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Welcome to the Newsletter

Hook, Line & Thinker newsletter, published by Troutdream Graphics - Vol. 1, No. 8 - November, 2002

Website Credibility

A very interesting large-scale study was recently released that took a rigorous, in-depth look into how people evaluate a Web site's credibility. The sponsors of the study had expected to find that people generally followed the basic "best practices" standards for determining credibility:

  1. Identity: Making clear who owns the site and how people can contact them
  2. Advertising and Sponsorships: Distinguishing between ads and content and disclosing relevant business relationships
  3. Customer Service: Disclosing costs and policies relevant to consumers
  4. Corrections: Correcting past information that was false or misleading
  5. Privacy: Disclosing how personal information will be used

But in fact, the study results were startlingly different. Nearly half of all consumers (46.1%) in the study assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and color schemes. If a site "looks credible" they believe it to be so. Once a user is satisfied that a site looks credible, the next most important factor is site organization (28.5%): is the site thoughtfully and logically structured? Is the navigation clear and easy to use? Other factors that played much smaller roles in the study results were: Focus, company motive, information usefulness, information accuracy, name recognition and reputation, advertising, bias, writing tone, identity of site operator, site functionality, customer service, past experience with site, information clarity, test by user, readability and affiliations.

When evaluating the credibility of a Web site, participants commented on the design look of the site more often than any other Web site feature. Here are some of the participants' comments in this category:

  • This site is more credible. I find it to be much more professional looking. - M, 38,
  • More pleasing graphics, higher-quality look and feel. - F, 52, Tennessee
  • Just looks more credible. - M, 24, New Jersey
  • Actually, despite the subject of the Web site, it looks very credible. This may be due to
    the subdued color scheme and the font used on the left-hand side of the page.
    - F, 29,
  • I know this is superficial, but the first thing that struck me is the color difference. The …
    site is a soothing green (sort of like money) while the [other] site is a jarring purple.
    M, 56, Virginia
  • The design is sloppy and looks like some adolescent boys in a garage threw this
    - F, 48, California
  • Not very professional looking. Don't like the cheesy graphics. - F, 33, Washington.
  • Looks childish and like it was put together in 5 minutes. - F, 25, Maryland

After Design Look, the next category that people commented on in assessing credibility was the structure of the site's information. The participant comments discussed how well or poorly the information fit together, as well as how hard it was to navigate the site to find things of interest. While information structure is often associated with usability, the comments here show how information structure has implications for credibility. Sites that were easy to navigate were seen as being more credible. Some sample comments are below:

  • This site is very well organized, which lends to more credibility. - M, 33, Illinois
  • This one is more credible because it is more organized. - F, 57, Maryland
  • Horrible site, information badly presented. They try to put everything on the front page,
    instead of having multiple layers of navigation. This to me suggests that they
    developed this thing on a whim.
    - M, 42, Canada

What does this mean for someone planning and building a website? Obviously, one hopes that users would use more rigorous methods for deciding whether a site is credible or not, but the fact is that design and navigation is where it begins. Your site could contain the most exquisitely researched and credible information on the web, but if it doesn't, at first glance, have a well-designed professional look and at second glance, good structure and navigation, your visitors will likely be off to the next site.

You can read the entire study here:

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you have a web-related question, drop me a line. If I don't know the answer, I'll find out.

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