Website Credibility Checklist: 70+ Checks and a Handy Spreadsheet
Last updated: March 26, 2021
In 2001, Standford University conducted an extensive study on website credibility. As a result, they came up with 10 website credibility guidelines that became an industry standard.
Good news: those credibility guidelines hold to this day.
Not so good news: the Standford researches didn’t really say how you’re supposed to implement them.
This article gives you step-by-step instructions to implement each of the 10 original website credibility guidelines and adds several modern credibility checkpoints that became necessary as the internet evolved.
- Don’t overdo it with promotional content and ads
- Make it easy to contact you
- Make sure important information is up-to-date
- Show that the people behind your website are honest and trustworthy
- Show that there’s a real organization or person behind your website
- Avoid errors of all types
- Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information
- Make the expertise you and your organization have clear
- Make your site useful and easy to use
- Design your site so it looks appropriately professional for your purpose
- Make your website secure & tell your visitors about it
- Bonus: Get this checklist as a handy interactive spreadsheet
How can you improve your website credibility faster?
If you’d like to use this checklist to improve your website credibility, you’ll notice that not every task will take you the same amount of time.
Adding your contact info to your website will take you just a minute. But designing your site to look professional? That can take a while.
I don’t know about you, but I always start working on my todos from easiest and fastest to more complicated. It gives me a sense of things moving forward without getting overwhelmed.
So, let’s address your website credibility todos in the same way: from the easiest to the hardest tasks.
Website credibility checkpoint #1:
Don’t overdo it with promotional content and ads
- Remove all your popups, slide-ups and ads.
Done. If that’s not the easiest thing to do I don’t know what is.
But wait, won’t it hurt your business?
Using or not using promotional content will always be a matter of whether the negative impact it has on trust (and sales) is larger than its positive impact on your email list growth (and sales).
Fact #1: Obstructive content makes your website less trustworthy
On one hand, this survey of 1000 website visitors from the US showed that 97% of all respondents felt negatively towards pop-ups.
While using intrusive pop-ups on your website might increase sign-ups, this study suggests that it might also significantly reduce those visitors’ desire to trust or buy your business.
~ Consumer Survey: How do Website Visitors feel about Pop-ups?
Another study of 450+ respondents has shown that website visitors find obstructive content like popups, banner ads or any other elements that cover what they’re trying to see highly annoying.
And in this survey, the overwhelming majority of website visitors said that they hated popups. 75% said there’s nothing those popup can offer to make them love them (not even a discount).
Fact #2: Adds and opt-in popups can help you grow your business
On another hand, affiliated ads help you grow your bank account. And opt-in popups help you grow your list (they still convert at 3% on average).
Not sure if the pros of using ads and promo content outweigh the cons? Use this formula to determine if using an opt-in interstitial is worth it for your business:
You may also want to test placing opt-ins and ads within the text.
In-text promo content interferes with the reading experience much less than interstitials that pop up in the face of your website visitors unexpectedly.
Here’s an example 👇
Want to use this checklist to improve your website? Download it as a handy spreadsheet.
Website credibility checkpoint #2:
Make it easy to contact you
- Create a proper Contact page (not a popup or a Calendly page where the only thing people can do is schedule appointments)
- Link to your Contact page from your main website navigation
- Link to your Contact page from the footer
- If you’re using a contact form on your Contact page, make sure to use as few input fields as possible
- Make sure your contact form works
- Display a confirmation message after your prospects pressed “send” to reassure them that the message was sent
- If you think it makes sense for your business model, list your email address and a phone number as well, both on the Contact page and in the footer
Website credibility checkpoint #3:
Keep important information up-to-date
In the Stanford research, this credibility guideline is called “Update your website content often”.
But how often is “often”? Once a month, a quarter, a year? What if you have nothing new to say?
When should you update your website?
- It’s a full moon tonight
- You haven’t updated it in X months
- You heard that Google likes fresh content
- Your competitor has got a shiny new website
- You have something new to say
- You have a new offer
- Parts of your website don’t reflect your business properly anymore
- You want to fix some issues
- Your competitor has got a shiny new website AND now you’re losing the comparison
- You as the owner absolutely hate your website
Can your website visitors tell if your content is old?
Your website visitors can’t always tell when you updated your website the last time. But they will consider your website less trustworthy if they see something they recognize as outdated.
3 ways to make the info on your website appear up-to-date (without an update):
- Don’t display any “published on” or “last updated on” dates on your sales pages. If your offer is still valid as it is, why should you update your sales page? But your prospects don’t need to know that the last time that page was updated was three years ago.
- If your recent blog post is from more than two years ago, remove all the dates on the blog posts.
- Remove any information that’s clearly outdated. For example, links to social medial platforms that don’t exist anymore (hello, Google+!).
Website credibility checkpoint #4 & #5:
Show that there’s a real organization or people behind your website
that those people are trustworthy
These two credibility guidelines are closely related. So, let’s implement them both at once.
