How do you define website credibility? Simply put, it’s the difference between a good-looking site and one designed with purpose.
For many customers, their introduction to your business occurs on your website. Your main goal, once they arrive, is instilling a sense of trust. How do you inspire trust, though, instead of skepticism? And how important is it?
What Do the People Visiting Your Site Think?
The quickest way to demonstrate the importance of credibility is to let your site’s visitors tell you what they’re looking for, what keeps them on a site, and what makes them click that little X button in the upper right corner.
How do we know what potential customers are looking for? First, we conducted our own surveys, using clients and potential clients, as well as their customer bases. Next, we reviewed studies using thousands of participants, and these findings back up what we discovered during our own research.
- 75% of customers base credibility judgments on web design
- 48% of ecommerce customers rely on trustmarks
- 88% refer to online reviews and customer testimonials
- 46% look for clear contact information
- 60% want detailed product information
- 51% want clear return policies and a comprehensive FAQ section
Keep reading for our in-depth look at website credibility and what you need on your site to earn your users’ trust.
What Is Website Credibility?
Credibility for a website is a bit like that old joke about what makes something obscene. You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.
The reason for this ambiguity is that some of the features influencing website credibility, such as design, differ from site to site and industry to industry. The warm, earthy graphics and friendly typeface used by someone selling handcrafted products don’t work at all on a financial planner’s site. So, while it’s true that studies prove most people more easily trust “pretty” websites, expectations also play a large role.
Two essential factors for building your credibility are trustworthiness and expertise. If your site convinces visitors of your experience and knowledge (expertise) and that the information they find on your site is honest and reliable (trustworthiness), you have the power to influence their behaviors and attitudes toward your brand. They’ll give you their personal information, revisit your site, and hold positive opinions about you and your brand. If your site lacks credibility, expect the opposite reactions from visitors.
To build the credibility of your site, you need to nail the following 10 criteria.
1. An Attractive, Professional Website Design
Psychologically speaking, people prefer pretty things. People’s preference for attractive people is not a surprise, but it goes beyond simply thinking a person is nice to look at.
Social scientists have been studying people’s psychological response to appearance since at least the 1940s. These studies go beyond the appearance of human beings to preferences for beauty in general, and how people respond to things they consider attractive versus unattractive (there are so many studies about this that we could link them all day, but you get the idea).
What researchers discovered is that someone’s visceral response goes beyond an appreciation of beauty and dives into forming actual opinions about the trustworthiness, credibility, and even abilities of the thing they’re viewing. Even when they have no information about a person or object (or website) other than what it looks like, people rate attractive things as actually being good.
In a study of Web credibility conducted by Stanford, over 46 percent of respondents rated a website’s appearance as the most important factor in determining its credibility. Some of the participants’ comments include:
- “Looks childish and like it was put together in five minutes.”
- “Just looks more credible.”
- “This site is more credible. I find it to be much more professional looking.”
- “It looks like it was designed by a marketing team and not by people who want to get you the information that you need.”
While the comments themselves aren’t particularly helpful in telling you what about the site looked credible and attractive, Stanford did provide some feedback on what constitutes an attractive site, including:
Of course, if there are factors increasing your site’s credibility, then certain items work to decrease it. These include:
- Autoplay animation and video
- Blinking banners
- Clashing or overly bright colors
- Excessive use of hyperbole and superlative language (the BEST, the GREATEST, the MOST AMAZING) especially with no stats or facts to back it up
- Unnecessary popups
Researchers also discovered that what is considered attractive on one site is not necessarily true for all sites. This is why, instead of recommending every site design use the same colors, fonts, etc., the recommendation is to design your site to match its purpose.
This goes back to what we said about employing a purposeful Web design. A purposeful website immediately engages its visitors, reflects your organization’s culture and philosophy, and invokes a positive emotion in the viewer.
2. Make Sure Your Site Is Functional and Error-free
One of the fastest ways to destroy your website’s credibility is by loading it with errors. You may think that nobody notices misspelled words, misused words, poor grammar, and typos. You couldn’t be more wrong.
When visitors find errors on your site, they’ll make one of two assumptions. Either you didn’t notice the error, in which case you don’t pay attention to detail, or you did notice it but didn’t bother to change it. One makes you look clueless, and the other makes it look like you don’t care; neither assumption is good.
Another common error on many websites is broken or dead links. It doesn’t matter whether the link is to a different page on your site or another website entirely; faulty links negatively influence credibility. To combat this, periodically test the links on your site. If an external link disappears, either replace it with another or delete it entirely.
The same advice applies to functionality regarding forms and even the site itself. When you’re looking to build credibility, one of the fastest, easiest things you can do, that also has a lot of impact, is remove all errors, typos, and malfunctioning links from your site.
3. Make Your Site both Useful and Easy to Use
When visitors enter your site, they expect to find what they came there to find. Make it easy for them.
What this means in practice is simple navigation, easy-to-understand page names, and information presented succinctly and clearly. There is a reason most sites use the same navigation features; people understand and expect them. Home, About Us, Contact, Blog, Services: these are common page titles. If you choose not to use some or any of these titles, make sure to name the titles that you do use in a way that makes their function clear.
It is also important to practice transparency in communicating with your customers. Are you an e-commerce site? You had better have a clearly stated return policy (unless you don’t want customers to feel safe buying your products). Do you collect personal information? Let users know that their information is secure with well-known trust symbols, such as Verisign and SSL encryption.
Transparency also applies to the information you provide. Forcing visitors to complete any kind of form before displaying your content is sure to turn away many of them immediately. Even when such information is necessary (say you’re a grocery delivery service and you need to know someone’s location in order to show participating stores), the way you present it determines whether the visitor becomes a customer or someone who moves on to the next site.
