Helping Users Get Help

Sometimes users come to complete a task or find information, but the website isn’t meeting their expectations.

When people reach help or support content it’s either a surprise to them (error page) or it’s their last attempt to get what they need (FAQ, support pages, etc.).

I'm stuck. How do I get to the next step?

We often need to provide instructions and reminders to help orient visitors to the plethora of applications in our large, complex web system.

Most of the time, these users are not visiting our site to read these instructions—it’s just a step that’s getting in the way of the real task they’ve come to do.


"What? I need to log in to see this page? I don’t think I have an account."

What I'm feeling:

  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Uncertainty


"If you haven't already created your account, now is the perfect time."


  • Never blame the user. Assume they’re competent and have already done basic troubleshooting to resolve the issue. See your instructions as a reminder of something they might have already tried.
  • Be conversational,not condescending.
  • Test to make sure any solutions you’re providing actually resolve the issue.
  • Always give them an escape route by making it easy to contact someone. Users might be confused by your instruction or they might have tried everything you’ve suggested to no avail. At this point, they’ll need to hear from you or someone who can help.
  • Be brief, clear, and organized. Users will have less patience when they’re frustrated.