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Trust issues: What makes a web site credible?

Companies that don’t check spelling on their web sites risk damaging their online credibility just as badly as if they faced financial or legal troubles. And while people trust useful web sites, they don’t trust those that carelessly mix editorial with advertising.

Those are some of the findings from a new study of over 1,600 US and European internet users, conducted by Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, sponsored by Makovsky & Company of New York.

The Stanford-Makovsky study emphasizes the importance for organisations of embracing their web sites as an integral part of their communications with different constituencies.

Key findings
The study highlighted a number of factors that explain why some web sites enjoy greater levels of credibility than others:

  • Useful content: Study participants listed the most important characteristics of a credible site as: respect for the company that created the web site, quick responses to customer service questions, an online mention of the company’s address, the timeliness of site content, a contact telephone number, and the site’s overall usefulness.
  • Pop-up adverts: Participants reacted unfavourably to sites that use pop-up advertisements, and those that have out-of-date copy. Broken links, poor site navigation, and links to sites that are perceived as non-credible were also among the highest negative influences.
  • Respect: Compared with their European counterparts, internet users in the US place more trust in sites that respect privacy and provide valid content. Americans gave much higher credibility rankings to web sites that offered privacy statements, sent e-mails to confirm transactions, indicated the source of site content and provided credentials for its authors.
  • Privacy: More women than men attached greater credibility to web sites with privacy policies, e-mail confirmations of transactions and contact telephone numbers.

Non-profit sites
The web sites of non-profit organisations enjoyed greater credibility than commercial operations but, in general, how an organisation makes a profit or accomplishes its mission seemed less important than how they presented and managed the information on their web sites.

The research team developed 55 simple observations to describe a web site’s design, content, performance and ownership, and asked study participants to indicate how each statement affected credibility, scoring from 3 (highest) to -3 (lowest). The study then ranked the average scores for each statement.

Winners
While a company’s existing reputation plays a big part, the highest scores emphasize good features and usefulness of corporate web sites:

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