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I've seen some anecdotal evidence of trust seals or security badge helping improve conversions on ecommerce sites by boosting the user's confidence in the site. Companies like Verisign, TrustGuard, and McCafee all make money (in part) by allowing sites to use their badge or seal.

Security badges aside, are there other objective qualities or elements of a website design that can help build trust with users?

I realize that having a professional and non-spammy design will help this. So will excellent and error-free copy, the products or services offered, and the way the owners of the site interact with the community. Not having everything break also helps. However, are there specific elements that you have used in the past that have helped build trust? Are you aware of any studies about user confidence and how it relates to design elements?

I'm interested in resources, philosophies, and personal anecdotes for both ecommerce and non-ecommerce sites.

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Is Capitalizing Every Word Really Necessary Especially If They're Really Short Words? –  Hello71 Nov 5 '10 at 22:59

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In general, good web design engenders trust. A highly usable, well-organized, uncluttered, easy-to-navigate, professional-looking site is a trustworthy site.

Some specific things to strive for (some of these you already mentioned):

  • Professionalism - proper grammar and spelling, good copy
  • High-quality photos and graphics (e.g., for photos, use an SLR camera, not your iPhone)
  • Clean, uncluttered page design
  • Navigation that targets actual user tasks
  • If you must ask users for personal information, explain why, provide a privacy policy that can be read by non-lawyers, and don't ask for more information than you really need
  • Provide a mechanism for users to give feedback about the site or ask questions
  • Provide a FAQ and keep it updated
  • If applicable, provide contact information
  • No popups, flashing text, or backgrounds that make the text hard to read

A reference you might find useful: http://www.humanfactors.com/downloads/nov06.asp

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I'll recommend Chapter 6 of B.J. Fogg's book "Persuasive Technology", which summarizes a lot of work on what and how interfaces can communicate credibility and trustworthiness to its users. (Amazon link: amzn.to/cmVlWR) –  lucasrizoli Nov 5 '10 at 14:01

A less comprehensive addendum to the above: user testimonials and product reviews.

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Maybe it's just my affinity for taking a different approach, but my first thoughts about this question were a bit different than the great answers you have so far, so I'll put it out there.

Online trust isn't about badges, logos or expensive design. It's about simplicity of usability, transparency of motives, and all around consistency.

Simplicity: Your visitors came to your site to accomplish something, don't bombard them with slick copy trying to prove your honesty. Help them do something great (what they came for) very easily and then reinforce your honesty and "brand" their experience as unique to your company. The old adage rings true: "Clothes don't make the man, they only amplify him, for better or worse."

Transparency: As for transparency, trust is easy. It butts up directly with the foundation of a good business. If you're goal as a chef is to cook a great meal at a great price your goal is the same as the customer. Letting them know this creates trust because your needs are aligned. If you're entire goal is to make the highest profit-margin from your sales, good luck serving a great customer experience.

Consistency: On first visit, make sure your copy says the same things all the way across the site. The quickest feeling of distrust comes from getting mixed messages. On repeat visits, make sure the experience and ability to complete the goal is as easy as the last time. Great sites use data collected from previous visits to make future experiences better and faster. Now you're building loyalty.

As an example, I used to use Pandora when I lived in the U.S. and it was so consistent on my computer and phone that it was beginning to feel like an appliance that replaced the radio. They had my complete online radio loyalty. Out of curiosity, I tried Last.fm for a bit and it was flaky and inconsistent (songs would change mid-way through). I subconsciously compared that to my experience with Pandora and it reinforced my loyalty to the superior product. Also to note, Pandora is sooo simple where Last.fm is quite a bit more complex (simplicity makes it easier to get consistency right).

Summary

Sorry if this post doesn't give you color schemes or layouts or any tangible tips you can use directly. It's intent is purely to help people get it.

Good Luck!

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Usability expert Jacob Nielsen says that there are four ways of communicating trust:

  1. Design quality.
  2. Up-front disclosure of all aspects of the customer relationship.
  3. Comprehensive, correct, and current content and product selection feel solid.
  4. Connected to the rest of the Web with links in and out.

Source: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990307.html

I just want to add a little to that.

A web site is essentially a business. You have customers (visitors) and you want to provide a useful service (web content). Now, what does "I trust this site?" mean? What does it mean to say that you trust a store or business?

I think honesty. A trustworthy business tells you exactly what it is trying to do. It doesn't force a bad product down your throat and it does it best to make you enjoy your experience so you come back.

Likewise, a site should tell you where information comes from, what information is encrypted, and how submitted data is being used. Build the site with the users in mind, so the language, level of technology, and navigation comply with the users' expectations. Make them fell like they want to come back.

Some clutter is OK if it serves a purpose. For instance, I "trust" Craigslist and Amazon, and their homepage are very cluttered. So, why do I trust them? Because trust is a long term contract, and it is very easy to lose trust. Building trust is a commitment to your users. Craigslist and Amazon have a reputation, and their design is in line with what I expect from a eCommerce site.

Basically, building a trustworthy site all comes down to knowing your users and providing a service that makes them happy, just like a small business would. If you release bad or incomplete products, you will lose trust. If you continue to release quality materials and adapt to the changing needs of your users, you will improve your reputation and trustworthiness.

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