Beyond Web Usability: Web Credibility

If you've been developing websites on Mars for the past few years then you'll be forgiven for not knowing about web usability. You'll still be creating splash intro pages, having pages with massive download times and using more images than you can shake a stick at. Well, back in Earth these days have long gone and today web usability rules the web development world. For those of you who have been on Mars please read some of the things that Jakob Nielson has to say at http://www.useit.com/alertbox and try to catch up.

As for the rest of us Earth-based developers, well we've learnt a whole bunch about usability and we're all using it as best we can in our websites. Right, guys? After all, web usability does have huge benefits ( see http://www.webcredible.co.uk/benefits/web-usability.shtml ).

Now that usable websites have become so commonplace, especially among the major web players, it's time to start looking to the future. Suddenly, a usable website isn't going to be enough to separate us from our competitors (apart from those using the developers who've been based on Mars). There is a solution. It's two words long. Enter our new best friend...

Web credibility.

What is web credibility & why is it important?

According to BJ Fogg, the world's leading researcher on web credibility, web credibility is about making your website in such a way that it comes across as trustworthy and knowledgeable. Don't just take my word for it - read his book if you like (http://www.persuasivetech.info).

Fogg will tell you, as can I, and numerous other organisations, that a credible website can reap huge benefits on to your website and your business. So, here's a few statistics to prove this point:

- Just 52.8% of web users believe online information to be credible (source: UCLA)

- Four in five users say that being able to trust the information on a site is very important to them in deciding to visit a website (source: Princeton Survey Research Associates)

So, web credibility's pretty important then. But how do you implement it on to your website? Fear not, all the answers lie within the realms of this article. Now, before I go further, I must stress that most of this stuff falls under the category of 'it's obvious once you know it'. You know, like if someone sets you a puzzle and you can't do it but when they tell you the answer it's really obvious. Web credibility is all common sense - you just don't tend to think about this stuff. So without further ado, here are five guidelines for making a credible website.

1. You must prove there's a real organisation behind your website

Anyone can put up a website promising to deliver the 'best service at the lowest prices'. Web users must be able to believe there's a real organisation behind your website. A few things you can do are:

- Make it very easy to contact you

- Link to external websites that reference your organisation

- Provide staff bios

- Show photos of the office, staff, products etc.

This basically says that you should have a really good contact us and about us section. Don't bury your contact us link in some obscure place in the website or on the page. Make out like you really want your site visitors to get in contact with you. In fact, I won't talk anymore about your contact us page because Miles Burke's has already written an excellent article about it, The Lost Art of Conversation - Encouraging Contact Online (http://www.sitepoint.com/article/encouraging-contact-online).

As for the about us section, don't underestimate its importance. Don't be afraid to show who you are (stand tall and be proud!), what you stand for, what your goals are, and a bit about your history (of the organisation, not you). People will read this stuff - it certainly won't be the first thing they'll read on your website but it could be the last thing they read before deciding whether or not to do business with you.

Can you think of other ways you can prove your organisation's real? Have a look at a website you visit quite often - what is it about this website that you trust?

2. Your website needs to provide 'sensitive' information

A website is akin to a one-way conversation between you and your site visitors where you have 100% control over the dialogue. If site users perceive you to be lacking in credibility then you'll be unable to defend yourself. As such, you must ensure that you answer any questions your site visitors may have, for example:

- What is the purpose of your organisation?

- How much does your product cost?

- What happens if I'm not happy with your service

- What will you do with my email address once I give it to you?

There are about 35 million websites on the Internet - by 2014 there'll be an estimated 150 million, not including personal websites. With so many people online and so many websites competing with yours, if you can't persuade Internet users to be loyal to your website then someone else will.

3. All statements should be backed up by third-party evidence

"We helped our clients achieve an average of 70% growth last year." Really? Well prove it! Every single point you make on your website must, without fail, be backed up with hard evidence - preferably from a third-party website. How else can a reader know for sure that you're telling the truth?

Client testimonials, for example, are great - they're even better if the testimonial links to the client's website. You can improve them even more if the name of the person making the testimonial is linked to their bio on their website. You could notch up even more credibility points if the testimonial itself is on the client's website and you link to it!

If you've won any awards or belong to any industry bodies, then proudly display these emblems too. Even better, have them link to the external website. Better still, would be a direct link to the section of the website showing your membership details or a list of the award winners.

4. There has to be proof that the organisation is growing and has clients

An organisation that can prove it has clients and is experiencing growth instantly achieves credibility. By showing you've offered your services plenty of times before, and expect to do so in the future, your organisation comes across as being firmly established within your industry. You can prove this by providing:

- A client list

- Testimonials

- Case studies of your work

- A latest news section

- A jobs page

- Free newsletter

5. Your website needs to have an air of professionalism and confidence

Your website is your organisation's online representation - it's essential that it matches up in quality to the rest of your marketing materials. Even if you don't think your website's important to the success of your organization, (potential) clients will make judgments about your organisation based on your website.

So, what is the number one most important aspect of Web credibility? The about us section? No. Quality of outbound links? No-siree. Studies have consistently proven that the most important criteria of web credibility is... the way the website looks. That's it.

It's been suggested that this is due to the short amount of time we spend on websites so we tend to rely on initial judgements. Make sure that you create a great first impression by having a crisp, professional layout with sharp graphics. Other good things to do are:

- Provide some free information to prove your expertise

- Ensure there are no dead links

- Send out an automated confirmation e-mail when someone contacts you

There are many more! Just visit any website you perceive to be professional and confident and see what they do.

This article was written by Trenton Moss. He's crazy about web usability and accessibility - so crazy that he went and started his own web usability and accessibility consultancy ( Webcredible - http://www.webcredible.co.uk ) to help make the Internet a better place for everyone.

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