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Web Site Credibility: 10 Simple Guidelines

Ethan Woods Copyright 2003

Take a moment to picture the following scenario. You’re looking online to purchase a DVD player. You type “DVD Player” into your favorite search engine and the result is a list of thousands of companies that sell DVD players. You click on the first link listed and are taken to an online merchant selling the very DVD player you were looking for. The price is reasonable and shipping is included; however, you decide to check out another merchant to see if you can find a lower price. You go back to your search engine results and follow the second link listed. Again, you’re taken to a merchant selling the DVD player you’re looking for, but this time the price (shipping included) is $50 less.

How do you choose between the two merchants?

All things being equal you would choose the merchant offering the lower price. However, what if the lower-priced DVD player was being sold on a web site that just didn’t look very professional to you? What if you found the layout of the web site to be confusing? What if you noticed a lot of misspelled words in the text of the pages? What if many of the links were broken and images were missing? What if you couldn’t find any contact information for this merchant? Would any of these issues influence your decision to buy?

Research shows that in this case the majority of online buyers would purchase the more expensive DVD player because the credibility of the merchant selling the lower- priced product is in question. Consequently, you see how crucial it is for your web site to be perceived as credible.

Guideline 1: Make it Easy to Verify Content on your Web Site.

If your web site makes the claim that you provide excellent customer service, provide quotes with identifying information (with permission) of past buyers or clients speaking of your excellent customer service. If the local newspaper voted your business as best online merchant in 2003, then provide a link to the article or cite the newspaper in which the article appeared. The basic rule here is to be able to “prove” to your visitors that the information shown and claims made on your web site are real and not just fictitious marketing ploys.

Guideline 2: Show that a Real Organization Exists Behind your Web Site.

Visitors to your web site want to be assured that they’re not dealing with some shadowy figure who may run off with their money. Would you feel comfortable submitting your credit card information to a merchant in which you couldn’t track down? Increase the credibility of your web site by including the physical address of your business, including telephone number.

Guideline 3: Highlight Expertise in your Organization.

Convince visitors that you and your associates posses the know-how and skills necessary to provide the products or services you offer. If you or others in your organization have specialized training or education that’s related to your products or services, make that information known on your web site.

Guideline 4: Show that People Stand Behind your Web Site.

With today’s advances in computer technology, it isn’t uncommon to come across a fully-automated online business. Who’s doing all the work? Being able to show that living, breathing humans are behind your web site will increase the credibility of your web site (and business). You might add a page to your web site that features a particularly hardworking employee each month. At the very least, you might want to list department heads or supervisors (with pictures) on your web site contact page. This guideline is perhaps most important if you have a web site that is fully- automated (or appears fully-automated).

Guideline 5: Make it Easy to Make Contact.

Don’t give visitors the impression that you have something to hide. Make your contact information available and make it easy to find. At a minimum every web site should have a “contact” page that lists your physical address, telephone numbers, and email addresses.

Guideline 6: Design a Professional-looking Web Site.

This is a very common mistake for many small- and medium- sized businesses. Typically the web site is designed and maintained by the office manager or other employee with little or no real experience in web design. They’re told to purchase a popular web design software package, learn how to use it, and design the company web site. Often the result is a vertically “stacked” web site that features lots of animated gifs, randomly placed images and flashing or scrolling text. Don’t be lured into thinking you will save thousands of dollars by designing your web site in-house with novice “web designers.” Lost revenue and sales leads from visitors who left your web site because they did not perceive it as credible will far exceed your initial savings.

Guideline 7: Make Your Web Site Easy to Use.

Visitors to your web site are there for a reason; they want to purchase something or they want to learn more about your products or services. They will become irritated (and leave) if they are forced to figure out how to navigate your web site. Keep the web site layout consistent and clear. Avoid moving your navigation menu to a different location on each page of your site and avoid changing the look of the navigation menu from page to page.

Guideline 8: Update Content Often.

This is another common mistake made by small- and medium-sized businesses. Because business owners know their business should have an online presence, they quickly have a web site created and uploaded to the Internet. However, they rarely (or never) keep the web site content updated. This lack of concern over the content on your web site makes visitors perceive you and your business as less credible.

Guideline 9: Use Promotional Content Sparingly.

Web sites filled with advertisements are viewed as less credible than web sites with little or no advertising. In an attempt to increase search engine rankings and generate additional revenue, many web site owners join referral programs. The result is a web site inundated with banner ads cluttering your web site and linking your visitors to other web sites. If your intent is to generate revenue through referral programs, you should create a web site separate from your company web site. The goal of your company web site should be to sell products or services and market your business.

Guideline 10: Avoid Errors.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface, but errors seriously detract from the credibility of a web site. The most common errors are typos, misspellings, and broken links. Remember, your web site is an extension of your business. If grammatical errors and broken links reduce the credibility of your web site, then the credibility of your business is also reduced.

Research studying what makes web sites credible to the online public has become increasingly important to wise business owners (and good web designers). If visitors to your web site do not perceive it as being credible they will not perceive your business as credible. Web site credibility is an issue that precludes thousands of online businesses from reaching their online sale and marketing potential.

About the Author:

Ethan Woods is a Creative Director with Optic Fusion Design Group, a web design and marketing firm providing “visible marketing solutions.” Optic Fusion Design Group helps small, medium, and emerging companies achieve their marketing potential. Ethan Woods can be contacted at [email protected] or
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