If you’re an organization:
- State your postal address on your Contact page and in the footer.
- Have an About page where, among other things, you feature several important members of your team, along with their headshots taken by a professional photographer.
- Put everything you want your prospects to know about your company on one About page. Your prospects don’t care that much about you to read a whole separate page about your mission, and another one about your philosophy after that.
- Nice to have: Use videos with real people on your website (for example, you presenting your offer or video testimonials from your customers) and place them on your homepage, About and sales page.
If you’re a personal brand or a freelancer:
- On your homepage, make sure to state your first and last name.
- Feature your photograph on your homepage. If you want more client inquiries, it’s really not the time to be camera-shy.
- Do not call yourself “we” if it’s just you (even if your designer/copywriter/business coach/uncle told you it will make you look bigger)
- Create an About page where you present yourself as a likable and professional human being your prospects can trust.
- When describing yourself, tone down the chummy. It may compromise the trust in your expertise.
A good idea for every business:
- On your Contact page, add a photo of yourself / your CEO next to a contact form to signal to your prospects once again that there’s a real, likable and trustworthy person on the other end.
Contact page: Real-life example
Why does this work?
- A friendly face and a conversational tone puts the reader at ease.
- Additional information reassures the reader that this is the right way to ask for a free estimate.
- A visually prominent phone number is easy to spot.
- Office hours clarify the question whether it’s appropriate to call at a particular time.
- The sentence before the contact form reassures the reader that they will get a quick response.
Put these tips to action now. Download this checklist as a handy spreadsheet.
Website credibility checkpoint #6:
Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small
Mistakes happen. We are all human, and you aren’t writing an essay for your English teacher to grade.
But first impression matters, and errors (even as small as typos) negatively affect it.
[Typos and other grammatical errors] are either immediately recognized and turn off readers, or they are subtle and slowly damage credibility throughout copy.
Source: Conversion XL
This UK study, for example, showed that poor grammar and spelling would stop 59% of website visitors from buying.
How to eliminate errors on your website
- Check how your web pages look on three types of devices (desktop, tablet and phone) and look for the following mistakes:
- Text is too small to read
- Images aren’t loading or are loading too slowly
- Images appear too small or too large
- Call-to-action buttons break into several lines and look ugly
- Layout looks too congested (for example, three columns of text on mobile instead of one)
- Test all your submission forms
- Record and watch session replays to spot the errors during the most frequent user interactions on other devices (I use HotJar)
- Hire a proofreader. Or at least check for the most embarrassing spelling mistakes.
Website credibility checkpoint #7:
Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site
- If you’re using words like “best-in-class” or “award-winning”, make sure to provide an unbiased source that backs up your claims (a “best-in-class” award, for example)
- On your product pages, display high-quality product images
- In your articles, reference external respectable sources to back up your claims
- On your sales pages, show customer reviews or testimonials to – you guessed it – back up your claims
- Bonus trust points if you can show some case studies
Caution: Not every positive testimonial improves credibility
“Loved it!” is one of the worst testimonials you can use on your website. It’s vague and unspecific. Which make it less believable and completely useless for your potential customers. Here’s what makes a client testimonial great.
A credible client testimonial:
- Is trustworthy:
- Uses full names and, if possible, headshots of the clients
- Is specific enough to sound authentic
- Backs up your claims:
- Reinforces your unique value proposition, and/or
- Uses data behind the value service / product delivers, and/or
- Addresses initial fears of your customers and explains how they were eliminated
An example of a credible testimonial
Website credibility checkpoint #8:
Make your expertise clear
You know you’re great at what you do. But do your prospects recognize that?
Not if you’re using vague language filled with generic phrases, jargon and superlatives.
How to make your prospects trust your expertise
- Make sure the text in your homepage banner makes it crystal clear what you offer and why people should care.
- Always choose clarity over cleverness. Leave no sentence open to interpretation.
- Choose plain English over jargon. Use words and phrases your prospects use when talking about their problems and results they want to achieve.
- If using terms specific to your niche and industry, make sure your prospects understand these terms, too.
- Be as specific as possible, because specificity increases trust. Plus, if your prospects can’t imagine it, they won’t by it.
Vague vs specific copy
- I’ll sprinkle in the content magic that brings your ideas to life
- Social media mastery
- Take your business to the next level
- We create engaging digital experiences
- I’ll craft compelling, on-brand content that gets you likes, shares and top positions in search
- Social media marketing strategy
- Learn how to move away from stressful 1:1 lessons to create a more sustainable business model that brings you joy
- We design stunning, high-performing websites that sell your products like hot cakes
Not sure if your copy is clear? Here are 6 quick ways to spot and fix vague copy.
Pay special attention to your navigation
☐ Make sure your website navigation is easy to use and understand
- Avoid drop-down menus
- Whenever you can, use typical navigation labels
- Make the rest of the labels succinct but clear
Vague vs clear navigation labels
- Get to Know Me
- How can I help?
