What Do People Look For To Trust Your Website?

Jeff Berman
April 18, 2011

I came across an interesting article discussing the filters people use when they first arrive at a website.  The article discussed a study performed by Elizabeth Sillence.  The study researched how people react to and trust (or mistrust) health websites.  When analyzing what people look for in order to establish trust, the article broke it down as follows:

Design is the first filter – When participants in the study rejected a health website as not being trustworthy, 83% of their comments were related to design factors, such as an unfavorable first impression of the look and feel, poor navigation, color, text size and the name of the website.

Content is the second filter — Once the first filter was applied, if the website hadn’t been rejected, then participants mentioned content rather than design factors. 74% of the participants’ comments were about content being important in deciding whether they found a site trustworthy (after the initial design impression). For example, if the sites were owned by well known and respected organizations, advice written by medical experts, and sites that were specific to them and that they felt were written for people like themselves.

In short, the first filter was a well designed, well organized site.  If people thought the site looked amateurish, dated, or was difficult to use they never even got so far as to see the content.  If the site design was adequate then the quality of the content was the second filter.

Site Design

Site design is obviously an important element as the study reveals.  However, it's important to understand that constructing a good site design NOT mean that you are required to drop $20K on a completely custom site with every bell and whistle.  Rather, it is important that you are aware of the specific reasons that led people to mistrust a site and avoid these design mistakes.  The study mentions the following as reasons participants did not trust a site design:

  • Inappropriate name for the website
  • Complex, busy layout
  • Lack of navigation aids
  • Boring web design (especially use of color)
  • Pop up advertisements
  • Slow introductions to sites
  • Small print
  • Too much text
  • Corporate look and feel
  • Poor search facilities

Take a hard look at your firm's website and see if any of the above elements jump out at you. 

So what were the design elements mentioned that people trusted?

The following were listed as reasons people chose to further explore and revisit a site:

  • Clear layout
  • Good navigation aids
  • Interactive features (ie: assessment tools)

My takeaway is that there is not a "right" type of site design, but rather elements to avoid and include that people respond well to.

Site Content

The other half of the battle is your site content.  Without a servicable design, people aren't even paying attention to your content.  However, if you've made a good enough first impression with the look, feel, and layout then they are willing to read what you have to say.  So what reasons did people give when asked why they trusted a site's content?

  • Informative content
  • Relevant illustrations
  • Wide variety of topics covered
  • Unbiased information
  • Age specific information
  • Clear, simple language used
  • Discussion groups
  • Frequently asked questions

This should come as no surprise.  People want access to content they can understand, that helps them with their issues, and is easy to navigate.  Nothing on the list talks about wanting to know more about the achievments of the website or its founders.  People want information that will help them with their issues.  That's why they are on your site in the first place.

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman, is co-founder of AttorneySync. "Properly marketing a law firm online is about producing relevant content that helps a prospective client understand your expertise and how you are able to help them. Finally, it’s about getting that content found by the people you are trying to help."
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