Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Web Site Credibility

Today, I found a great web site for anyone interested in doing business online. It is called "The Web Credibility Project" and is part of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University.

This is an ongoing project that is doing the following:

"Performing quantitative research on Web credibility.
Collecting all public information on Web credibility.
Acting as a clearinghouse for this information.
Facilitating research and discussion about Web credibility.
Helping designers create credible Web sites."

At the bottom of the home page (which I linked to above), you will find a red box containing a list of reports and other such useful things. One of those reports is titled, "What Makes Web Sites Credible? A Report on a Large Quantitative Study" (this link goes directly to the PDF file). That report contains some very important information for anyone who has, or will have, a web site.

Listed below you will find the results of the survey in order of their score (highest to lowest). The survey allowed people to rate each aspect of a site on a scale from -3 to 3. A score of 3 would mean that having that aspect would make your site "much more believable". A negative score, of course, means the opposite. The scores listed are the average of the rankings given by the 1410 people included in the survey.
  • The site provides a quick response to your customer service questions. (2.02)
  • The site represents an organization you respect. (1.93)
  • The site is by a news organization that is well respected outside of the Internet. (1.91)
  • The site lists the organization's physical address. (1.86)
  • The site gives a contact phone number. (1.71)
  • The site lets you search past content (i.e. archives). (1.57)
  • The site looks professionally designed. (1.55)
  • The site has been updated since your last visit. (1.55)
  • The site gives a contact email address. (1.53)
  • The site lists authors' credentials for each article. (1.49)
  • The site has articles that list citations and references. (1.49)
  • The site is arranged in a way that makes sense to you. (1.48)
  • The site sends emails confirming transactions you make. (1.41)
  • The site is linked to by a site you think is believable. (1.29)
  • The site states its policy on content. (1.26)
  • The site links to outside materials and sources. (1.25)
  • The site provides links to its competitors sites. (1.11)
  • The site has few news stories but gives detailed information for each. (1.10)
  • The site was recommended to you by a friend. (1.07)
  • The site offers information in more than one language. (1.04)
  • The site represents a nonprofit organization. (0.93)
  • The site says it is the official site for a specific topic. (0.85)
  • The site has ratings or reviews of its content. (0.79)
  • The site shows photos of the organization's members. (0.69)
  • The site lists well-known corporate customers. (0.62)
  • The URL for the site ends with ".org" (0.58)
  • The site is advertised on the radio or on billboards. (0.57)
  • The site selects news stories according to your preferences. (0.57)
  • The site provides financial news at no charge. (0.53)
  • The site displays an award it has won. (0.45)
  • The site recognizes that you have been there before. (0.37)
  • The site has ads that match the topic you are reading about. (0.21)
  • The site is designed for e-commerce transactions. (0.17)
  • The site requires you to register or log in. (0.07)
The above list shows things that, if you can do them, will positively affect your site's credibility with your visitors. Of course, not all of them will apply to your site and not all of them can be done by just anyone. For example, this blog is not done by a news organization that is well respected outside of the internet (maybe someday...). However, I could probably up my credibility by providing an e-mail address. Perhaps I will, though I fear spam.

I will now list the no-no's in reverse order (lowest score to highest).
  • The site makes it hard to distinguish ads from content. (-2.08)
  • The site is rarely updated with new content. (-1.67)
  • The site automatically pops up new windows with ads. (-1.56)
  • The site links to a site you think is not credible. (-1.53)
  • The site has a link that doesn't work. (-1.45)
  • The site is difficult to navigate. (-1.30)
  • The site is sometimes unexpectedly unavailable. (-1.28)
  • The site has a typographical error. (-1.28)
  • The site's domain name does not match the company's name. (-1.06)
  • The site takes a long time to download. (-0.94)
  • The site has lots of news stories without giving detailed information. (-0.89)
  • The site contains information that doesn't match what you think. (-0.77)
  • The site has one or more ads on each page. (-0.77)
  • The site requires a paid subscription to gain access. (-0.71)
  • The site has a commercial purpose (as opposed to academic purpose). (-0.63)
  • The site is hosted by a third party (e.g. AOL, Geocities). (-0.44)
  • The site is small (e.g. less than 5 pages). (-0.28)

So, there are some things that you might consider avoiding in your site. It should be clear that no site needs to adhere to all of these findings (which are exactly that, findings, not laws) in order to be profitable. Most commercial sites do at least a couple of the things that reduce credibility, such as display ads, and do not do all of the things that increase it.

It seems that a certain balance must be reached in order to gain a visitor's confidence. If your company has a trusted name outside the internet, perhaps you can afford to have a pop-up without destroying your credibility. If your site requires a paid subscription, you might get more sing-ups if your address, phone number, and e-mail are available.

So, if your site is not converting visitors into customers, take a minute to consider its credibility. Correct those typos. Check your links. Update frequently. Also, read the rest of the report because there's some great analysis that I'm not covering here (such as age and gender related stuff).

Hope this is helpful to you.


At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this tip!



Post a Comment

<< Home