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by Dr. William L. Haig
Chairman,
CEO Powerlogos Design
Co-author, The Power of Logos: How to Create
Effective Company Logos,
NY: Wiley, 1997 (fifth printing.)

Great Web Sites and Why
March 2004

Stanford Study Concludes a Web Site Must Have Credibility

The Take Away

    Powerlogos is totally committed to Credibility Based Logo Design as a process for designing successful logos at a low fee for small business. The Stanford study substantiates that Web sites must also be created according to credibility principles. This requires careful logo and Web site planning and design working together. The total effect will enable the company to influence messages, which influence sales. Remember, your credible company>influences important messages> which achieve your company goals (including, but not limited to, sales increases).

Chances are your Web site cannot be trusted. Most aren’t. If potential customers are coming to your site and it doesn’t look like it can be trusted, they won’t be buying your product.

The Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab investigated what causes people to believe, or not believe, when they land on a Web site. Over 1400 people participated, both in the U.S. and Europe. Conducted in 2000, it has important implications for Web site developers.

The objective of the study was to investigate how different elements of Web sites affect people’s perception of credibility. The data showed which elements boost and which elements hurt perceptions of credibility. Company credibility makes or breaks goal achievement, primarily sales. Web sites are an important part of the credible brand image.

The Stanford researchers first organized the elements affecting credibility into seven categories. In order of impact, the five types of elements that increased credibility perceptions were:

  1. Real-world feel.

  2. Ease of use.

  3. Expertise.

  4. Trustworthiness.

  5. Tailoring.

 

The two types of elements that hurt credibility were “commercial implications” and “amateurism.” This is because of the relative newness of the Internet. There is a proliferation of Web sites with low-quality information, as well as sites that are outright misleading. The study suggests that Web users are becoming more skeptical of the information they find online and may be wary of Web-based experiences.

As a result, Web site designers now face the increasing pressure to enhance the credibility of client sites. But, designing for Web credibility has been more art than science, leaving many Web designers to rely on creative intuition alone, without any support from quantitative research such as the conclusions in the Stanford study.

Only a handful of studies in this area exist. Little research has been published on why people believe information on some Web sites, but not others. The research the Stanford Persuasive Technology Labs concludes Web credibility can increase Web site business.

 

Here are some very important guidelines to consider in Web site design:

  • First impressions are everything. The Stanford study determined that when people assessed a Web site they paid attention to the visual cues first, the content second. Nearly half of the respondents assessed the overall visual design or layout in order to determine if they want to proceed or not.

    This includes having a credible logo on the home page.

  • The study concluded, “internet surfers want to know who is behind the site and whether they can be trusted with the information provided. This is determined by a few visual cues, the visual appeal of the site, during the first instant. This is Web site credibility.”

  • Site Credibility has two dimensions: believable and expert. Be credible! Just like people are believable, sites are believable. And, like people, believability is a perceived quality; it doesn’t reside in a person. For example, if one is discussing the believability of a Web site, it is the perception of that Web site that people will discuss in terms of being believable or not. It is defined in terms of well intentioned, truthful, and unbiased.

  • Expertise, the other dimension, is defined in terms of knowledgeable, experienced, and competent. For example, expertise is the perceived skill and knowledge exhibited in the entity behind the Web site.

  • Expertise and believability (or trustworthiness) taken together give the Web site browser perceived credibility, high or low, of the Web site.

  • Be credible by looking like the “real world.” Think of a Web site as if it were “brick and mortar.” Take this a step further. A retail store fits this “real world” experience very nicely.

    A store is something you see from the outside: signage with the store name and logo, window displays and an architectural feel. Inside, a store has a general ambiance made up of displays, lighting and (again) an architectural feel. A store has products. A store requires ease of getting around. A store has an exchange of money. And, a store has a manager and employees hopefully helpful and friendly.

 

Let’s look at these “real world” elements one by one as if you were looking at your Web site rather than a store.

  1. Signage with the store name and logo. This is logo identification on your home page. Your logo must be credible (see article Branding to Sell). This is accomplished by design related to communicating credibility as explained in my article, Branding to Sell. In essence, your logo is part of the expertise and believability system. It is an essential part of the overall visual cues contained in your Web site. It has the same design motifs expressing the same visual character appropriate for your particular company. How this is accomplished is explained in the link.

  2. Window displays and architectural feel. These are the first visual cues on your home page mentioned earlier. Rather than windows and architecture, this is what we see first when landing on your site. Design is critical here. In particular, design that conveys the overall credibility of the site through nonverbal communication. These credibility attributes are carefully planned. Then an experienced graphic designer translates the attributes to graphic forms. This requires great experience in understanding what design form goes with what desired attribute.

  3. Navigation. Like a store, the Web site requires great ease in use. This guideline is no surprise in the Stanford study. However, the study does add another dimension for making the Web site navigation requirement prime: “it will enhance the sites credibility.” It does this by “arranging the site that makes sense to you.” Credibility gets points for being for the site being usable, and a reduction in points if “the site is difficult to navigate.” The Stanford study concludes, “a simple, usable Web site would be perceived as more credible than a site that has extravagant features but is lacking in usability.”

  4. Markers of expertise. Stanford describes this as adding expertise to the credibility of the site by including information about the owner. Important “expertise” elements would be the owner’s credentials, photo, address, phone number and other references such as a bio. The study states that many other markers could be found to add expertise to the site, but are rarely used and therefore miss this opportunity to convey this “expertise” dimension of credibility.

