The internet has grown tremendously. There are millions of websites and literally anyone can have an online presence nowadays.
Unfortunately this has led to an increase in the number of low quality websites and a decrease in visitor trust. Quite often people start with the assumption that a website is not credible. You have just a few seconds to change that and prove your (website’s) credibility.
What is Website Credibility?
One good study on website credibility, was conducted by the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, which included 5,500 participants users who engaged in activities such as lab experiments, surveys, online experiments and content analyses.
According to them credibility is based on two factors:
- Perceived Trustworthiness (being honest, unbiased, truthful, good).
- Perceived Expertise (being experienced, intelligent, powerful, knowledgeable).
The higher the perceived trustworthiness and expertise, the more the credibility of a website. Both factors are important and need to be considered, since an unfavourable perception for 1 factor can damage overall credibility, even if the other factor scores well.
A lecture/presentation made by Luke Wroblewski (author and professor) presents a very detailed approach to defining and understanding website credibility. Luke mentions that there are four types of credibility:
- Presumed Credibility: Based on general assumptions we hold.
- Reputed Credibility: Based on a reference from a third party.
- Surface Credibility: Based on what people find on simple inspection.
- Earned Credibility: Based on past experience with a website.
There are 3 website elements that people judge for credibility:
- Web Site Provider: Person or organisation that offers the site.
- Web Site Content: Information and functionality.
- Web Site Design: Aesthetic, information, technical and interaction design.
Why is website credibility important?
Because it gives you the power to:
- Change attitudes and make people think positively about your site, feel comfortable interacting with your site and embrace your site’s point of view
- Change behaviours and make people register personal information, complete e-commerce transactions, refer your site to others and return to your site often.
How can you increase your website credibility? Are there any guidelines, check-lists or frameworks?
The Stanford study provides the following guidelines for improving web credibility:
- Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose): People quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, colours and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM. The visual design should match the site’s purpose.
- Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site: You can build website credibility by providing third-party support (citations, references, source material) for information you present, especially if you link to such evidence. Even if people don’t follow these links, you’ve shown confidence in your material.
- Show that there’s a real organisation behind your site: Showing that your website is for a legitimate organi3ation will boost the site’s credibility. The easiest way to do this is by listing a physical address. Other features can also help, such as posting a photo of your offices or listing a membership with the local chamber of commerce.
- Highlight the expertise in your organisation and in the content and services you provide: Are you an expert or do you have experts on your team? Are your contributors or service providers authorities? Be sure to give their credentials. Are you affiliated with a respected organisation? Make that clear. Conversely, don’t link to outside sites that are not credible. Your site becomes less credible by association.
- Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site: The first part of this guideline is to show there are real people behind the site and in the organisation. Next, find a way to convey their trustworthiness through images, video or text. Bios with a bit of personal information, blogs and real-time interactions are some examples. This helps to humanize the individuals –-and the organisation.
- Make it easy to contact you: A simple way to boost your site’s credibility is by making your contact information clear: phone number, physical address, and email address.
- Make your site easy to use — and useful: Research shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use and useful. Some site operators forget about users when they cater to their own company’s ego or try to show the dazzling things they can do with Web technology. Websites lose credibility whenever they make it hard for users to accomplish their task at hand.
- Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently): People assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed.
- Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g. ads, offers): If possible, avoid having ads on yourksite. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your own. Avoid pop-up ads; people hate them, and your site will lose credibility because you’re distracting users from their task. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct, and sincere. Avoid a promotional tone.
- Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem: Small errors like misspellings and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than most people imagine.
In case you want to evaluate how people might perceive the credibility of your website, you can combine the types of credibility and website elements on a grid. This can help to organise your thoughts and give you some ideas for areas that need to be fixed.