By Chris Raudabaugh
Just like processor chip speeds increasing at logarithmic proportions, so has the number of websites available on the Internet. In contrast, the Internet users belief of the material available on websites as being reliable and accurate has decreased at the same alarming rate. With this massive glut of sites and the continued user perception of unreliable information available, it becomes a priority to make a website as credible as possible. How can a website exude confidence to the Internet audience? Instilling credibility with the Internet audience can be done thru many factors which will be discussed further in this article.
Believability and perception are key components of website credibility. Believability is what it is…don’t get caught in a lie or the site is toast. As taught in many classes on various kinds and levels of harassment, there is intention and then there is perception. Perception always wins out in this arena of debate. Like harassment cases, perception will always win with website ‘surfers’ because no matter what the designers intention may have been, the users perception cannot be changed.
So how does a website come across as ‘credible’? As mentioned previously, keeping the users perception in mind will keep the site on track. Perception has 2 main factors: Trustworthiness and Expertise. Trustworthiness is made up of truthful, unbiased, good, and honest attributes. Expertise is experience, intelligence, powerfulness, and knowledgeable. A website that embraces these attributes will help enhance its perception to the user.
Between these 2 main factors, several elements have been identified that can increase or decrease credibility. Examples are provided to show the different attributes of a website that fit that particular element.
Real World Feel
Does this site feel like there are real people or real businesses behind it? Show that there is a real organization behind the site using such things as real phone numbers, mailing addresses, quick customer service response, organization references, external links to other sites that link to you, and staff bios. Don’t bury your company’s contact information making it hard to find or making the contact page boring, or even worse, un-inviting. Provide images of office, office staff, or products. Letting information go stale will also play an important role in that this is a real, living organization.
Ease of Use
Is the user floundering trying to find information or order something? Professional looking website along with quick response and easy navigation all contribute to this perception. Remember that the website has a one-way communication to the user. Be proactive in answering the common user questions. Such as
What is the purpose of your organization?
How much does it cost?
What are its specifications or contents?
What happens if….?
Don’t assume you’ve answered all the users questions…make contact easy.
Does the website dominate its subject or industry? Credentials of the authors of the website need to be listed along with article citations, references, and awards. It is imperative that you backup any claims that you make in expertise. This can be done by providing images of the awards or links to organizations that cross-reference the award or certification.
Can the site be trusted? Are privacy and other policies clearly stated and easy to find along with links to other outside related materials and websites? Would the user trust providing personal financial information for the sake of purchasing an item? It has also been noted websites that end in “.org” are considered more trustworthy than other sites. Promote your establishment in your industry by providing client lists, testimonials, case studies, free (useful) information, and news.
If the site can identify the user, does it conform to their needs or desires? Confirming via email of user actions and conforming information on the website to the user score very high in the tailoring factor.
The following factors are considered detrimental to website credibility.
Implications of over commercialism include diluting the website information to the point where the user cannot distinguish between advertising and content. Pop-ads or ads on all the pages also contribute to this factor, thereby, affecting credibility.
Are the owners of the website serious about their web presence? Items that are telltale to a user can be stale content, ‘bad’ links, undesirable graphics or artwork, and/or typographical errors.
What does this mean to you?
While this is not a comprehensive list of the items, it does highlight some key points to consider when building a web presence. Unless your site will be providing useful information or in an industry that is very unique, it is unlikely that you will keep the attention of a user that does not find any (or very little) credibility. Huge benefits can be had by your website if the user base finds an average level of credibility.
- Stanford University Credibility Study
- UCLA Internet Report
- The Lost Art of Conversation – Encouraging Contact Online by Miles Burke