Let’s consider what we expect when we engage with a brand… A functional product. Respectful customer service. Honest communication. Sound familiar? Seems safe to say we don’t go into a transaction hoping for a substandard outcome.
Like it or not, users will look to your website as a hint of what it’s like to engage with you. Yes, you. You as a brand, and maybe even you personally. Take this example — showing a site with great content says you probably believe in communicating clearly and honestly, and caring about your customers’ needs.
On the flipside, showing a site riddled with broken links and hard-to-find information could suggest a lack of commitment to quality, or worse: a tendency to obfuscate details and deceive people. (Don’t be this guy!)
Producing an elegant website isn’t just an exercise in looking pretty. With the right approach, your site can speak volumes about your brand’s priorities, ethos, trustworthiness and level of expertise. That’s not to say you can just tick a few boxes and trick people into thinking you care — it’s more that the ability to express care through design comes from caring to begin with.
Your site should look great and be easy to use.
In 2011, a study from University of Melbourne found that visually attractive websites were perceived as more trustworthy. According to study author, Dr. Brent Coker, “As aesthetically oriented humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence.”
However, Coker cautions that visual appeal alone isn’t enough, since “the biggest source of frustration is the inability to find relevant information on a website” — an observation echoing the findings from previous studies highlighting the importance of a professional appearance with logical structure and user-friendly navigation.
When users are presented with a visually pleasing site, they have proof your brand pays attention to detail and quality. Make it easy for them to find what they want, and you’ve just shown you care about making life easier for them.
Your content needs to speak to people.
Assuming your site is both pretty and easy to use, users may still struggle to get what they came for if your content isn’t up to scratch.
Maybe it’s too vague or shallow for a reader who needs more detail. Maybe it’s incorrect, outdated, or too difficult to verify. Maybe your copy is wordy, complex, full of jargon, or too boring to get through. Or maybe you’re offering too much information that just isn’t useful until much later in the user journey.
Whether it’s macro-copy or micro-copy, effective content speaks to the human reader, telling them what they need to know when they need to know it. Wording is consistent and concise to reduce confusion. Information is useful and fresh, so as not to waste anyone’s time. And where appropriate, your content shows personality, demonstrating that as a brand, you have the capacity to appreciate what matters to people.
Yes, this applies even if you’re a B2B service provider, since the businesses in your target market are still run by people. (We may amend this advice in the wake of the robot apocalypse.)
Web credibility takeaways
There’s obviously more to good design than we can fit in a quick-fire list, but here are a few of the principles we believe in, and apply to all of our web projects:
Design every page with user goals in mind. Are your users there to perform an action, soak up information, or interact with a process? Once you’ve locked in your objectives, make it as easy as possible for users to reach them.
Provide clear navigation with labels your users can relate to. It’s fine to get creative with nav copy to a point. Beyond that, your overly creative labels can hinder site exploration and reduce user confidence.
Create content for people first, search engines second. By all means, implement good technical SEO (eg. valid HTML, semantic markup, meta tags, device responsiveness), but make sure your web content means something to the people reading. After all, they’re the ones who decide whether you’re worth buying into.
Show information at the appropriate time. Every step in a user journey comes with different information needs. Not showing enough can both frustrate the user and make it look like you’ve got something to hide. But showing too much (or showing irrelevant details) risks overwhelming or confusing people. Consider the context you’re presenting to your audience, and coordinate your content accordingly.
Delight your users. Plan something different to surprise your users with. It can be as simple as quirky copy, as unusual as unexpected visuals and animations, or as cool as a Konami code easter egg. A little personality goes a long way to enhancing a user’s experience of your site, while showing there are real people behind your brand.