Creating Credibility Online

Your visitors want many things from you online: ease of use, incentives to act, instant gratification, perfect information, the best price, and on and on.

But one thing, above all else, makes all of these easier: credibility.

It’s a funny concept, that at first seems a bit out of step with all the online jargon out there, but it’s one of the most useful concepts in designing a website to generate sales that we know of.  Why?  I have come to believe it is because these are the foundational principles for creating a successful website.  If you can create credibility, then everything else is easier, and all of the various disciplines in web marketing–persuasion architecture, landing page optimization, marketing automation, search engine marketing in its many forms, social media integration, and so on–require less mind bending effort because you got the fundamentals correct.  In our experience, these are the place to start if you are not getting the results that you want from your website.

Luckily for all of us, the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab spent over three years researching the question, What makes a website credible? Over 4,500 participants informed their results, which they have compiled into the following ten helpful guidelines to follow:

  1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
  2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.
  3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
  4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
  5. Make it easy to contact you.
  6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).
  7. Make your site easy to use — and useful.
  8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).
  9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).
  10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

You can see the full guidelines and supporting research here: http://credibility.stanford.edu/guidelines/index.html

And we have compiled the guidelines (along with more detail about what each guideline means) into a helpful Web Credibility Best Practices Checklist for you to use when evaluating your website or a client’s website.

Are these guidelines perfect?  Of course not, and I would argue that some of them do not apply to certain types of websites, such as the guideline about ads for content portal pattern.  But overall they comprise the best set of guidelines with the most thorough set of research behind them that we have come across.

Even more surprising, given that most of these guidelines would seem to be basic common sense, there are very few websites that we come across that meet more than a few of these guidelines.  Apply these to your website, and watch your results improve!

As always, please join the discussion and let me know what your thoughts are on the value of these guidelines.