Website Credibility

The importance of the need for a website to project credibility cannot be over-stated, in that a website represents the first impression total strangers get about the owner of the site. This impression takes only a fraction of a second to form and used by visitors to make an instant judgment on whether or not to trust the owner and stay. The higher the level of credibility projected by a site the more likely visitors are to decide to stay longer. The decision to stay longer, in turn, translates into more exploration of the site, which has a higher likelihood of translating into business, whatever the form. This means that credibility is one of the key performance indicators of a website. The use of a single attribute to make an overall judgment about something in this way is sometimes known as the Halo Effect. An example of this effect is when the “Last updated” date is used to judge the reliability of the information on a website.

Web credibility is part of a broader area of study termed captology, which deals with how computers can be used as persuasive technologies. These are technologies designed to change attitudes or/and behaviors, without using coercion or deception. Persuasive technology, in turn, includes Persuasive Web design, which deals with how to design websites in a way that convinces visitors to stay on a site, believe it, and make decisions that are favorable to the site. More plainly, it is how to use design to help convert as many visits as possible into transactions. Techniques used to achieve conversion include, for example:

  • Using relevant imagery to help people imagine how they might use a product to benefit themselves.
  • Providing expected information, such as product or service information, cost and fees, and locating them where expected.
  • Providing multiple ways of placing an order.
  • Providing useful deeper content, such as reviews and testimonials.
  • Providing encouragements, such as information about any rewards or discounts.
  • Providing information about warranties/guarantees, if applicable.
  • Providing FAQs (frequently asked questions) and answers to them.

While the broader notion of captology is yet to find a well-defined place in design, the notion of Web credibility is one that is already commonly applied in Web design. Various factors contribute to making a website credible. As mentioned in Chapter 23, visual aesthetics is an important one of these. It gives visitors a good feeling, which when they have they are more likely than not to judge a website positively almost instinctively. However, just good looks are not enough; there still has to be something meaningful and useful beyond this. Therefore, there are also operation- specific attributes that a website should have in order to further guarantee the enhancement of credibility. In addition to the guidelines discussed in Chapter 23 on visual aesthetics, this section presents others that can be used to enhance website credibility. They are summarized from findings from studies by the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g), a group that researches user- experience, and Stanford’s University’s Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.

1. Show Usefulness

Usefulness is defined as the combination of utility (i.e., whether the features needed are provided) and usability (i.e., how easy and pleasant the features provided are to use). A website should be useful by providing features that are typical for its type and the features should be easy to use. Typical features include search function, where applicable. Providing user- specific information, based on user’s current search or/and previous interactions and transactions, may prove useful. This may be, for example, in the form of showing adverts to match, or suggesting items that the user may also consider, based on their current or past choices. It may also be in the form of listing items that others who made the same choice also chose. Amazon, for example, does this, as of time of writing. In contrast, attributes like long download time and difficult navigation certainly reduce credibility, as can unnecessary showing off of dazzling and fancy features. According to the NN/g, fancy features are one of the most common causes of long download time.

2. Show Professionalism

As well as paying attention to the elements that contribute to visual aesthetics, such as good layout and high-quality images for content, where applicable, and clear navigation, showing professionalism also involves doing various things, including showing expertise and avoiding errors. Website should project expertise by including elements to help convince visitors that its owners are experts in what they do. Elements necessary to do this depend on the relevant area. For example, credentials of owners could be provided. If the website (company) deals with or is associated with respected organizations, this should be mentioned. If website delivers information, then information should be provided about the sources of the information, such as in the form of citations and references. Links to sites that are not credible should be avoided. All types of errors should be avoided including design (e.g., image covering part of text), functional (e.g., a crash), broken links, and typographical and grammatical errors.

3. Manage Adverts Properly

Advertising is an important element of Web design because it is a money­making concept; as a result, most commercial websites carry one type of advert or another, including in the form of pop-ups and banners. However, adverts seldom enhance user experience and can put off users, as they are often a nuisance. According to studies, such as by the Nielsen Norman Group and Stanford University’s Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, advertising practices that annoy users include pop-up adverts; adverts not having a “Close” button or having one that is difficult to find; adverts covering most of the page or what users are trying to see; adverts flashing or floating across the screen; adverts automatically playing sound; adverts not saying what they are for and therefore making users click to find out; and adverts slowing page-download time. Especially bad for credibility, because they seem unprofessional and dishonest, are pop-up ads that try to trick users into clicking what looks like simple click-and-play games but are not games, and adverts disguised as normal links that end up generating pop-ups.

