Establishing Web credibility

Internet users are increasingly skeptical of what they read on the Web.

Recent research has identified some of the factors that affect Websites' credibility. e-Businesses need to be aware these factors, becauseif a site is credible, then customers are more likely to trust thesite's information and may even be more likely to make purchases.

Site credibility is very important to many Web users. Few Internet userstrust Web sites that have products for sale or sites that offer adviceabout which products and services to buy, according to a recent ConsumerWebWatch report. In fact, only a third of Web users trust theinformation that they get from the Web on products and services.

The same report found that 80% of those interviewed rate "Being able totrust the information on the Web site" as "Very Important". Thissuggests that there is a big gap between what people want from Web sitesand what sites are actually delivering. Because of this, you need toknow what factors affect your site's perceived credibility.

Fortunately, significant research is being done in this area. StanfordUniversity's Persuasive Technology lab has been looking into Webcredibility issues for several years. They have published a set ofGuidelines for Web Credibility, based on their research with over 4,500people. The guidelines include 10 strategies for increasing thecredibility of your site.

Here are some of the top guidelines:

* Make it easy to verify the accuracy of information on your site.

* Show that there's a real organization behind your site.

* Highlight the expertise in your organization.

* Make it easy to contact you.

* Design your site so that it looks professional.

What's most interesting about these guidelines is that Stanford actuallyhas research to back each of them up. They are also investigatingspecific factors that can increase or decrease your site's credibility.

Their research suggests that the most important factor in a site'scredibility is whether or not it belongs to an organization that is wellrespected. That may be a liability for Web-only businesses, or forcompanies with unique online branding (bluelight.com, for example).

Other top credibility factors are: customer response time, professionaldesign, and recommendations from trusted sources such as news media or friends.

Here are some of the factors that may detract from your site'scredibility:

* Ads that are hard to distinguish from content.

* Content that is rarely updated.

* Pop-up ads.

* Functional problems like bad navigation and broken links.

* Slow response time.

* Requiring a paid subscription to access content.

The Stanford research is significant because it's some of the firstresearch to take a serious look at the way people judge the credibilityof Web sites. It's unclear, though, how Stanford's credibility factorscorrelate to the features found at actual sites that people considercredible. Until more research is done, it will be hard to know just howsignificant Stanford's results are.

In the meantime, their research is well worth reviewing. Many of thecredibility factors that they have identified are ones that should beweighed when creating and updating ebusiness sites.

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