5 Factors Making Your Site More (or Less) Credible


Who are you more likely to trust to tell you the truth: a preschool teacher or a used car salesman? A firefighter or a magician? A child or a politician?

Some people are simply deemed more or less credible based on surface-level factors. The same is true for websites. [Tweet It!]

You have to know what makes your site the child or the politician.

1. Memorability

According to Paul King, a computational neuroscientist, there are five heuristics that help your brain decide what to remember. Due to evolution, the overarching principle is this: What do I need to remember long-term to keep myself alive?

  1. Repetition: The brain responds to things that happen repeatedly because they are either important (and need to be remembered) or habitual (and need to be remembered and automated).
  2. Primacy and RecencyThings that happen first are typically the most important because they influence what comes next. That’s primacy (i.e. if this, then that). Things that just happened are relevant because they are the most accurate representation of “now”. That’s recency. All that stuff in the middle? That’s likely to be forgotten.
  3. Surprise: Anything unexpected stands out, which means information retention is increased.
  4. Emotional ImpactIf a situation or point in time is correlated with a strong emotion, it’s more likely to be remembered… in detail.
  5. Positive or Negative Outcome: The brain is very focused on the outcome. For example, if you smoke a cigarette, the reward circuits in your brain are influenced. So, everything that led up to you getting the cigarette is recognized and remembered by the brain (for next time).

The more memorable your site, the more credible it is. Why? Because if it’s memorable, the science of familiarity will kick in.

There are so many ways to make your site memorable that they’d be impossible to list, but here are some ideas…

  • Find a way to change existing habits to incorporate your product or brand (repetition).
  • Make sure your value proposition is well-articulated and above the fold (primacy).
  • Repeat the call to action throughout and at the bottom of the page (recency).
  • Offer a life-time satisfaction guarantee (surprise).
  • Reference something from the 90s in your site copy to put Gen Y buyers in a happy, nostalgic mood (emotional impact).
  • Offer a 25% discount if visitors spend $50 or more (positive outcome).

Case Study: Logo Placement

Nielsen Norman Group wanted to know whether the alignment of a site’s logo impacted brand recall. To find out, they compared user reactions to four different sites.

It was randomly decided whether each user would see the control or the variation, where the logo and navigation were located on the opposite side, of each of the four sites. After reviewing the site for a minute, users rated the site on various qualities (e.g. welcoming).

They were shown five different sites (in a random order) and asked demographic information, solely to reduce the serial position effect.

Next, they were given ten options and asked to identify the ones they’d seen and rated previously.

Here’s an example of a control and variation…

For each of the four different sites, Nielsen Norman Group found that (significantly) more users remembered the brand name when it was displayed on the left side.

In fact, the brand recall lift was 89% when the logo was on the left vs. the right.

Here’s a closer look at the data…

But why? This likely has something to do with the way most brains process information. If you speak a left-to-right language, like English, research suggests you will instinctively look to (and focus on) the left side of the screen first. Thus, you are more likely to remember what’s on the left-side of a site.

2. Quality of Design

There are five things you’ll want to get right from the very beginning:

  1. Organization / UX: Do you have the content your potential buyers are looking for before making a purchase? Is it labeled using their words? Is it easy to find? Is it grouped together in a meaningful way? Do all of the calls to action flow together properly or are they being sent in a circle?
  2. Visual Appeal: Different demographics have different opinions on what is visually appealing. Do you know who you’re designing for and what the current norm is?
  3. Visual Hierarchy: Are you aware of the visual hierarchy you’re creating? What design elements are drawing the most attention? The least? Is that conducive to conversions?
  4. Color: No one color converts the best, but colors can ignite feelings depending on the culture and societal perceptions. What do the colors of your site represent for your demographic? Are they on brand?
  5. General Mistakes: Do you have broken links? Use a tool like Broken Link Checker. Do you have typos? Have 2-3 people from your team review your copy and then pay an editor to do the same. Are images loading correctly? Are they low quality? Does your site load slowly?

