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Why do people trust - or distrust - a website? What is it about the content, the design choices, or the usability of a website that makes it seem untrustworthy?

Last month I spotted this great thread on reddit, where people explained what makes them trust / distrust company websites. I thought I’d extract some of the suggestions, and a few quotes, and I’ve added a bunch of my own.

The usual caveats apply: all rules are there to be broken, and our own website needs to be improved.

No doubt there are a lot of other reasons, so by all means leave a comment below if I've missed something. 

1. Too busy

Is there too much information to process? Is it too difficult to find what you’re looking for? Are your core messages and calls to action obfuscated in any way? Busy websites can cause visitor's brains to overheat.

2. Dated

Does your website look like it was designed in 2004, or before? Do you still need Flash to access it? Are those Web 2.0 dropshadows still a good idea? Is the first blog post on your site two years old?

Check out my post on web design trends for 2014 if you need a makeover.

3. Bad copy

Clear, compelling messaging and attention to detail are necessary to make the right impression. You have a few seconds to do so. The smart thing to do would be to hire a professional copywriter and undertake a content audit.

4. Poor look and feel

It’s a bit subjective this, but design aside, your website should certainly look the way you want it to in all browsers and across all devices. 

5. Too much blinking

Flashing ads (such as can be seen on this blog at the time of writing, but not for too much longer) are annoying, as are animated icons and gifs. Anything that looks like a banner ad will be ignored by the majority of visitors.

6. Non-standard ad formats

There are certain expectations among consumers with regards to formats and best practice. Anything sketchy or super-intrusive will set off alarm bells.

This example is from the Independent earlier this year. The ad actually obscures the content, and couldn't be closed or rolled back. 

7. Dull fonts

Times New Roman and Comic Sans are usually signs that you’re not trying hard enough. Is not trying hard enough one of your business traits?

8. Unreadable fonts

Unimaginative fonts suck, but at least you can read them. There are far worse font choices...

9. Sketchy content

A headline / page title is a promise of sorts. Visitors don’t want to be duped, or led down the garden path only to find that fairies don’t exist. I normally file paginated posts under this category and immediately hit the back button. If I was a total scumbag I would have split this post into 44 pages.

10. 'Click here' to find out more

I think prominent CTAs are essential, but the ‘click here’ instruction is a bit demanding, and isn’t a very creative call to action. Optimising your button labels can reap dividends. Test, test, test!

11. Social media buttons that block your screen

Social buttons have polluted the web to some degree, and it can be a design challenge to incorporate them in a smart way. I’m not absolutely sold on the need to include them... if your content is great then people will find a way to share it.

But if you do, don’t prioritise them over your content, and make sure they look ok across different browsers and devices.

12. Too many social buttons

If you want to include social buttons then you should probably choose up to half a dozen key social sharing buttons, covering the main platforms that your audience use. Any more than that and it starts to get very messy, making your designer’s life that little bit more difficult. It looks rather spammy to have dozens of tiny social icons on a page.

13. ‘Log in via Facebook’

I can’t tell you the number of times I have checked out a website only to immediately leave after being prompted for a mandatory Facebook log-in. Social log-ins can work well, but force people to use Facebook and you’re doing it wrong. 

14. All-caps paragraphs

NOT SURE THIS IS A GOOD IDEA AS IT IS A BIT SHOUTY AND WORSENS READABILITY.

15. No more than one exclamation in a sentence - and no more than three through the page

I use exclamations in blog posts from time to time, but I don’t think they right for marketing copy. 

16. Grammar

Typos and obvious grammatical errors are entirely avoidable, as I'm sure a reader will point out in the comments area below when they spot the errors on this page...

17. Get-rich-quick copy

"Talk to me and I'll tell you more!"

Nope. 

18. Vague stats

Unattributed ‘facts’ and figures make visitors wonder about their veracity. They may do you more harm than good. Avoid.

19. No call to action

What do you want visitors to do? How can you help them do it more easily? It should be so very obvious. 

20. Random / lame stock images

"In many cases, stock photos are a horrible choice."

I couldn’t agree more.

21. Random quotes from fake people

A good testimonial contains three things: specific detail, a face / name you will respect or are already familiar with, and a positive endorsement of some kind. Unfortunately, many testimonials are entirely fabricated. 

22. Hidden value proposition / message

If after 10 seconds your visitor thinks ‘so, what do you actually do?’ then you need to think again at how to communicate your core message/s.

23. Animation

I actually quite like a bit of animation, but only if it enhances the user experience (and sometimes it really does). Not everybody would agree: "If you have snow falling, flowers or anything moving in the background of your page, you have failed."

24. Bad navigation

One of the very deadliest UX sins of all, and terrible for engendering trust. 

25. Gaudy colours

I like a bit of hypercolour in web design, but not when the colours clash.

26. 'Are you sure you want to leave?' pop-ups

Yes, I am, now please give me back control of my goddamned browsing experience.

27. Too much hype

"Nothing makes me leave a site faster than when one makes every tiny detail seem too good to be true and AMAZING!"

28. Walls of text

Formatting your content properly is an absolute must. Mix it up. Check out my 23 rules for writing on the web, which includes some guidance on formatting.

29. No 'About Us' page

Is there ever a reason for not having one? No, I didn't think so...

30. Too many benefits, not enough detail

"A lot of sites spout benefits without explaining how they actually deliver on those. And I don't mean features, I mean explaining how it works."

31. No trustmarks

The jury is slightly out with regards to the effectiveness of trustmarks, but some consumers expect to see them, and may not purchase from you if these are missing.

32. No photos of your actual business

Why wouldn’t you do this? I guess one reason might be if you don't have an actual business...

