People make snap judgements on whether they can trust a particular website, often basing their initial decision just on the ‘look’ of the website. So it’s not surprising that a well designed and user friendly website will win over a site that looks amateurish and is hard to use.

I was once asked to help someone find a gift basket website where they could send a corporate basket to a company in Nevada. We fired up Google and searched for “gift baskets Nevada” and proceeded to hit on the first few search results. Within 3 to 4 seconds of landing on a website we would make a judgement call, either hitting the back button to the Google results, or staying and having a quick look around (then hitting the back button!). Overall the standard was really poor and it was a frustrating experience.

What put us off? Well, pretty much the same things that will instinctively put most people off, but since we worked in the web industry we probably held the sites to a higher standard than most.

Some of the things, which put us both off included:

  • Poor navigation
  • Broken images – this was an instant turn off
  • Seeing coloured fonts for the main text like green and purple (even worse – having multiple coloured text)
  • Using Times New Roman as a main font (worse still – using green Times New Roman font!)
  • No ‘About Us’ page
  • Cheap looking logo (think clip art)
  • Poorly laid out pages – lots of clutter, no white space
  • Fuzzy or amateurish photos (says they can’t afford a professional photographer or they just don’t care).
  • Shopping cart system looked too basic
  • Didn’t say if they were in Nevada or if they just delivered to Nevada.

The sites we visited were all e-commerce stores, so we probably applied a higher standard of credibility, after all, we were going to hand over credit card details, and really wanted to make sure that the gift basket selected was appropriate and special, and that it would actually arrive on time.

It was a frustrating experience but we finally found a website that we both felt comfortable using and which had the right type of gift basket, and could deliver on time.

Should it really have been that hard? Of course not, by rights there should have been dozens of well-designed and trustworthy sites to pick from. But it became obvious that this type of industry was attracting people who didn’t know what they were doing with their websites. If their website looked like a ‘dog’s breakfast’, what was the gift basket going to look like? Was it that they cut corners and got someone to do the site at a bargain basement price? Or did they just not know any better? Were they taken for a ride by their web developers? I hope not, but it does happen.

It would be very interesting to know just how much revenue a website lost by not being credible, it is probably rather substantial.

So, how do people evaluate website credibility?

People evaluate a website’s credibility in a number of ways, but a study by Stanford University commissioned by Consumer WebWatch has discovered that people overwhelmingly judge credibility based on design issues – using superficial criteria.

They found that it was not enough to simply have good quality information on your website, the site also needed to look polished and professional. Basically a website must look good, but they discovered that a site should not look “too slick” – that is it shouldn’t look like the marketing department put it together. The report suggests that visual design is the first test of credibility, and that once a website passes this test other factors come into play.

To read the full report visit http://www.webcredibility.org.

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