How Visitors Assess Your Website’s Credibility

Written by Hirsch Fishman

New visitors to the website of a small business look for one thing in particular when they’re looking at the website for the first timet. This thing is so important, in fact, that if it’s not there, all hopes for getting them to participate in some transaction of information with you can be thrown out the window. What is it, you’re asking? It’s your credibility.

Website credibility is one of the most important factors in whether your small business’s website works like you intend it to. Most websites exist for the purpose of making a sale – and sales is all about establishing trust with your potential clients.

The sales pitch doesn’t have to be a hard sell, by the way. For example, many blogs are intended to showcase someone’s expertise as a way to entice people to do business with them – one of the reasons why I think every business website should have a blog.

Plain and simple, no one is going to hire you to perform a service, or buy a product from you, through your website if (1) they don’t trust you, and (2) they don’t see that trustworthiness conveyed through the website.

There’s been a lot of research done on this topic, particularly at Stanford University. BJ Fogg of the Persuasive Technology Lab there says that your website’s credibility is a powerful thing because it gives the power to do two things to your visitors:

  • Change their attitudes by getting people to think positively about, or feel comfortable interacting with, the website.
  • Change their behaviors by getting people to complete a transaction, return to the site again, recommend the site to others, etc.

The PTL also published a widely circulated list of 10 guidelines for boosting your website’s credibility, a lot of which was the inspiration for my points below. That being said though, I think that one of their guidelines stands out above the others as the top way that visitors establish the credibility of your website.

The #1 way visitors establish credibility is…

…by looking for your contact information.

It sounds simple, and it is really. How easy it is for visitors, and more importantly, for visitors who are potential clients of yours, to find your contact information says to them: hey, there is a real person behind this business and this website. Here’s their email address. Here’s their phone number. And here’s where they’re located.

Displaying your contact information also tells people see that you really are a legitimate business that they can do business with – especially if there’s a phone number combined with a physical address. When there’s contact information available, coupled with some of the other things I’ll talk about below, that’s a major red flag that says that your business isn’t credible, and that they should take their business to someone who is.

Why is this so important?

Because in general, people like to do business with other people. We sometimes assume that just because someone is visiting a website means that they’re comfortable communicating with you electronically, when that’s not always the case.

There are plenty of people out there who do their research by looking at websites, but still prefer to pick up the phone and actually speak to someone when it comes time to make a transaction – myself included. If you hide your phone number or other basic contact information, all the people who prefer to do business that way will be turned off if they can’t find a way to call you.

That’s why on this website, I have my phone number prominently displayed in 2 spots on every page – in the top right of the header, and in the footer. That number is listed along with my email address AND a link to a contact form that people can fill out. And wouldn’t you know it – well over half the new project inquiries I get are people calling me over the phone to make first contact.

…but also by your website’s design

Now, granted I’m a web designer and study websites for a living, but when I visit a website, I can tell within the first few seconds all I need to know about the business behind it. That’s the power that design has on your visitors – they may not notice the same details as I do, but they’re doing the same thing.

So what are some design elements that people look for in order to establish your website’s credibility? Here a few of the more notable items:

  • Do the colors reflect your business? – Design elements such as the color scheme need to be chosen carefully because colors can have many different meanings. Your website should use colors that someone would expect to see for whatever business it is you’re in.
  • Does everything work properly? – Websites that don’t work properly leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. That makes you seem less professional, which translates into decreased credibility. Your designer should test everything before the website launches – not after.
  • Are ads and promotions unobtrusive? – There are few things more annoying than seeing affiliate ads all over your website, especially when they make your content hard to find. This might make people think you either don’t have anything to say, or you’re hiding something.
  • Am I asked to login unnecessarily? – Don’t ask your users to log in to view content on your website if they don’t need to. Doing so makes it seem not as professional, especially if it’s to do something very basic that shouldn’t require logging in, like commenting on a blog.
  • What’s your search engine status? – If you have decent placement in search engine results, you’re doing something right. Whatever that is, keep it up, because a website that (a) can be found, and (b) that the search engines have found before, is one that is credibile.

…and by your website’s content

While your design is important, once people get past the design and start looking at your content, if they don’t see what they’re looking for or expecting to find, they’re going to just as easily be turned off.

What are some content elements that visitors look for on your website in order to establish credibility? Here are some of the questions they’re asking themselves:

  • What is your URL? – Does the website have its own URL, or is it hosted through some 3rd-party service? If you have a business website, the URL should be your business’s name or some variation of it, if the name isn’t available. If it’s not, then I’m wondering what’s going on.
  • Are you on topic? – You should only publish content on your website that’s related to the services you provide or the expertise that you have. Don’t talk about random other topics – it’s not the place. Staying on topic will give visitors a focused message about you’re offering.
  • Is your content current? – People (and search engines) like to see websites that are updated frequently. If one article on your website has a date stamp on it from 2006, that’s fine – but if they all do, your website looks dated. It also makes me wonder if you’re still in business.
  • Is there an “About” page? – Visitors want to know who’s behind the website and what their expertise is. You should always have an “About” page or section to tell people who you are, why you’re in business, and who the relevant people at your business are (with photos).
  • What service/product are you selling? – Visitors like to see what it is specifically that you’re offering them. Not vague generalities and promises, but specific products or services. Even better is if you mention who your product or service is intended for, so I know if it’s for me or not.
  • Do you promise what you can’t deliver? – Want to ruin your credibility instantly? Tell someone that you don’t offer a service or product, and have them respond that they saw on your website that you do. Will they trust what you’re saying after that? Probably not.
  • How much info do you ask for in forms? – Say you have a contact form for new clients to use. Do you really need to know anything other than the person’s name, email, phone number, and their comment? No, you don’t, so don’t ask for it – they’ll wonder what you’re doing with it.


What else do you think builds a website’s credibility? What have you come across in your experience that has made a website more or less credible? Share your thoughts with everyone by leaving a comment below!

About Hirsch Fishman

Hirsch Fishman is a professional web designer who has worked with synagogues and organizations in the Jewish community since 2006. Originally from Albany, NY, he has previously lived in New York City and Chicago, and currently resides in Raleigh, NC.

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