The main idea is to take the necessary steps to ensure that your site comes off as professional and, well, legit. If there is any sign that you’re not the type of company that pays attention to detail, it will hurt you. If there’s any sign that you’re not professional and “put together”, it will hurt you.

Worst Example: Kreditech

Quality of design is all about perceived value. Does your design and UX communicate the value of your product or service? Or does it sell you short?

Take a look at this site, which I randomly selected from AngelList


This is what you see before you are able to even access the site. It’s unusual, it’s annoying and it causes anxiety (hello, big yellow caution symbol). At first, I assumed it was my browser detecting an unsafe site. Imagine how that might affect credibility.

Worse, Kreditech is in the financial / banking industry. Yikes.

Bad Example: Green Smoothie Co.

Ok, so that last one is pretty uncommon. Let’s take a look at something more realistic.

Here’s the product catalog page of Green Smoothie Co…

Green Smoothie Co.

You’ll notice the poor imagery (repeated, missing, zoomed out, different sizes), “Sold Out” warnings on every item and clever names. This site doesn’t excel in terms of organization or visual design.

Good Example: Innocent Drinks

With Green Smoothie Co. in mind, take a look at Innocent Drinks’ product catalog page…

Innocent Drinks

All of the images are uniform and large enough that you can actually see the smoothie. Plus, the names of the smoothies are more straightforward. Would you rather buy “strawberries & bananas” or “Triple C Super Oats” or “A Very Healthy Christmas”? Which would you pay more for?

3. Honesty

It seems like it would go without saying that to be credible, you should simply be honest. But in an effort to convert, convert, convert some dark patterns have begun to sprout up. Sites are creating false scarcity, conveniently leaving out shipping fees, forgetting to mention bad return policies, etc.

Surprise! People appreciate it when you’re just plain honest and set expectations from the beginning. (Surprises aren’t always a positive thing.)

Here are some suggestions for you…

  • Make sure your contact information is easy to find and detailed.
  • Don’t lie about the number of products in stock.
  • Don’t use meaningless countdowns.
  • State shipping fees before you ask for a credit card.
  • Whether you have a return policy or not, make it known before you ask for a credit card.
  • Don’t extend a sale when you said it was ending yesterday.
  • Estimate delivery dates in confirmation emails.
  • Don’t say onboarding will take 5 minutes when it takes 20.
  • Avoid asking for something (e.g. an email) before providing any value (e.g. in an entrance popup).

The list goes on.

Transparency is a powerful tool. When you’re upfront about what to expect, there are no surprises. When there are no surprises, customers feel more confident in your credibility. Thus, there are fewer people dropping off in the middle of your funnel.

Bad Example: Booking.com

Here, I’m trying to book a hotel room in Toronto for three nights…


There are plenty of deals available (e.g. “Save 24%”) on what appears to be a hot spot (“3 people are looking at this moment”). On the previous page, this hotel had a “Just Booked” icon beside it as well.

Where the lack of honesty comes through is in the “We have 5 rooms left!” notification. It’s difficult to believe when (a) all of the various room types say “We have 5 rooms left!” and (b) many other Toronto hotels on the previous screen said the same thing.

Why do no hotels only have 3 rooms left, Booking.com?

When I tried to book 6 rooms from that hotel, I advanced to the payment screen without issue.

Good Example: BustedTees

If you’ve read my articles before, you know that BustedTees is one of my favorite examples of ecommerce marketing done right. Here’s the product page for a new t-shirt that’s available for pre-sale…


I’ll draw your attention to the disclosure: “Please Read: Pre-sale, shirt will ship in up to 7 business days along with the rest of the items in your cart.” They’re selling the shirt before it’s been mass printed and they’re very upfront about it, setting expectations early.

The countdown at the top indicates exactly how much time you have left to score the pre-sale price of $12.

Plus, they don’t wait until the checkout page to tell you that the pre-sale price cannot be combined with a coupon (e.g. the 50% off coupon promoted heavily on their site).

