Establishing Web Credibility | White.net

Establishing Web Credibility

By Tad Chef / September 28, 2009

After discovering a paper on establishing web credibility on the Web [PDF] published by Stanford University in 2001 I was astounded by the timelessness of Web credibility. While you might imagine that a study conducted 8 years ago would be outdated by now like IE6, the browser every developer loves to hate, the main points, even the examples of the research are still valid. You might add some new sites or factors but the main pillars of creating a successful website and web based business are still the same.

Foremost you need credibility on the Web to be taken seriously. Even more than that, you need credibility to be taken into account at all.

Sadly the website that collected the Web credibility research, Webcredibility.org is down by now. It seems it stopped operating in 2008 according to the last Archive.org version. Nonetheless Archive.org allows you to view such precious documents as the Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility. According to the site

“These guidelines are based on three years of research that included over 4,500 people.”

This is a substantial number, big enough to be treated as both empirical and representative of the larger public.

I’d like to reproduce the guidelines here and to offer you new examples or ways to implement these credibility guidelines. While the original ones are still valid I’d like to provide some current views on that implementation. To make my examples more credible I provided links to sources that take an in depth look at each factor.

Guidelines Examples of Implementation Links
1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site. Link to sites that are credible as sources. Wikipedia is not really a credible source e.g.
2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site. Report from real life activities like trade fairs.
3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide. Highlight instances of speaking at conferences,  contributions to industry publications, interviews for industry, local or national media.
4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site. Blog personally and admit mistakes, react to criticism in a constructive manner “We’ll fix that”.
5. Make it easy to contact you. Put your phone number on a top spot on every page, use a live chat tool. Enable Skype and IM communication. Use an accessible “contact us” form.
6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose). Use consistent colors and fonts. Make the copy readable. Allow the reader’s eyes to rest by adding lots of white space.
7. Make your site easy to use — and useful. Keep it simple and don’t make users think. The less choices you offer the easier it gets to use it. Hide additional features and content at first, don’t force everything on a page or the front page. Offer valuable resources or tools.
8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently). Either add new content regularly or review your old one frequently by adding resources, fixing broken links and making sure your offers are not obsolete.
9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers). Don’t oversell. Let people contact you and allow those who seek your services in the first place to buy but don’t convince casual visitors aggressively.
10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem. Check site uptimes. Read your own RSS feeds on several readers, check broken links regularly, employ professional translators.

Smashing Magazine recently published a similar set of guidelines for usability. While concentrating on details of website design like form captions they made Web credibility part of it and unearthed the Stanford studies.

In order to achieve the highest possible Web credibility you should both heed the original advice from the Stanford researchers as well as the modern examples I listed above to provide a more current perspective. Establishing Web credibility should be part of every SEO campaign.

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