In the last post, we explored five of the Top 10 Guidelines to Establishing Web Credibility, provided by Standford back in 2002. Still relevant today, here we’ll explore the remaining 5.
Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).
We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM.com. The visual design should match the site’s purpose.
First impressions are a killer. Within a fraction of a second, your visitors are making an evaluation of your credibility based on your site design alone. Just any old design won’t do anymore. Web surfers are growing accustomed to professional looking sites in just about every industry. Those that don’t “look professional” enough quickly get abandoned.
If your site has not undergone a major re-design in the past few years, it’s probably time. If your site looks like something that was built on a shoestring budget, you’re not giving your visitors much confidence in how you run your business.
While a more professional looking site may be in order, pay attention to what your industry is doing. Different industries require different styles. Don’t go with a corporate look if your competition is all artsy. Don’t create a mom and pop site when your competitors are high tech. Unless you are creating a new niche, you don’t want to vary too drastically from the “expectation” your visitors have from viewing other sites in your industry.
Make your site easy to use — and useful.
We’re squeezing two guidelines into one here. Our research shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use and useful. Some site operators forget about users when they cater to their own company’s ego or try to show the dazzling things they can do with web technology.
Site usability is one of the most important factors in increasing (or decreasing) your conversion rates. When it comes to good usability, everything should be on the table: navigation, colors, product placement and display, headings, add to cart buttons, and more.
Be sure that all elements of your site work together to being a valuable and useful resource. Sometimes you need more than just products, such as descriptive content, to help sell the products. The text you use is what visitors will read to be convinced that you have what they want.
Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).
People assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed.
The primary takeaway here is to keep your content fresh and relevant. Have you ever been to a website and you could just tell the content was old or outdated? Maybe it wasn’t obvious right away, but as you browse through the site, you find certain parts of the site that don’t quite match up with others. Or perhaps you see a “Valentine’s Day Special” six weeks AFTER Valentine’s day.
Small things like this can really turn visitors off. When a visitor sees this kind of irrelevant or outdated content, it conveys that you don’t care enough about them to keep your site relevant. This leaves open a question of whether they’ll get timely service from you as well.
RSS feeds are a great way to highlight new products and information and present them to your audience. Your most loyal audience will subscribe to this feed to ensure they receive your updates.
Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).
If possible, avoid having ads on your site. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your own. Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct, and sincere.
This recommendation really only applies to commercial sites, not informational sites. Displaying ads on your informational sites and blogs is perfectly fine and a great way to create an additional source of income. Of course, this only goes so far. Even informational sites can lose their credibility if you have too many ads that overpower the content.
On commercial sites, displaying ads that direct your visitors elsewhere are counter-intuitive and counterproductive. You might get a small stream of “additional” income from these ads, but undoubtedly it will be at your own expense in the long run.
Commercial sites should be focused on selling one thing… your own products or services. Anything on the site that pulls visitors away or interferes with that selling process is a bad marketing strategy.
Keep your audience in mind when writing content. Don’t write above your audiences head, and don’t talk down to them either. While you won’t be able to please everybody, knowing your primary target audience will ensure that you are not insulting the larger percentage of your audience.
Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.
Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than most people imagine. It’s also important to keep your site up and running.
I recently spent four hours fixing broken links on a client’s site that had just been redesigned by another developer. This is the epitome of incompetence. We all make mistakes, but lets hope it’s not to this magnitude of colossal ineptness.
Over time, pages we’ve linked to move or disappear, or we move things around on our own sites and miss a few links in all the hubbub. These can easily be corrected with a monthly broken link check. Find and fix both internal and external broken links.
You also want to check your site for spelling and grammar errors. Blogs have a little more leeway in that department, but for a professional site, there is little room for these kinds of issues before you’re looking like amateur hour.
Before publishing new content on your website, take a few extra minutes to run the content through a spell check program. Even if you’ve made a only few minor edits, don’t assume that you don’t need to double check your work.
Just like any other form of medium, it’s best to get a third party to proofread your site’s content. Undoubtedly, they’ll find something you missed, even after you’ve proofread it several times yourself.
Website credibility goes to the heart of being able to run a profitable business. Without credibility, you can implement all kinds of marketing strategies and drive hoards of traffic to your site, but in the end, you won’t have the impact you otherwise would.
Sure, you can find more ways to drive more traffic and eek out a few more sales, but doesn’t it make more sense to improve your credibility and increase your sales without having to pay to drive new traffic to your site?
You can read even more information on building a credible website by reading my series on Destination Search Engine Marketing where I cover how to develop a website that deserves top search engine rankings.
By taking the time to make sure your website is in a credible condition, your visitors will continue to drop in to explore what condition your condition is in.