33. Hidden phone number / address details

Your prospective customers will want to know that you’re easy to reach, in the event of a problem. Hiding your phone number is a terrible idea, especially if you’re running a B2C ecommerce website.

34. No social proof / testimonials

Make the most of your audience, customer base and advocates by encouraging them to say nice things, which you can share on key pages.

35. No user / customer reviews or ratings

Reviews and ratings aren’t for every business, but consider Amazon’s success in this area, and the fact that good words and high scores can really shift products. Yet more social proof, for those who need it in order to buy.

36. Crappy auto sound

There is rarely an excuse for it. I can count on one hand the amount of implementations of autoplay that have improved the user experience. Think twice before making people listen, or watch.

37. Hidden pricing

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve left a website - or a shop - because I can’t find out how much something costs. 

38. Awful mobile user experience

We are finally launching a responsive site this summer, to cater for the one in eight visitors who use a mobile device to access Econsultancy. For companies with a much higher proportion of mobile traffic this should be an absolute priorirty. 

39. Weird / spammy domain names

You know them when you see them... too many hyphens, too many salesy words, unusual TLDs, that kind of thing.

40. Obscure payment options

A massive turn off, for those of us on the verge of buying something.

41. Obfuscated shipping information

Why hide shipping information in the middle of the checkout process? If you do this, then you’re making visitors work too hard, and your abandonment rates might look terrible… even though your checkout might be brilliantly designed.

It isn’t a design problem: it’s an information placement problem that needs to be fixed, before you spend a fortune on redesigning your perfectly acceptable checkout.

42. Lack of replies on social channels

When a brand doesn’t reply to people on the likes of Twitter and Facebook it suggests that they don’t care. And that’s a terrible sign to a prospective customer.

43. No team / people details

I don't need to see massively detailed bios, but I do need to know who is behind the business. 

44. No secure (SSL) certificates

These are important indicators of trust, especially for web forms and ecommerce sites.

My thanks to the great and good of reddit who contributed a lot of the above ideas. What do you think? What else should website owners avoid to convey trust? What shouldn't they do? Leave a comment below...

Our Festival of Marketing event in November is a two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more. 

Chris Lake

Published 26 May, 2014 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (13)

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Duncan Heath

Duncan Heath, Head of Conversion Services at Fresh Egg

Nice post, and some very good points.

Can I add one to the list though - not adding numbers to a list post, making it infinitely harder to reference individual points in emails, tweets, blog posts etc?

about 2 years ago

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David Fowler

Great article, can I propose a reason 45? How about a Privacy Policy?
Cheers

about 2 years ago

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Gemma Kane

Vague stats
Unattributed ‘facts’ and figures make visitors wonder about their veracity. They may do you more harm than good. Avoid.

Ironically this piece provides no stats at all.

about 2 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Duncan - You're totally right... an oversight on my part. Now numbered as suggested. Thanks!

@David - Absolutely. So obvious it makes me wonder how I missed it, and what else I've left out...

about 2 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Gemma - Well, that's because it isn't a stats-based post, but is based on a bunch of comments from people on reddit, as well as my own observations / thoughts / anecdotal evidence.

about 2 years ago

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Maria Luisa

These are pretty good! Yes to the "snow falling" in the background and the bad navigation, a sure turn-off!

about 2 years ago

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Caitlyn Bell

Great post........this was so in-depth!! These awesome tips would really helpful for every web designer. Thanks for taking the time to write it and post it!

about 2 years ago

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Rob Jones

How about when the contact email address(es) are different to the websites domain name? Either simply a different suffix (just... why?) or worse - gmail/hotmail/yahoo etc!

about 2 years ago

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zain ali, Marketing Executive at LiveAdmins JLT

Well said. It`s true and you cannot deny. I found many problems that you discussed in common routine website visit. Owners are not understanding the importance of this feature that`s which makes your business successful. You have to provide best services otherwise it can be harmful for your business growth. Nice sharing.

about 2 years ago

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jack

Yes its true trust must be there. But its not that those sites which don't offer everything are not trustable. Some do due to marketing techniques due to lot of competition in the market.

However Local address, phone numbers, about us is the most important part for any website. Becz clients may have queries and also questions about the website. Even FAQ, Policy also do help clients to trust more about websites.

Social media is good but if a site is new to the industry then it will take more time to get involved. But i agree the basics must be there to make site more trustable for the users!

about 2 years ago

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john wood, Consultant at eLignum

Along with Privacy Policy I would add (a) Cookie Policy (everyone has Google Analytics on their site!) and, more importantly for limited companies and LLPs, (b) their details.

http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/promotional/busStationery.shtml, says:

"On all of its business letters, order forms or any of the company’s web sites, the company must show in legible lettering –

its place of registration
registered number
its registered office address"

about 2 years ago

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Gareth Marshall

Top article, this.

I'd also add to this list websites that have content that is littered with crap buzzwords, jargon and waffle.

What does "world-class" actually mean? Like has your product or service actually been measured by a global governing body? Ditto phrases like 'state of the art' and 'best in breed.'

Then there are the kind of words like 'leverage' and (the worst of them all) 'synergy' that make me want to close my laptop and wrap it around a wall.

What wrangles the most is that you see a lot of this kind of guff on corporate websites and people kind of think "well you'd expect it on a site like this." Why?! Because you're interacting with a blue chip B2B organisation, for example, why would you want to read stuff like this? Are you suddenly a robot that doesn't deserve to have short, concise, conversational content?

I wrote about this topic here: http://rantingsofananorak.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/why-does-corporate-have-to-mean-bad-content/

about 2 years ago

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keith bresee, founder at thetraffic.ninja

Hey Chris!

This is very helpful! Thanks!

Keith

over 1 year ago

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