context.

Remember that nobody initially came to your website or web app to use your help system. They came to accomplish a goal. If they go looking for help, it’s because something got in their way, triggered a question they couldn’t answer, and made them abort pursuing their ultimate goal. The farther away your help takes your visitors from where they had their questions, the greater the odds they will fail to return.

Most customer self-service solutions, from knowledgebases to FAQs to forums, are “help islands” that take your visitors too far away from where they had their question. It is no wonder that less than 1% of website visitors will visit help islands.

A much better solution is to give your visitors the help they need where they had their question in the first place. Provide on-page contextual help.

Contextual help – help that appears within the context of where your visitors have their questions – has the benefit that it can be put within one or two clicks away. Keeping the distance to relevant answers as short as possible is vital if your visitors are to help themselves. Solutions that take them to a help island and require typing search terms and digging through search results are too far off the critical path. Contextual help must be on the page, in the moment, and able to give your visitors answers at the point of action.

4. Don’t assume you know the questions your visitors have. Capture their actual

We all have “expert blind spots” when it comes to our own websites and web apps. Of course we know how to use them. Of course we aren’t confused by them. Of course we think they’re intuitive. But it is amazing how often website owners and product managers are surprised when confronted with their users’ actual questions. They never could have imagined their users struggling in such ways.

Don’t assume you know the questions your visitors will have. Your customer support tickets only reflect a small subset of the “invisible pile of questions” your visitors have occurring between their ears. Usability testing and field observations can help remind you of the problems your users have, but even these methods yield only a narrow snapshot.

The best approach is to capture the actual questions your visitors have, and to capture as many of those questions as quickly and easily as possible. Make it super easy for your visitors to ask new questions. Be sure you can view usage data for the self-service questions and answers your visitors use. Get a clear, full picture of the questions your visitors actually have, rather than the ones you think they’ll have.


If you follow the four principles above, your site will benefit from visible, contextual, useful self-service help. You will save money by lowering support costs and make money by increasing your conversion rate, leveraging self-service support as a revenue-generator. Your users will have better experiences, with less frustration and confusion. They’ll be more likely to recommend you to others. They’ll thank you in ways you can – and can’t – measure.

You can roll your own help of this kind or, more easily, find third-party solutions that champion these principles for you. At AnswerDash, we have placed these four principles at the heart of our predictive Q&A engine, and our customers are seeing exactly the benefits described here: reduced costs, increased sales, better insights, and more satisfied customers.

Regardless of how you achieve customer self-service excellence, enabling your visitors to help themselves on your site or app will ultimately enable you to provide the greatest possible value to your customers.