Boost Your Web Site's Credibility

10 tips from Stanford University


Trial and error is an accepted path for developing your firm's web site and content. However, once it's up, will people trust the information that's on it? One way to fast-forward the process is to learn from experts in the field, and many consider Stanford University a pretty robust community of experts when it comes to things digital. After three years of research by it's Persuasive Technology Lab (and interviews with 4,500 people), they've pared the information to 10 basic tenets for creating a credible site. Treat this column as a pop quiz, and grade your company's site after you've run through the list.

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- Prove 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 helpful features are a photo of your office or listing a membership with the chamber of commerce.


3- Highlight the expertise in your organization. Do you have experts on your team? Are you contributors or service providers authorities? Be sure to give their credentials. Are you affiliated with a respected organization? Make that clear. Don't link to outside sites that are not credible - your credibility suffers by association.


4- Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site. 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. People quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images and consistency issues. 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. 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 dazzle visitors with new web technology.


8- Update site content regularly. People assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed.


9- Use restraint with 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. The writing style should 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.