CX Insights

Do you trust me? Assessing Web credibility

7 min read

Trust keeps coming back as one of the most important factors in the user experience of websites. We delve deeper in the theory of credibility impact by B.J. Fogg and team up with our office neighbors Springest to shed light on the credibility of homepages in the Learning & Development sector. Let us show you how to use simple guidelines to ensure your sites are designed for credibility—they are easy to implement and they definitely payoff.

How do people assess credibility, online?

It goes without saying that credibility is a key factor for the success of a webpage. Credible pages have the power to persuade their users to:

  • Change attitudes. Making users, for instance, feel comfortably interacting with the website, embracing the site’s point of view, etc.
  • Change behaviours. Such as, registering information, completing transactions and so forth.

But gaining credibility online is a whole new game. How do really people assess the credibility of websites? To  answer this serious question, we resorted to the expertise of  B.J. Fogg. An expert on changing human behavior, mostly by applying persuasion technology and techniques. B.J Fogg describes Credibility Impact through two factors:

  • Prominence: When the user notices something.
  • Interpretation: When the user makes a judgement about it.
Credibility Impact by B.J.Fogg (Click to enlarge)

B.J Fogg continues distinguishing four types of credibility:

  1. Presumed Credibility: We believe because of general assumptions we hold.
  2. Reputed Credibility: We believe because of a reference from a third party (accreditations, etc.)
  3. Surface Credibility: We believe because of what we find on simple inspection (site looks professional, etc.)
  4. Earned Credibility: We believe because of past experience with site (user friendly, good navigation, good customer service).

These four types of credibility shape a very handy framework that you can always use to evaluate your own website, as we’ll see later.

Setting up the test

We selected the homepages of  four Learning & Development providers as our test’s subjects. Springest, who are experts in the area, suggested us two UK universities and two UK course providers. Next, to disperse the test we loosely recruited 33 participants through Twitter. Participants were shown the homepage of every course provider and were asked one single question.

“Click on what makes you trust this homepage. Please explain why.”

The four homepages we used in our case.

The reason we picked four learning institutions as our test’s subjects,  is that we expected web credibility to be a burning issue when looking for a course online.I remember myself how difficult it was to make the final choice and move to the Netherlands for a two years Master study in TUDelft. Good usability and navigation, nice images and of course great content were important factors that definitely  influenced my final decision…

Best practices to gain trust

We analyzed the heatmaps, filtered the notes and comments and we present to you the best practices to gain trust on your website according to B.J Fogg’s four types of credibility that we already mentioned.

Presumed Credibility

Presumed credibility refers to the trust we give to someone or something because of the general assumptions we hold. In this case, it doesn’t come as a surprise that participants showed more trust to universities than course providers. Moreover, the reputation that accompanies a university determines the degree of trust  it. Here are some of the participants’ comments:

“University = trust”
Trustable name “university of x”
(I trust it because of its) University brand
Know the name, so trust them

Reputed Credibility

References from third parties, such as accreditations, testimonials, blurbs, and awards are a great way to persuade users to trust you. However, they should always be used wisely and honestly, as users are smart and don’t fall for lousy marketing tricks. The following examples are good showcases that were well received by the participants:

Showcasing an award on the front page
Accreditations from third parties

As one of the participants noted about the accreditations:

I don’t really know what all these  mean, but the logos arouse a lot of confidence.

Surface Credibility

Surface credibility is all about great visual design and exceptional content. It’s the first impression we get from the site after a simple inspection. Professional and original pictures, a prominent logo, relevant information and great content play a very important role here. For instance, can you tell at a glance which of the two homepages inspires more trust to you?

I  assume that most of you answered for the second photo. Why? Because it’s a great picture! It looks original, professional, and makes you crave to work with these people. Here is what some of our participants said about this photo:

“ A real photo taken specifically for this website (no stock imagery)”

“Great typography and strong, assertive content”

“Looks like it’s a picture from campus, not just generic”

Now here is what participants said about the first picture:

“This face is REALLY fake! No good! Change pls”

“(I trust) His bright white smile, NOTT!!!”

“Not this! He looks scarmy!”

So, do please use very carefully the photos you upload on your frontpage and especially avoid stock images. Unfortunately, we keep on seeing stock images everywhere although it’s commonly acknowledged as a bad, bad practice.
Moving on, exceptional content is also very important. Content that could be written only by this university, and not generic marketing content like the following one:
User's quote: “This text reads like marketing fluff that any university might say about itself."
Next, great logos always help to gain some sympathy from users, and even their trust. For instance, the logo of the Anglia University was acknowledgedas a well designed logo by the participants that helped them trust the university even more.

“Good, clean, simple logo.”

“Fancy logo. elaborate. reliable”

“Classic logo; probably a reputable university”

“Gold & Blue Logo”

“Clean sharp professional logo”

Earned Credibility

Last but not least, Earned Credibility refers to credibility that is earned by great user experiences after multiple visits. Usability, up-to-date information and great customer service are a must. In our test, webpages that looked frequently updated, with fresh news and information gained more trust and compliments from the participants.

Participants trusted more updated sites.
As already mentioned, good usability and navigation were highly appreciated by the users as important factors to trust a page.

“I love the readability of this section. The text is big, the organization of links is logical and that says trust to me.”

“(I trust it because of) Overall the clean and less cluttered design. Straight to the point”

“ (I trust it because of its) Detailed sitemap”
While offering contact details to ask questions, and support is always well received by users:
Make it easy for users to contact you
“ (I trust it because of the)Telephone number to contact”
“Contact details make me feel confortable.”
“Offering and encouraging contact in high profile position. Open to contact implies genuine.”


Wrapping it up, the four types of credibility by B.J Fogg can be of great help to redesign your website. It’s not rocket-science, but simple, common-sense rules that a website has to consistently follow in order to gain credibility behind the user’s eyes. ’10 Commandments’ -guidelines that  are well adressed, again, by B.J Fogg:

  1. Design your website so it looks professional (or as appropriate for your site’s purpose).
  2. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
  3. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.
  4. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
  5. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
  6. Make it easy to contact you.
  7. Make your site easy to use – and useful.
  8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).
  9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).
  10. Avoid errors of all kinds, no matter how small they seem.

Here, you can find B.J Fogg’s presentation on Web Credibility that inspired this test and post.

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Loucas Papantoniou
Usability Analyst @ Usabilla Jack of all trades, immersing passionately and sometimes obsessively in my interests. Greek living in A'dam, missing the sun.