Establishing Credibility

With our Web sites, we try to persuade at a distance, without any personal contact with our visitors.  To succeed at this, we need for our Web site to be believed.  What should we do to establish credibility?

The Stanford Web Credibility Project made an investigation of the factors that create site credibility, and issued ten guidelines.  They can be found in Wikipedia.  I’ve quoted the guidelines directly, because they are so good, and have slightly rewritten the discussion.

1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of information on your site.

Third-party support, in the form of citations and links to sources, helps build credibility.  Even if readers don’t check your sources, just by showing sources you’ve shown confidence in what you are saying.

2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.

Listing a physical address, a photo of your offices or a membership with the Chamber of Commerce are all ways to show that you’re a real organization.

3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.

Talk about the experts on your team and their credentials.  Be sure to mention any respected organizations that you’re affiliated with.

4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.

Once you’ve established that you’re a real organization, now establish that you are real people with photos and staff bios.  Even mention family and hobbies in the bios, to help your visitors relate.

5. Make it easy to contact you.

Be sure that your contact information is very clear.  Site credibility is boosted by a physical address, phone number and email address.

6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).

If you’re an internist, you don’t need or want want a site that looks like Tiffany. But if you are Tiffany, your site needs to project the utmost in design sophistication. Such issues as typography, images and consistency are included here. Be sure that the visual design is appropriate to the site’s purpose.

7. Make your site easy to use–and useful.

“Useful” has a particular meaning to a Web surfer: they are looking for information, and need to find useful information. All the design in the world, while it makes the site interesting and attractive, can’t make it useful in this sense. And while the site should be attractive, it’s important that visitors be able to find that information they’re seeking easily and directly. Be sure the design doesn’t get in the way of the basic purpose of the site.

8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).

Visitors assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed. And in contrast, if your site has information that’s out of date, then it loses credibility. This guideline gets double weight because the search engines also give credibility to sites that are changed often, so keeping your site up to date won’t just help with visitors who’ve arrived at the site, it’ll also bring more visitors to your site.

9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).

If possible, avoid having ads on your site. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your own. After a visitor has arrived at your site, do you want to chance losing them and having them not get your message by leaving because of an ad? Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility.

10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than you might imagine. It’s part of that “first impression” phenomenon, taking place at a distance. Be sure to carefully review all your copy. And also be sure that your site is up and running at all times, and delivering good performance.

The Bottom Line

Simple measures that we would use in printed matter also help establish the credibility of your site. If you expect people to trust you enough to rely on information on your site or to do business with you, then follow these ten simple steps.

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