What does trust mean online? In a content-saturated world, standing out from the crowd can be tough. In the long run, being credible reaps greater rewards than being loud.
The scattergun effect of modern content marketing has done a serious disservice to online credibility. There’s a damaging association between promotion and peddling; if you’re trying to get noticed, you’re trying to get something.
Because the internet is less regulated than print or television, we should naturally be more skeptical. Recently, there’s been a growing distrust of the internet due to major breaches.
Gaining back this trust is vital for businesses’ survival.
We call it Web Credibility. It’s a topic that covers everything from how we consume information to the psychology of design. By using some key principles of Web Credibility, it’s possible to give your content an air of authority.
Design and credibility
Design is the single most important factor determining website trust. We can thank basic psychology for this.
According to Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, in a study with 2,684 participants analysing the credibility of websites, ‘Design Look’ was commented on most frequently: 46.1% of the time.
So, design is important. But why?
Humans analyse things from an aesthetic standpoint. This is what makes us more trusting of attractive people, and equally trusting of appealing web design.
We regularly confuse looking good for being good.
Coming in 2nd place in Stanford’s study: ‘Information Design/Structure’ is commented on 28% of the time. That’s another visual element in top position.
The way information is laid out is more important to our immediate senses than content. It’s not what you say, but how you design it.
It takes us all of 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about a website. Beyond content and accreditation, the immediate impact of visual design gives us what we need to trust.
What’s more, research suggests that favourable first impressions can actually increase enjoyment of products and services.
Basic features of good design include:
• Layout: clearly defined sections
• Typography: using a limited number of fonts and font-sizes on a page
• Colour palette: one predominant colour that dictates design
House your content in a worthy design, and if it isn’t good content, house it in a nice design anyway. Your viewer’s first impression could dictate their whole experience of your brand.
The horror of Norman Doors.
How does counterintuitive web design drive away traffic? The answer relates to doors.
Named “Norman Doors” by Don Norman, writer of ‘The Design of Everyday Things’, our societies are plagued with poorly designed, confusing entrances. Instead of form following function, there are millions of doors that need “push/pull” instruction labels.
How often have you tried opening a door the wrong way? The web can have the same effect. Except, while people will accommodate poorly designed doors, most people will leave poorly designed websites.
A common thread runs throughout design history. Even though mediums change, humans don’t.
Design rule: a door into an office, or the checkout page of a website, must be simple and clear. Transgress this rule at your own risk.
What makes people believe what they read online?
People look for signs and icons to ground themselves. Because the world is complex, our brains have to use existing references to pinpoint threats and alliances, rather than analysing everything on the fly.
“Iconography, good iconography, strives to convey invisible reality in a visible form.” – Peter Pearson
How does iconography tie into web design? All the visual elements of a web page can be seen as icons.
SSL technology creates a sense of trust because we’ve associated our browser’s ‘secure connection’ logo with larger, quality websites. A similar effect is achieved through privacy policies and contact details. Even if we never read them, their inclusion reminds us of established organisations.
However, we must notice these elements for them to affect trust. Stanford University’s Prominence-Interpretation theory suggests credibility is key to web success, but elements like privacy policies are less important because they don’t attract attention.
When a user visits a site with a high motivation (looking for specific answers/products), they notice and interpret more elements.
So, what does this mean? The people most likely to convert on your site can literally be scared away by broken links and low-quality images. Those looking to spend or engage with content will see flaws more clearly.
In markets as recent as the internet, credibility will be the make-or-break factor for businesses going forward. Web Credibility dictates design and content because it’s dictated by consumers. How can you use this to your advantage? Capitalise on the principles of icons and signs. Give your audience something to trust and it’ll improve their relationship with your brand.