Usually, users feel annoyance toward both the advertisers and the websites that present them, so it is important for websites to consider the adverts they accept. In addition, accepting only adverts that are relevant to the theme of a website can reduce the probability of the adverts causing user dissatisfaction. It can also improve the chances of breaking through users’ banner blindness, which is the habit of automatically ignoring adverts, or anything that resembles them or is next to them. If users know that what is being advertised matches their interests, they are likely to pay attention.

Too many adverts should be avoided and they should be kept at the periphery of a page where they are least likely to interfere with user experience. They should also not be placed near important content, as

users may mistake content for adverts and ignore it. Similarly, important content should not be kept in the outer area of an advert, as users may not look beyond the advert. If an advert is not the last thing placed at the periphery, it should carry a label to indicate that it is an advert and not part of the content. Naturally, content should not look like adverts, otherwise they are likely to be ignored.

4. Show Trustworthiness

Many research studies, such as those by Nielsen, Molich, Snyder, and Farrell in 2000 and Fogg et al. in 2001, identify trustworthiness as an important component of website credibility. They also suggest that various things contribute to it, ranging from the knowledge that a website is of a real and legitimate business to the impression of how straightforwardly business is done. To show that a website is owned by a legitimate business, contact information should be provided, such as a physical address (including Google local map that shows the location, if possible), contact phone number, and e-mail address. Information that can also help where applicable includes showing evidence of membership to a respectable organization and providing the photographs of the business environment and of at least key employees.

To project trustworthiness in dealings with users, detailed and useful information about transactions should be presented as early as possible in the process, if applicable. For example, if delivery charges are involved, this should be stated clearly upfront, instead of waiting until after people have gone through the process of completing all forms, etc.; otherwise users may get the impression that a site is trying to corner them into buying at all costs. Transaction security and privacy information, such as credit card logos, should be clearly shown and there should be quick access to clearly written terms and policies, including assurance on how personal data will be used. Also ensure that appropriate trust marks are displayed, such as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) sign for secured transaction, to assure users.

If it is software download service that is offered, download should not be described as free if it is not really free and people will be asked in the end to pay to make it work fully. If it is a trial download, this should be made clear from the start, as should the conditions of usage, such as time period and the level of functionality that will be available, if limited. Furthermore, a trial download should not be described as free download, since trial downloads are free to download, anyway. Saying that software is free download suggests that the software is free, rather than a trial version.

Where a website is selling products, the products’ photographs should be provided, including shots that show the essential views, so that users can get a good idea of what they look like. Content should also be kept up to date, as missing or out-dated information can quickly put doubts in users’ minds as to the reliability of a site. Prices should be clearly shown so that users can quickly use them to make decisions. For a site that provides information, date of last update should be provided so that users can determine whether or not the information on the site is still relevant. Also, providing outbound links to other sites can suggest that the owners of a site are well-informed about the service they offer. Linking a site to other sites is typically a sign that the site is not operating in isolation, has nothing to hide, and therefore may be trusted.

Users should also be provided with an effective description of a site’s purpose. One way this is done is through the use of a tagline on top of the home page, which should be no more than a short and meaningful sentence describing what the company or organization does and what makes it unique among competitors. The “About Us” section can then provide more information. The “About Us” section basically should provide at least one or two paragraphs of information about the goals and accomplishments of the company or organization. Where it is not obvious how a website makes its money (i.e., if it is not through straightforward selling or advertising), information should be provided about this so that users do not get the impression the site has a hidden agenda. If there is a lot of information, then this can be categorized into groups (e.g., case studies and list of previous clients) and each group presented on a separate page. The “About Us” link can also be labeled “About <name-of-company>,” such as “About GE,” but ambiguous labels, such as “Info Center,” should be avoided, as users might find locating it difficult. Also, avoid claiming you are the best, as people are unlikely to believe you anyway.

Simply state what you can do and have done. Having a social media presence can also help to show that there are real people behind a business.

Where there is registration involved, early registration should be avoided, as users tend to dislike or get suspicious of being asked to provide their details before they have had the chance to see any content or understand why their data is needed. Even the request for just an e-mail address can raise concerns and make users turn away if done before they have built a sense of trust in a site. Registration process should be deferred until the user has decided to commit. For example, for an e-commerce site, users should not be asked to register until they have browsed products or services, placed an order, and are ready to checkout. In addition, the process should be made as brief and easy as possible.

Source: Sklar David (2016), HTML: A Gentle Introduction to the Web’s Most Popular Language, O’Reilly Media; 1st edition.

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