Eyes on Website Credibility

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What factors do people use to evaluate a website’s credibility? Nope, it’s not what you might expect. Those more objective criteria such as the identity of the site or its operator, privacy policy, customer service policies, sponsorships or testimonials aren’t it. A recent Stanford study showed that 75% of web users admit making judgments about the credibility of a company based on the overall design of its website, with design look specifically being cited more often than any other website feature, with 46.1% of the study participant comments addressing the particular design look in some way.

A major factor in this has to do with typical web behavior. Today’s web is world that is rapidly interactive. The norm is for web users to spend small amounts of time on any given page. Site visitors spend much of their time clicking away, moving from page to page quickly. So it becomes important to analyze just what it is that that grabs their attention, how to hold it and what criteria are they using to evaluate the site?

It turns out that when a website is perceived as being credible and offering of high quality information, products or services the site visitors are basing their judgments on a series of key visual cues that can be grasped rapidly.

These include layout, typography, font size, white space, images, color schemes and so on. Looking good is often interpreted at being good.

Of course your site must function well – with well-organized information flow, accurate and compelling content, and with all elements and links fully operational. But that is alone is nowhere near enough to reflect well on your business. According to a recent study by emarketer.com, if a design looks unprofessional – sloppy, thrown together, with cheesy graphics and inappropriate color schemes – web visitors will get turned off quickly, no matter how accurate or valuable the information they are being offered. And when they get turned off, they quickly click away to seek elsewhere for information or services.

That connection between visual design and credibility isn’t a simple thing. Sites built quickly using generic photos and color schemes that are overly busy, or inappropriate to your operation can do significant damage to your branding efforts. Site visitors have probably visited thousands of web pages, and they are quick to those built from generic templates, even if they don’t articulate this directly, but the upshot is that these websites can feel stale and out of date. Credibility suffers and so does your bottom line.

Slick-looking websites also frequently receive negative comments, with viewers quick to make judgments about the people behind the site on the basis of the design look. Perceptions of slickness occur when the site feels like it has been designed by a marketing team, rather than people who care about the consumer or site visitor.

The goal then is to achieve “a polished, professional look,” without veering over into slickness.

And where concentrate your efforts? Design is significantly cheaper than advertising and many other branding efforts. This makes the return on the design investment even that much more impressive. Though it may be less expensive, it certainly has the largest reach and the most direct impact on sales. Wall street analyzes brand identity design as making the highest contribution to brand valuation. Data based on a couple dozen high profile case studies shows that the specific return on investment in design is 50 times that of advertising or any other branding effort.

If your website is an integral part of your company’s marketing, find another place to cut costs! 

Next time we’ll discuss color as an integral part of the well-designed


Before moving to Western MA, Dan launched his career in New York in advertising and public relations, where he worked with some of the country’s top brands. Dan also has many years’ experience in small-business and corporate marketing, finance, franchise business operations and field consulting. In 2005, Dan became the first area president of TruePresence, a national internet marketing firm specializing in web design and search engine marketing. Dan’s clients have included Johnson & Johnson, Sears, Warner-Lambert, Monsanto and Pepsi, but he prefers the individuality of his smaller business clients. Dan launched The Green Internet Group to help business owners fully leverage the digital marketing and social media by offering results driven marketing planning, consulting, training and creative services.

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