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10 Ways to Determine Information Credibility on the Internet

With 71% of the United States population, 221 million people, accessing the Internet in 2010, competition demands more from online businesses (Phillips, 2010). Providing a great product at the right price doesn’t guarantee sales. In addition to traditional marketing efforts, businesses must navigate a dynamic digital landscape and attract customers online. Online success is determined by a combination of several factors, one of them being credibility. So how does a company build online credibility?

As more people access the Internet through mobile devices, such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad, a greater need for information is evident. More people are accessing the Internet for information on products, restaurants, services, opinions, etc. Users are accessing reviews for products and services on websites like Yelp.com. Not only are they relying on reviews from their close friends, they are polling Internet users that they don’t even know. This creates a community of users that rely on a collective group to help them determine whether or not they will use a company’s services or products. Users take into consideration any negative or positive reviews when making a purchase from a small, medium, or large-sized company. However, differences in scale can build credibility prior to a user visiting a company’s website. Small and medium sized businesses have a harder time building online credibility due to a lack of recognition.

Studies have analyzed online credibility and how users respond to a company’s online presence. The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab (PTL) at the University of Stanford drafted a set of guidelines known as the Stanford Guidelines for Credibility. The Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility recommend the following 10 guidelines to build website credibility (Stanford, Tauber, Fogg, & Marable, 2002):

1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.
3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
5. Make it easy to contact you.
6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).
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 types, no matter how small they seem.

According to the Stanford PTL study, the guidelines can apply to any website and company size was not a determining factor. The study determines credibility by focusing on a website’s content and how that content is presented, including a design implications and quality of provided content. A company’s online presence must appear to be professional and reflective of the company image. A website should be an extension of the print marketing efforts. Making multiple contact information readily available can also improve credibility. These guidelines serve as a great basis to analyze a website and improve credibility; however, these guidelines were drafted in 2002.

Over the last 10 years, much of the online environment has changed. The introduction of social media has made it easier than ever to share one’s opinion of a company or product. Potential customers are not only doing research online, but social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, are allowing users to share information faster and easier. A growing number of mobile and smart devices, such as the iPad and iTouch, are integrating social media and custom applications known as Web 2.0 technology.

Social media sites are reaching an astounding number of users each day. With Facebook boasting more than 103 million UNITED STATES users and Twitter having nearly 75 million users, companies can’t afford to ignore these factors. Several big retailers have implemented their own social media accounts to survey what customers are saying about their products and services. Victoria’s Secret, Best Buy, Target, and Khol’s, among others, have shifted their PR efforts to include buzz marketing through social media. According to Jeffery Grau, retailers can’t afford to ignore the negative buzz because it can adversely affect their sales and reputation (Grau, 2010).

Since the introduction of buzz marketing, companies must now search for online customer feedback on non-affiliated websites, such as Yelp.com. By responding to negative feedback or clarifying any misconceptions, companies can overcome any objections that customers may have and in return help build their customer-business relationship. This allows a company to build their online credibility outside of their website.

In addition to buzz marketing awareness, company websites benefit by including customer service and product reviews. Successful companies are providing customers with everything they need to make a purchasing decision. Allowing customers to post positive and negative reviews can save potential customers time in the research stage of the buying cycle. Some companies have taken this an extra step to include a comparison against competitor products. Alongside these comparisons, product benefits and reviews boost a customer’s confidence in the product or service. However, one negative aspect to this added feature is the constant monitoring involved. As with any Web 2.0 tool, companies must allocate the proper resources to prosper from using the tools.

Privacy statements also have a direct impact on consumer confidence. Both the public and private sector are experiencing a paradigm shift in the way they operate. Transparency is quickly becoming the norm and consumers are expecting it. Privacy statements seem to be included in most dynamic websites. End users want to be assured that their personal information will remain private and will not be shared with third party affiliates.

Getting customers from research mode to purchasing mode in the buying cycle isn’t always easy. Customers may visit several sites during the research phase. Visiting competitor websites and social media sites to find more product information isn’t uncommon. When a customer transitions into the purchasing phase of the buying cycle, minor details may help form their confidence and lead them to purchase a product. A return policy, SSL security certificate, or option to pay with an online merchant account, such as PayPal, can make all the difference.

The growth of the Internet has made it possible for customers to choose from many product and service options, the ability to receive product information and company reviews instantly, and the opportunity to positively or negatively impact a company’s online image. Guidelines for improving a company’s online credibility are always evolving. As technology improves, companies will face new challenges in gaining credibility and their leaders cannot afford to ignore the feedback they receive.


References

Phillips, Lisa E. (2010, April). “US Internet Users, 2010.” eMarketer Digital Intelligence. http://www.emarketer.com/Reports/All/Emarketer_2000670.aspx

Grau, Jeffrey (2010, May). “How Retailers Handle Negative Buzz on Social Media Sites.” eMarketer Digital Intelligence. http://www.emarketer.com/Reports/All/Emarketer_2000647.aspx

Sundar, S., & Stavrositu, C. (2006). If Internet Credibility Is So Iffy, Then Why the Heavy Use? The Relationship Between Medium Use and Credibility. Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 1-28. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

Fogg, B.J. (2002, May). “Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility.” A Research Summary from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Stanford University. www.webcredibility.org/guidelines

Shonfeld, Erick (2010, February 16). “Nearly 75 Million People Visited Twitter’s Site In January (comScore).”  Tech Crunch. http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/16/twitter-75-million-people-january/

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