Over the past decade or so, as Internet access has become more plentiful and the web has become a standard medium for selling products and services, there have been countless studies that look at how users interact with websites. Some of these studies analyze user behavior in more ways than most of us thought measurable, but one of the studies I’ve always found interesting was the measure of trust.
For example, according to a 2002 study between Stanford University and Consumer Reports, nearly half of the 2,600 plus test subjects cited a sample website’s poor design as a leading factor of mistrust. That means the look, feel, and functionality of the website determined whether or not the subject considered the business behind the website credible or trustworthy.
All things considered, that same study today might yield a higher percentage of users citing a website’s design as a source of trust in the business behind it. Good design is a little easier to come by today than it was 8 years ago, and more businesses recognize the importance of effectively reaching out to their Internet savvy customers.
Here are some of the comments from the study when users viewed the poorly designed website:
The design is sloppy and looks like some adolescent boys in a garage threw this together. — F, 48, California
Not very professional looking. Don’t like the cheesy graphics. — F, 33, Washington
Looks childish and like it was put together in 5 minutes. — F, 25, Maryland
While these comments may only reflect the design of the site, they will inherently be connected to the business behind them. The first impression is going to be focused on the presentation of the content, not the stellar history of grade A customer service or great products for which the business may otherwise be known. The trust is jeopardized even before it has been able to have been established.
Think about it: what would your impression be of the bank whose website background were hot pink? How about a professional organizer whose site navigation was clumsy and inconsistent? Hypothetical as those examples may be, here is a recent, real life one:
I was having a discussion with a friend about paranormal activity (the phenomena, not the movie). We were discussing the types of research and it’s legitimacy in the field of study. In his example of doing a Google search for information and the groups that conduct paranormal research, he said:
The google search I did for “paranormal research” pulled up a list Paranormal Research Institutes all up and down the east coast, most of them having an appropriately spoooooooky header to cement their legitimacy as a field of scientific study.
This is a perfect example of design inspiring trust. Imagine you were someone who was in need of a paranormal researcher. You go out to Google and decide to look for someone or a team of people to help you out and, upon reaching their home page, find graphics of dancing ghosts, child-like copy peppered with words like “ghouls” and “spooky”, and sound effects of creaking doors and screams.
What would you think about the legitimacy of the researcher?
Ok ok, so how do you inspire trust with a website?
The theory behind this is easier than the execution, but, in it’s most basic form, trust in a website is established by providing an effective user experience with thought out design and, above all, thought out content. Today’s internet users are looking to get in, get the information, and get out. The best thing your website can do is not get in their way.
To provide some specifics, you want to make sure every page of your website is quickly accessible from just about everywhere. Text should be a size large enough to be comfortably read with a color combination that doesn’t cause eye strain (hint: no white text on black backgrounds). The design should accurately reflect the nature of your business. The design should also stay consistent throughout the entire site; it should never look like a different website when navigating through various pages. Most importantly, your message, the central reason for which your website exists, should be clear, concise, and unobstructed.
Granted these are some of the most basic principles of web design that should be adhered to regardless of what you are trying to accomplish with a website, but they are crucial when you are trying to let your users know that you have put just as much effort into the experience you provide as you have into the products or services you sell.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. – Steve Jobs