  5. Markers of trustworthiness. “Trustworthy” is the second dimension of credibility. Stanford assessed attributes of trustworthiness in terms of creating Web sites. They found that linking to outside materials and sources, stating a policy on content, and having a privacy statement added to the perceived trustworthiness of a site. Further, an honest, unbiased Web site contributes to trustworthy. Stanford concludes that any element, which adds to the site being believable, will convey that the site will be trustworthy and hence more credible.

  6. Taylor the user experience. This is done to enhance “expertise” and "trustworthiness" by giving reasons to bring the user back Web site. Stanford suggests tailoring the Web site with items of interest, such a new articles, new content and new features. This personalizes the Web site to the users interest and makes it “sticky.” Meaning users will return. Although advertising on the Internet has been dismal, Stanford suggests placing ads, which will have interest to users as a means for bringing users back. Avoid ads, which will not have interest. For example, an ad for logo design would be of interest on a commercial printing Web site that prints letterheads, envelopes, forms, bank checks and business cards with company logos.

  7. Avoid commercial elements. Although most Web sites exist to make money, the Stanford study says to avoid looking overly commercial. Web pages, which mix ads with content, detract and are confusing with users. These sites are not credible. In fact, the study determined that this was the most annoying element of all, causing negative credibility. Done well, however, Web site ads are reasonable and are accepted commercialization as with everything else commercial in our lives.

  8. Avoid the amateurism pitfall. Professional Web site design and development is a must. The study suggests that “organizations that care about credibility should be ever vigilant – and perhaps obsessive – to avoid small glitches in their Web sites. These ‘small’ glitches seem to have a ‘large’ impact on Web credibility perceptions.” Glitches stem from typographical errors to a malfunctioning credit card hookup.

 

Likewise, the overall “look” should not convey that the owner is an amateur. Users want the assurance that the product or service will be of utmost quality from quality operators. Here again, the Web site needs to be carefully designed to look credible so that the product or service will perform as promised. And the company logo must further that credibility.

Action steps. From the Stanford study, Powerlogos Design suggests the following:

  1. New logo design. It is imperative that the company logo be credibility-based. Planning is very important here to determine exactly what makes the particular company logo credible. Credibility means “expert” and “trustworthiness”. This is the content and personality of the company logo which leads us to believe that the company can do what it says it does.

  2. New Web site design. It is imperative that the overall feel of the site be credibility-based, using the same design motifs expressed in the logo design. For Web sites, however, this is the sites content and personality. Again, planning is very important.

  3. Content first. Show the user what you do, and what makes you unique. It is not essential to have a high technology scream blast interfere with content. Saying what you do communicates that you are an “expert” which further gives the site credibility.

  4. Provide information about the company. This is the “About Us” feature. It gives information about the officers of the company, their bios and where they are located. Phone numbers and emails are a must. It tells about the vision for the company, its values and what makes the company different from competition. A credible CEO can do this very convincingly. Also add photos of the staff, the office and anything else, which will add credibility. (Don’t include the owner’s dog.)

  5. Provide product or service specifications. How does the product or service work? What are the tolerance levels for industrial products? For health products, what side effects should be discussed? What tests have been done? What philosophy is the service based on, and how do we know this works? The company Web site is a great opportunity to provide these details in depth.

  6. Provide news about the product or service. Companies are always evolving. New discoveries and new additions are always interesting and add to the product/service knowledge in an up-to-date press release, which can be accessed.

  7. Provide affiliate information. Users can be promoters of your product/service. Give them an incentive and you can add to your sales team with Web site links. This also says that you are confident in your product/service, and just need further exposure.

  8. Provide interesting anecdotes. Most products/services have an interesting history. Web site users find this interesting, and it adds to the both the “expertise” and “trustworthy” factors associated with Web site content.

  9. Provide the opportunity for feedback. This gives users a chance to participate. Ask for their contact information when something new is added, and they would like to be informed when this happens. Be sure to inform. Also ask for suggestions for improvement. Are bandwidth levels acceptable for providing site speed, nationally and internationally? Does the text work as intended? How did the user find the site, and can this be improved? Good suggestions can be rewarded. This also gives you the opportunity to build a database of already interested users.

    This section can also be used to attract possible business associates. These include investors, media and others with a vested interest in your business. Any you in their business.

  10. Provide a career enquiry. Companies always are looking for new employees, now or for the future. What better way than to attract people who already have an interest in what you do and your philosophy. Web sites are self-selective. People go there because they are interested. Your Web site is a perfect source to find the perfect staff member. Include a “Careers with Us” inquiry form.

    Always respond with a personal message from the CEO. Do not use an auto-responder here. For large companies, the HR department will need to be brought in as appropriate.

 

In summary, The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab study on effective Web sites is both predictable and provocative with new elements. It carefully counsels on the important credibility-based elements of company logos, graphic design, content and navigation to increase Web site credibility.

Your Web site is more than a means to build sales. It is also a part of your credible brand image. That's what makes a great Web site.

Further information can be obtained on www.webcredibility.org. Please call William L. Haig, Chairman and CEO, Powerlogos Design direct at 808.922.4042 or email bill@powerlogos.com.



© William L. Haig, Ph.D. or Bill Haig, Ph.D. 2006

This is an original work of the author. All rights reserved. Copyright registration will be applied for. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, and recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author.


© 2007 Powerlogos Design. All rights reserved. 'Powerlogos Design', 'Credibility Based Logo Design', 'Logo Implementation Guidelines' and Logo Planning Report' are registered 
service marks of William Haig. Other brands or products are trademarks, service marks, registered trademarks or registered service marks of their respective holders.