Website Credibility – How Does Form Impact Substance?

May 14, 2007 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Reading | 3 Comments

I think both readings hit home on important elements in the credibility of a website.  Some of it is fundamental – the reputation of the site’s authoring organization or individual, the ability to navigate the site, the perceived risk associated with the site’s functionality, etc..

However, this review raises another question here that goes to credibility and may not have been researched directly – the search engine optimization for a site.  If a site’s URL comes back to me in the top 10, or maybe 15, links after doing a search , I begin to think that the site has credibility.

This is simply because the many who traverse the virtual world have found it of value. Also, within the same search, if an ‘anti-site’ is returned in an equivalent fashion,  this tells me that all may not be right about the intial site. Of course, it still requires a critical eye to evaluate any search list return.

I think we also need to question how style tops substance – in other words, is the layout, fluidity, graphic design and attractiveness something that goes to credibility or simply what we might describe as ‘slickness’?   I am reminded of how I was approached by followers of the Rev. Sun Yung Moon, so-called Moonies when I was in my 20s – the people appeared to be very nice and appealed to my idealistic sensibilities or, more recently, a few years ago at a school board conference where there was a booth with books on something called Intelligent Design.  The people were nice, approachable and had a well-written, graphically aesthetic book they would give me in exchange for a lot of background information from me.  Perusing the well-written book, one would think these were a laidback group of intellects suggesting something totally reasonable.

So, I raise a similar question here – is a tightly laid out, esthetically pleasing site with .edu as the URL extension an indication that what I see on the site is credible?  Maybe; maybe not.

When Hanson Hosein was in class and I asked the question about the the GE-NBC-BOEING relationship, he described how cynics might see it.  I took the view that given that Boeing is only one of two commercial airline makers of any consequence in the world, an American business with some cache and history grounded in the country’s economy, why wouldn’t Matt Lauer want to come here?  I suppose if he’d gone to Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart, the cyncism would’ve run similarly deep, but for other reasons.

My point here is simply that when an organization has a history, a substance, a reputation of sorts, how important does form become?  Realistically, if website design and planning are absent, then it really doesn’t matter how credible you are in the real world.  An entity’s Internet site becomes a version of the Firesign Theater’s 40-year-0ld album,  “I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus!”  By all means, listen to the mp3 file for a taste of inanity.

 Questions for consideration:

1.   What role does search engine optimization play – if any – in creating website credibility?

2.  Are trust antecedents the primary measuring stick for risk?

3. Can ease of use make up for other deficiencies in a website, including its underlying credibility?



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  1. Kevin,
    Thought provoking and some good questions to consider. I never thought of using the search engine optimization but I sort of doubt that the people who should be checking this sort of thing are not the types to do it in the first place.
    Your comments about well designed sites and their credibility were what I thought about reading the reviews. And reading the articles that Kristina found made it even more confounding. Lots of questions, not many answers. Well done.

  2. […] Kevin […]

  3. The ranking of the site in a search has an “unofficial” influence on my sense of credibility simply because I am not likely to view sites beyond the first few search result pages. However, real credibility is influenced by the URL ending, association (whether I recognize it or not), and the design…ease of use is essential. Another VERY unofficial test…does it show up on wikipedia?

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