4. Make Sure You Know What the Intention of Your Site Is
The Internet first hit the 1 billion websites mark in September of 2014. Today (February 28, 2019), there are over 1.1 billion sites. Despite that overwhelmingly vast number, there are actually only five types of websites.
- Branding: Creating customer awareness, engagement, and loyalty to a brand
- Content publisher: User engagement and encouraging frequent site visitation
- E-commerce: Selling a product or service
- Lead generation: Collecting potential sales leads
- Online information: Helping customers find information
A purposeful website knows its intention. You must know which of these five categories applies to your website. This isn’t just so you can tell people, “I run an e-commerce site.” Your site’s purpose guides its design.
Remember, the first item states that your site must be attractive, but appropriate to your purpose. You shouldn’t design a tech site to resemble a construction site, and your site selling custom-made teddy bears should never come across as a financial institution. This is why those cookie-cutter Web design templates fail most users.
5. Prove that Real People Back Up Your Site
People like to interact with other people, not faceless entities. You want to include information on your site that makes it clear this is an actual organization, even if it’s just you and your cat working out of a home office.
Luckily, this is simple to accomplish. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Include an About Us page, with photos and bios of your staff (or the office cat), a production area or office, the building itself, and the view from your window. Do whatever you need to do to put a face on your business and let site visitors know that yours is a legitimate business.
In addition, post all contact information prominently, including physical address, phone number, and email.
6. Offer Proof of Your Expertise
Simply put, proving your expertise (also known as social proof) means bragging.
Competition is fierce. You want people visiting your site to see that they are in good company while also recognizing the expertise and authority that exists in your organization. In practice, this means testimonials (client reviews) and every proof you can offer demonstrating your authority.
Have you been “serving (city) for X years”? Great! Let people know. Do the people on your staff have impressive credentials? Include that information in their bios. Do you have high-profile clients, or mentions in high-profile publications? Let everyone visiting your site know.
You also want client testimonials, both on your site and on any relevant review sites. If possible, include photos, titles, and company information on each testimonial. This type of information lends substantial weight because, once again, people respond well to other people.
The importance of online reviews cannot be overstated. The Internet makes it easier than ever to research a new business, and nearly everyone refers to online reviews. In addition to your own testimonials, you want to link to these external review sites. This adds yet another layer of transparency, as it demonstrates your confidence in how customers perceive your business.
7. Update Content Regularly
Regular content updates prove that you yourself remain up-to-date. It also keeps your site active and may even help build your brand reputation as an authority in your industry.
Updating content does not mean you need to revamp your site every month (although you should check its functionality). These updates could be as simple as posting recent reviews, starting a blog, curating industry news from around the Web, or creating a page where you share news about what’s going on in your company.
Whatever you do, do it regularly. People rate sites with regular updates as more credible and trustworthy.
8. Prove Your Accuracy with Citations and Sources
Think back to the research papers you wrote in high school or college. Your instructors required citations, and not because they got a kick out of reading footnotes and bibliography pages. The point was to prove you researched that information, that it came from credible sources and wasn’t just something you made up.
This same mindset holds true for the content you publish on your website. When you link to or cite sources, you instantly boost the credibility of your content and therefore your website. When we mentioned all of those scientific studies into attractiveness, we didn’t expect you to take our word for it that those happened. We provided links to different studies that supported those claims.
You need to do the same thing for any statistics you include on your site, such as the billion-plus Internet sites stat we offered.
Whenever possible, link to the original source, preferably a well-respected one with its own stellar credibility. For example, if you were to write an article on the real-world benefits of attractiveness, you would not link to this article (despite its stellar credibility). Instead, you would link to one or more of the actual studies, i.e. the original source.
9. Practice Restraint with Promotional Materials
Unless ads generate your main income, avoid them as much as possible on your website and steer clear of popup ads altogether (unless you want to drive people away from your site).
If you do include sponsored content on your site, clearly mark it as such so that your visitors know what they’re reading.
When creating your own promotional materials, remember to avoid superlatives and hyperbole (unless you have the stats to back them up). As in everything to do with marketing, think of your customers, the people currently searching for your product. Who entered that search string into Google? What do they need? How do they think? This is your target audience. Write for those people, preferably using clear, direct language.
10. Provide a Clear Means of Contacting You
Although it’s one of the most important elements on your site, we placed this last because that’s where the Contact page should be on your site: at the end.
Of course, contact information means more than a dedicated Contact page. Providing visitors with multiple ways to reach you (phone, email, Web form, and physical address) helps build your site’s credibility. It also makes it easy for your potential customers to reach you, and anything you can do to help a potential customer become an actual customer should shoot to the top of your To Do list.
Don’t ignore mobile optimization here. These days, nearly everyone has a smartphone, and the majority of them use that phone to research businesses. If you offer these mobile users a single button to call your business, you’re doing at least one thing right.
Website credibility is the natural result of purposeful Web design, and it does two things. (1) It instills a sense of trust in your organization. (2) It demonstrates your expertise to anyone visiting your site.
To accomplish this, you need a professional, attractive website design, free from errors and typos. It must provide useful information in an easy-to-access form and clearly represent the site’s purpose, such as e-commerce, informational, or content.
Clearly demonstrate the fact that real, qualified people operate your business, and feel free to brag about how great you all are. Offer visitors regularly updated content with the sources to prove your content’s accuracy and authority.
Finally, practice restraint with promotional materials, and make it super-simple for customers to contact you. Once you accomplish each of these items, you’ll have a trustworthy, respected, and credible website.
Are you ready to build the kind of website that sends the right kind of message? Contact Phoenix Online Media today! We are recognized as a top WordPress Website Design Company on DesignRush.