Last Updated on September 29, 2020.
Website credibility is made up of two dimensions: trustworthiness and expertise.
(Website credibility) … is made up of two dimensions: trustworthiness and expertise. When a Web site conveys both qualities, people will find it credible. When it lacks one of these qualities, credibility will suffer.”
– B.J.Fogg, Persuasive Technology p.156 [1.]
Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility
The following 10 tips have been copied with permission from the Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility. These guidelines were based on three years of research that included over 4,500 people. This research project is archived and the online copy was last updated in July 2007. Please be aware that the university is no longer maintaining the website and many of the links are no longer working. However, it remains a popular resource.
Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility
1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
You can build web site credibility by providing third-party support (citations, references, source material) for information you present, especially if you link to this evidence. Even if people don’t follow these links, you’ve shown confidence in your material.
2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.
Showing that your web site is for a legitimate organization 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 chamber of commerce.
3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
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 organization? Make that clear. Conversely, don’t link to outside sites that are not credible. Your site becomes less credible by association.
4. 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 organization. Next, find a way to convey their trustworthiness through images or text. For example, some sites post employee bios that tell about family or hobbies.
5. 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.
6. Design your site so it looks professional (or appropriate for your purpose).
We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM.com. The visual design should match the site’s purpose.
7. Make your site easy to use — and useful.
We’re squeezing two guidelines into one here. Our 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.
8. 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.
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. Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct, and sincere.
10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.
Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than most people imagine. It’s also important to keep your site up and running.
Please view the Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility for more detail, but be aware the project is archived and many of the links on the webpage no longer work.
~~~ End of Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility ~~~
People judge websites by how they look
In spite of the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” – the fact is that people make snap judgements based on appearances.
Experimental psychologist B.J.Fogg [2.] who conducted studies into web credibility at Stanford University said:-
… people do judge a Web site by how it looks. That’s the first test of the Web site. And if it doesn’t look credible or it doesn’t look like what they expect it to be, they go elsewhere. It doesn’t get a second test. And it’s not so different from other things in life. It’s the way we judge automobiles and politicians.”
The above comment by BJ Fogg followed an extensive study into web credibility by Stanford University. The study involved 2,684 participants and was published in 2002.
Build your online identity
Reinforce your credibility with good branding. The following factors all go towards establishing your brand or online identity:-
- Your logo
- Your business name/online identity
- Your website color scheme
- The tone and consistency of your message
- The look and feel of the website
To build your brand, zero in on those aspects of what you offer that distinguish you from everyone else, and highlight that uniqueness. Find the right tone, look and feel that fits with your particular message; then infuse that into your website using the appropriate logo, images, and color scheme. This helps build your brand – your identity and presence on the Web.
Be aware, there’s no point having a great visual brand if you don’t have credibility with your users. So attend to the 10 tips above.
Familiarity is reassuring
Give people what they expect:-
- They expect a certain style of website according to your purpose. For example, an unusual and dramatic website might suit photographers and artists; while a corporate entity might be better served by a more traditional looking website. Having a website that resembles what users expect for your occupation helps build trust.
- Give users a navigation system that they are familiar with. Users may expect the main menu to run horizontally across the top of the page for desktop websites.
- They expect standard items in the main menu including a ‘Home’, ‘About’ and ‘Contact’ link.
- They are familiar with widely-used terminology such as “Shopping Cart”, “About Us”, “Services”.
If you stick to the most commonly used practices for website design, layout and functionality, then your users will gain confidence in being able to use and navigate your website – simply because it looks familiar.
- A study by the Stanford Web Credibility Project, How Do People Evaluate a Web Site’s Credibility? Results from a Large Study, was published in 2002. The study invited 2,684 “average people” to rate the credibility of websites in ten content areas. The online project details have now been archived but still contain valuable details – see http://captology.stanford.edu/archived-projects/stanford-web-credibility-project.html
- B.J.Fogg directs the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. He is author of the book “Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do“.