They’re completely transparent, which builds credibility and helps avoid disappointment.

4. Thoroughness

There’s an old debate in the optimization industry: How much content is too much copy? So, is it possible that thoroughness could add credibility, but decrease conversions because there’s too much copy on the page? Not likely.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say there are three types of people who visit your site:

  1. Informed Visitors: They’ve heard of you before, they know what you do, they know you’re a perfect fit.
  2. Kinda Informed Visitors: They’ve heard of you before and they don’t know exactly what you do, but they think you might be a good fit.
  3. Uninformed Visitors: They’ve never heard of you before, they don’t know exactly what you do and they don’t know whether you offer everything they need.

Informed visitors will typically glance above the fold and convert as soon as they spot the button.

Kinda informed visitors will read above the fold, scan below the fold for bits that are interesting to them, and then decide whether or not to convert.

Uninformed visitors will read most of the content you product, leave to check out competitive sites and read reviews, and then decide whether or not to convert.

Having additional copy does not hurt the informed and kinda informed visitors, does it? No, it only helps the uninformed visitors.

Size Doesn’t Matter (That Much)

However, and this is a big however, the definition of thoroughness is what really matters here. Many of you are likely thinking of this definition: “complete with regard to every detail; not superficial or partial”. Another definition of the word is: “taking pains to do something carefully and completely”.

Choose to go by the latter. You don’t need to include every detail. You need to carefully examine all of the details, pull out the core details, tuck the remaining details away on other pages (in case anyone is interested), and cover those core details completely.

Thoroughness has little to do with length, in practice. It has to do with succinctly giving the visitor a complete idea of what your product is, what problem it solves, how exactly it solves it and how much better life will be without that problem looming.

How to Be Thorough

Here are some guidelines to use to evaluate your site and get you started…

  • Demonstrate that you are an expert / authority in the industry. Flex your know-how muscles with guides, tips, industry lingo (that your customers use, too), etc.
  • Don’t waste your images. Use photos (better yet, gifs) that show how your product actually works. What’s the UI like? Using vague icons and stock photos is squandering valuable real estate.
  • Determine the most popular visitor need, but don’t isolate others. If 80% of your users are personal plan users, don’t show images of large corporations. At the same time, you must be careful not to isolate that 20%. Make the “For Businesses” option clear, like Hootsuite.

Bad Example: PARKEAGLE

Here’s another random find from AngelList…


Below the image, there is a footer that displays only contact information. The two links at the top are designed to scroll you down to a section of the page. That is, if the page were long enough to require it. As is, they are essentially useless.

Eight lines of text. That’s all you get for this product. See if you can figure out what they do from this:

No more frustration and no more tedious driving around. PARKEAGLE finds all nearby available parking spaces and shows them on the map. You arrive on time and regain valuable minutes. And it’s better for the environment because you save fuel and reduce your emissions!

This site doesn’t even fully explain the product and its value, let alone demonstrate authority and expertise.

Good Example: Unbounce

Unbounce takes the opposite approach, choosing to provide a comprehensive value proposition as well as detailed information about core features. Here’s some of the content just below the fold…

Unbounce (Top)

After reviewing some sample landing page templates, you wind up here…

Unbounce (Middle)

And, finally, you draw close to the end of the page…

Unbounce (Bottom)

Now, this isn’t a matter of he-who-has-the-most-copy-wins. No, it’s a matter of being as thorough as possible.

Remember, some people might convert based on your above the fold content alone, but some may need comprehensive content to either (a) help inform their decision or (b) help prove that you’re an authority, that you are an expert on the subject.

Unbounce identifies the core features for the home page, but they have an entire page dedicated to the less fundamental features as well. You get a full picture of the product, its features and the benefits of it before being asked to sign up.

5. Third-Party Presence

If you read CXL regularly, you already know that social proof still matters. What you might be less aware of is that social proof exists whether you provide it on your site or not. Social proof isn’t exclusively testimonials beside LinkedIn head shots.

