Web Credibility & SEO

Peter D recently mentioned a PDF on website credibility.

If you think of a search engine as a user trying to perceive how credible documents are then many of those factors make a lot of sense from an SEO perspective, because

  • Your site visitors will consider many perceived credibility factors when deciding weather or not to buy, transact, or link to your site. Credibility is the key to conversion, especially with expensive or non commodity products and services.
  • Search engines also evaluate how others perceive your site through looking at linkage data and usage data.

It might also be worth taking a look at Beyond Algorithms: A Librarian's Guide to Finding Web Sites You Can Trust. Imagine that many media members use some similar criteria as the above two documents, and it is easy to see how librarians, media members, and other authoritative voices propagate trust through the web, and why many sites lack credible citations until their site sells itself as being credible enough to merit quality citations.

Published: June 10, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


June 23, 2006 - 1:22pm

Defeatism among webmasters and SEO companies.

After spending the last few years posting in search engine optimisation forums I have noticed a growing defeatism from webmasters in relation to natural (organic) search positioning. Google has a number of problems and some of these have hung around for a few months but they are only affecting certain sectors of the index. The hype around these Google problems has led to many SEO companies and webmasters making a statement that their websites are no longer listed because Google is broken. They are also using this excuse both the exclusion of the website from high profile in the Google database and then the lack of activity in relation to improving the website and make it competitive again.

Quite simply the news from the grapevine in general is that Google is broken and so its not our fault your website is no longer listed.

The real picture is very different and it is a lack of understanding and in many cases laziness that is causing the problems for so many websites, SEO expert Shaun Parker has written a paper called: is google really broken

The document looks at this growing defeatism by webmasters and some SEO companies and the impact it is now having on the industry, it examines grapevine information and the under currents from search engine forums.

June 10, 2006 - 8:08pm

Interesting study from a user's perspective. There wasn't too much that was surprising to me regarding what increases/decreases credibility. For example, having a well known brand and having a useful website can give instant credibility. However, I was surprised to see things like "providing a phone number" near the top -- above things like "first site listed in a search engine" and "recommended by a friend." The responses seemed to be skewed towards e-commerce sites instead of just content rich websites.

Of course it's easy to trim and filter the results to the type of site you're building for your clients, so it's still useful. Overall, it was a good read, and I really liked the "Design Implications" section which vaguely reminded me of your last post on "Good Design."

June 12, 2006 - 2:02pm

Just a short comment:- After purchasing the E-Book Search Engine Optimization by yourseld Aaron Matthew I got more than I expected. There is so much in the book together with the updates that it has taken me quite a while just to read through it. I am now puting the recomendations into action and have started to use some of the tools provided. I can see things starting to change with my site position and visitors, I think you need to have a two to three month plan to see real results, but as long as I stick to the BIBLE it will all pay off - Thanks Aaron.

Steven Fletcher
Unsigned Music to the world

June 12, 2006 - 8:31pm

Thanks for liking it Steven :)

June 13, 2006 - 4:26am

The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, Sliced Bread Design , and Consumer Webwatch conducted a couple of other studies on credibility that were pretty good, too.

Both are available from this Consumer Webwatch page. Some interesting conclusions, including how much credibility relies upon design.

June 13, 2006 - 10:14am

While I think the results were interesting, I'm not convinced that the methodology was really appropriate in order to determine the actual factors of importance when credibility is evaluated in a "real world" web visit by these same individuals surveyed.

The fatal flaw lies in that when the survey suggests factors, leading the respondent to make a conscious assessment of a tangible item. For example, whether or not a site has a privacy policy ranked high.

But I suspect in practice, the perception of credibility is quite different - that it typically assessed in a snap, subconscious judgment. I'll bet that the actual factors that make up that decisions would actually surprise the respondent should they be somehow confronted with them.

The average user probably won't even see that there is a link to the Privacy Policy until after a snap judgment about the credibility of the site has been made.

I think that this survey is more reflective of, when presented with the alternatives, what the respondents think should make up a credible website - but this is a very different question than determine how they *actually* perceive credibility.

June 15, 2006 - 3:34pm

That's quite telling information.

It gives a good view of how a search engine might look at crediblity. And presumably this is what they would want to boost through their algorithm.

I don't think its of great importance as far as real users are concerned. For them you would just need to make your site *look* credible.

June 16, 2006 - 2:06am

I directed some of the studies mentioned above. Please note the dates -- late 1990s and early 2000s. Many of the web conventions were still shaping up, so in retrospect our findings might seem obvious (and frankly, some of the finding were no surprise at the time. But no one had yet documented these things scientifically).

Our later work shows that credibility assessments are made quickly, mostly by the visual elements of the site. Other researchers quantified this in fall 2005.

For the overall answer to "What Makes Web Sites Credible?" I've put together a single sentence:

Fogg's Maxim for Credible Design
"To increase the credibility impact of a website, find what elements your target audience interprets most favorably and make those elements most prominent."

There's a lot packed into that sentence, but it captures the whole picture.

We haven't done much work on search engines, so there's still many interesting questions left to answer.

--BJ Fogg
Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab

June 20, 2006 - 7:04am

Fogg's Maxim -- I love it! I don't think you can get any more succinct than that. Please let me know if there are any problems quoting you on that when I talk to people about credibility and trust on the Web. I've been basically saying the same thing, but, well, with about 250 extra words and much less clarity :-)

The fact that the website is "interpreted" by the users is a key one and something I've been finding a lot of people don't think about. It's hard to get out from behind our logical glasses at times and slip on a pair of experiential ones.

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