Want to be taken seriously? Start by looking good

A Microsoft research paper did the rounds on Twitter yesterday: Augmenting Web Pages and Search Results to Support Credibility Assessment (pdf). Search engine patent-guru Bill Slawski has written an excellent analysis of it which I highly recommend you read – as well as the paper itself (it’s light on science-babble so anyone should be able to come to grips with it).

But it’s not so much the credibility-factors that the paper describes that really made my eyes light up. No, it was the other research that the paper referred to that really caught my attention, specifically the research about how users assess the credibility of a webpage.

The paper refers to two other studies [1,2] that arrived at the following conclusions:

  1. The “look and feel” of a website has the greatest impact on users’ credibility assessments, with professional site designs heavily influencing credibility perceptions,
  2. and once users have seen a web page, it is difficult to overcome the first impressions they form based on the professional appearance of a page’s design.

While this isn’t new research (2004 and 2007) it is something that seems to be ignored often. Because what this tells us is that a website needs – absolutely needs – a professional looking design if it wants to be seen as a credible and trustworthy source of information.

And how many sites can you name that have poor, unprofessional design? Easily dozens, I imagine. And those sites probably want to be taken seriously, and hope to be seen as credible and trustworthy sources on their specific topic of choice.

The core message we should take away from this is as follows: no matter how good your content is, if your site design sucks you won’t be perceived as a credible source.

In short, you need to make sure your site is pretty. Amateurish web design doesn’t work – and now we can quote the research to back that up.

The research in question:
1. Fogg, B.J., Soohoo, C., Danielson, D.R., Marable, L., Stanford, J., and Tauber, E.R. How do users evaluate the credibility of Web sites?: A study with over 2,500 par-ticipants. DUX 2003, 1-15.
2. McKnight, D. and Kacmar, C. Factors and effects of information credibility. ICEC 2007, 423-432.

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About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.