Be aware that your visitors are leaving your site to seek third-party advice. That could mean…

  • Reading through forums.
  • Googling your brand name.
  • Looking for reviews on Amazon, Yelp, Google, etc.
  • Searching for complaints on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

In 2012, Reevoo found that visitors who go out of their way to read bad reviews were actually more likely to convert. Why? They make you more credible. Think about it.

Visitors see the social proof on your site, but of course you’re going to highlight the best. What’s the worst case scenario? That’s what they want to know. What risk are they taking to get the reward?

According to the same research, 68% of buyers trust online reviews more when there are both good and bad comments. 30% suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see any negative reports.

The point? Your visitors are turning to unbiased sources before making a decision.

Why not embrace it to confirm that you are being 100% transparent and have nothing to hide? Link to those reviews and ratings, display them on your site, don’t show reviews that only touch on positives, etc.

Also, be sure to keep an eye on review sites. Can you respond to feedback to turn disgruntled customers into happy customers? What can you fix and optimize based on the reviews? How do reviewers describe the benefits of your product? How can you incorporate that language into your site copy?

Bad Example: Apathy and Paying Rent

It hurts me to use this as a bad example because it’s one of my favorite fiction books, but here’s the site for a novel called Apathy and Paying Rent

Apathy and Paying Rent (Site)

Note that there are no reviews in sight. No Amazon reviews, no peer reviews, no social media shout outs… nothing. All you really get is a link to purchase the book from LINE & SINKER. Well, here’s where that link takes you…

Apathy and Paying Rent (Broken Link)

Now, you’re probably a little apathetic, but you head to Amazon. There has to be some reviews and ratings there, right?


Apathy and Paying Rent (Amazon)

“Be the first to review this item”. Not so much as a book synopsis.

Also, on the site, you could purchase the book for $9.95. Now some guy wants $537.35 for a used copy…? What gives?

Even if you don’t highlight third parties on your site, your potential customers will seek them out. So, where you can, take control of those presences. Encourage reviews, encourage ratings, encourage feedback.

No feedback / reviews might as well be bad feedback / reviews.

Good Example: Sarah Colonna

Now, compare Apathy and Paying Rent to Sarah Colonna’s Has Anyone Seen My Pants?…

Sarah Colonna (Site)

Social media icons, “New York Times bestselling author of Life as I Blow It“, “Buy at Amazon”, store logos… and that’s just above the fold.

For further comparison, here’s the book’s Amazon page…

Sarah Colonna (Amazon)

83% 5 star reviews with long, detailed reviews from buyers. Above, you’ll also see editorial reviews from other authors like Kelly Oxford and Jen Kirkman as well as one from Publishers Weekly.

Anyone who is unsure about Sarah Colonna’s writing talents would be put at ease after reviewing these two sites.


The Internet is full of used car salesmen promoting their fake scarcity and their 7th “summer savings” eCommerce sale. They’re sweating credibility, which hurts conversions long-term.

Instead, follow these guidelines to stay credible…

  1. Use repetition, primacy and recency, surprise, emotional impact, and outcomes to make your site memorable. Familiarity will kick in, making you more credible.
  2. Evaluate your site based on organization / UX, visual appeal, visual hierarchy, color and general mistakes. This will help ensure your site appears professional and legitimate.
  3. Be honest and upfront about costs, stock, delivery, onboarding, etc. Transparency and expectation setting build credibility.
  4. Concisely explain what your product is, what problem it solves, how it solves that problem and what life will be like without that problem looming. Be thorough about your value.
  5. Embrace the fact that your visitors are turning to third-party sources for unbiased reviews and ratings. Convert unhappy customers and even get some copy ideas.

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Join the conversation Add your comment

    1. Avatar photo

      Thanks Rob! Nice to hear from you.

  1. Im very glad to see this article. Very useful advice for my newbie webstore ^^ Thank’s Shanelle

    1. Avatar photo

      Thanks a lot, Winda! Appreciated.

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5 Factors Making Your Site More (or Less) Credible