Trends in website design tend to last three to five years. But when a client’s online presence starts to look dated and we recommend a makeover, often we’re asked, if the content of the website is solid, why be concerned about aesthetic issues like design? The answer to that question is that the look of a website is directly associated with a site’s credibility, and credibility, or believability, is critically important to a business.
For many businesses, the first place a prospective customer will go when conducting due diligence is a company’s website. In the same manner that businesses would not want to have a neglected storefront that appears old and dated, websites too, must be updated regularly, professionally designed, and maintained in order to project a positive image.
But don’t take our word for it. Researchers at Stanford University have studied perceptions of credibility associated with websites and identified factors that contribute positively.
The number one factor related to credibility? Design and look.
The study by the Persuasion Technology Lab at Stanford University evaluated the believability of Web sites and found that the “design look” of a website ranked as the most important feature (46.1%) among those mentioned.
In the study, “design look” referred to elements such as visual design, including layout, typography, white space, images, and color schemes. (Fogg, BJ. “How Do Users Evaluate the Credibility of Web Sites? A Study with Over 2,500 Participants” Persuasion Technology Lab, Stanford University, 2003[JS1] [TA2] ). For the full ranking of factors, see the chart below.
Comments by those surveyed in the study referred to highly ranked websites as looking professional, having a high quality look and feel, and pleasing graphics. Factors that negatively affected a website’s score included looking sloppy, having jarring colors, looking like it was quickly put together, and having cheesy graphics.
“The dominance of design look may be surprising at first. One might ask, are people really so influenced by design look and not by more substantial issues? The answer appears to be yes,” the authors of the study wrote.
After design, the most cited factor related to credibility was the structure of the site’s information. This referred to how well or poorly the information fit together, as well as how hard it was to navigate the site to find things of interest.
“Sites that are easy to navigate were seen as being more credible,” according to the study’s authors.
Based on our experience, we would add that a website’s ability to adapt to viewing on a mobile device also adds to credibility. Known as “responsive” website design, this adaptability is critical to viewing on a desktop, tablet and mobile phone.
The researchers went on to observe that highly motivated people are likely to scrutinize a site beyond “design look” considerations when examining a website. This reinforces the importance of good content and other elements, in addition to visual design, for website credibility.
In spite of this, the researchers warned that most “web users typically spend small amounts of time at any given site or individual page, and are thus likely to develop strategies for assessing credibility quickly.”
How quickly? A study by the Missouri University of Science and Technology found that it takes less than two-tenths of a second for an online visitor to form a first opinion of a brand during the process of viewing a company’s website (http://n.ews.mst.edu/2012/02/eye-tracking_studies_show_firs/).
All of this is to say that first impressions of a website can have very serious implications for how a brand is viewed. And remember, most people examine a firm’s online presence when deciding whether or not to do business with a company. Once you get beyond the first impression, other factors must be considered for people who are deeply interested in a firm — enough to dig a little deeper into the content of a site. This will be the topic of our next article.
[Fogg, B., Soohoo, C., Danielson, D., Marable, L., Stanford, J. & Tauber, E. (2003) How DO Users Evaluate the Credibility of Web Sites? A Study with Over 2,500 Participants, ACM]