- Fees & Charges
- Read My Columns
- Support yourself
- Get in Touch
- Books / Courses
- If possible, make sure that navigation reflects your expertise. Having a label “Services” indicates that you offer services. “Courses” that you offer course. “Shop” that you sell stuff, etc.
Website credibility checkpoint #9:
Make your site useful and easy to use
How to make your website useful
To make your site useful, you need to make sure the prospects see the information on your website as clear, relevant and valuable.
Here’s how to achieve that.
- Identify your target audience and get clarity about:
- who they are
- what problems they’re trying to solve
- what results they’re hoping to see from your solution
- how much they know about their problems and the solution you offer
- Make sure your web copy is clear (we covered that under the checkpoint #8)
How to make your website easy to use
Making your website easy to use is about prototypicality, clarity and smooth user experience.
☐ Make your website look prototypical for your niche
Your website won’t be the first ever website in your niche your prospects see in their lives.
For example, when they think about a marketing agency, they already have a mental image of what a marketing agency’s website should look like.
This is called prototypicality – a mental image your brain creates to categorize stuff. If something is prototypical (i.e. matches the mental image people have for this category), it feels familiar and, thus, more trustworthy.
To make your design look prototypical:
- Check the websites of your competitors and note:
- How many colors / what color palettes they use
- How many / what labels they have in the navigation
- How the homepage is structured
- What kind of photos they use (explainer GIFs, screenshots, photos of people), etc.
- Make sure your website provides your prospects with the kind of information and layout they expect from the websites in your niche.
☐ Stick to the usability best practices:
- Make things that look the same function the same (for example, all phrases that are blue and underlined should function as links and never plain text)
- Make things that are the same look the same (i.e use the same styling for the section headings of the same level, same font size for the body text, same color for the call-to-action buttons, etc. everywhere on your website)
- Use enough white space to avoid clutter
- Use visual hierarchy to help your visitors scan and understand your pages faster
- Make sure your prospects know what to expect from every link, button or interactive element
- Make sure your navigation is clear and easy to use (see checkpoint #8)
Website credibility checkpoint #10:
Design your site so it looks professional or appropriate for your purpose
This one is probably the hardest.
What does it even mean, a website “professional or appropriate for your purpose”? Are there any objective criteria?
Your goal here is for your target audience to find that your website design matches its message and looks visually appealing.
You target audience, mind you. Not your colleagues, your best friend or your grandma who may neither understand nor want copywriting services, financial planning software or wooden key chains.
And making your target audience find your design appropriate is a matter of two things:
- prototypicality (expectations your target audience have on websites in your niche, which we covered under the credibility checkpoint #9)
- and visual appeal of your web design, which we’ll cover now 👇
How to make your design look visually appealing
“Visually appealing” design doesn’t necessarily mean “breathtaking” or “stunning”. Actually, you’ve done a great job if your prospects don’t notice your design at all.
“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.”
~ Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
In a nutshell, your visitors will find your design visually appealing if it:
- is balanced
- is free of clutter
- uses the elements in a consistent way
- doesn’t get in their way while they’re trying to read or accomplish a task
Specifically, to make your design visually appealing:
- Keep your design balanced
- Use grids – imaginary horizontal and vertical rulers – to compartmentalize your design
- Use not more than three base colors (but feel free to use several of their tints)
- Keep the graphics in the same style
- Improve your typography:
- Use enough white space
- Make sure your design has:
- unity and connects all individual elements into one big picture and unified message
- consistency and uses the same colors, fonts and icons for the same kinds of elements
For more info see 7 key principles of designing visually appealing websites
And here’s a quick visual guide to help you spot web design mistakes fast:
Website credibility checkpoint #11:
Make your website secure & tell your visitors about it
☐ Use HTTPS
Starting 2018, if your website is non-HTTPS, your website visitors who use Chrome browser will see a big flashy warning:
In October 2019, Mozilla Firefox browser followed in Chrome’s footsteps. Meaning, if your website still doesn’t use HTTPS, roughly 67% of your website visitors see a warning about your website being not secure.
How to switch your website to HTTPS
Contact your website host and ask them about it. They’ll either to do it for you or will send you the instructions so that you can do it yourself. Unless you have a gigantic enterprise site, it’s a matter of 10 minutes.
☐ Display trust badges
Especially if you ask for sensitive data on your website, you need to put in extra effort to reassure your visitors their data is being handled in a secure way.
4 types of trust badges to display on your website
- Safe checkout badge (McAffee secure, Norton secured, etc.)
- Accepted payment badges (MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, etc.)
- Third party endorsements (BBB Accredited Business, Google Trusted Store, etc.)
- Money-back guarantee badge (if applies)
Not sure what badges are the most trustworthy? This study will tell.
And that’s how you make your website credible
Obviously, it’s not something you can do in an afternoon. Download this handy spreadsheet that lists all the credibility checkpoints as tasks in one place, lets you filter things and helps you track progress.
Want to use this checklist to improve your website? Download it as a handy spreadsheet.