Note: the working title of this post was “How to make your website less sucky”. Pithy, but I figured it wouldn’t get as many clicks.

One of the most fundamental principles of marketing is that you need to get people do three things before they are likely to buy anything from you: You need to get them to know you, like you, and trust you.

The Internet has made it easier than ever before to make yourself known to a lot of people. With things like Facebook advertising, you can be seen by thousands of people for the price of a Starbucks coffee.

But, there’s a problem. Because of the anonymity of the Internet, fraud is more common than ever before, and people – very understandably – tend to be quite skeptical of businesses they haven’t interacted with before. Establishing trust online is hard. You can’t just tell people to trust you, because then they definitely won’t. So what can you do instead? Fear not, dear reader: Stanford University has you covered.

After three years of research including over 4,500 people, the good folks in Palo Alto have compiled 10 guidelines for building the credibility of your website. Grab a drink, pop some popcorn, and take a seat. Here’s… ~*SCIENCE!*~

1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site

In other words, link to third-party sources, and always refer to people and institutions with a lot of authority. I could have easily come up with a list like this on my own, but I chose not to – because it sounds better coming from a world-renowned university with billions of dollars in endowments than it does coming from me, some random guy with a computer.

2. Show that there’s a real organisation behind your site.

List a physical address, post pictures of your employees, or list your membership with the chamber of commerce or some other official-sounding group.

If you’re a one-man operation, just link to your social media profiles or something. Oh, and please don’t refer to yourself as “we” if you don’t even have a secretary or personal assistant. (Unless you’re the Prince of Liechtenstein – in which case, please email me, I have a business proposition for you.)

3. Highlight the expertise in your organisation and in the content and services you provide.

Quoth, “Do you have experts on your team? Are your contributors or service providers authorities? Be sure to give their credentials. Are you affiliated with a respected organization? Make that clear. Conversely, don’t link to outside sites that are not credible. Your site becomes less credible by association.”

A.K.A., tell people why they should trust you.

4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.

Again – if you have employees, put a photo of their mugs somewhere on your site, along with their name and company title. Maybe even have them write a couple of lines about themselves, if you’re feeling feisty.

Also, use customer/client testimonials – especially if you’re a real estate agent, an attorney, or a photographer. Not only do testimonials build social proof, but if you’re strategic about which ones you display, and what sort of questions you ask in order to get the testimonial, they also help address common objections that stand between you and the sale.

5. Make it easy to contact you.

This means you should display an email address, a phone number, and a physical address. If you’re young and hip, feel free to also link to whatever social media platform you’re most responsive on. A common place to put this information, besides on the “Contact Us” page, is in the site footer. Like I do!

6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose)

Quoth, “We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like The visual design should match the site’s purpose.”

Even online, people are superficial assholes who only care about looks. Or, you know, the way you present yourself online or otherwise is a fairly accurate indicator of who you are. If you make enough money to invest some of it in a well-designed website, you probably have a steady stream of customers, which probably means you’re not a complete scammer.

Right hook: hire me to re-design your website. 😉

7. Make your site easy to use — and useful.

~*SCIENCE!*~ shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use, and useful. It’s surprisingly easy to get wrapped up in your own ego and accidentally make a website that you love, but is completely useless to your would-be customers. That’s why good web designers employ empathy when they make websites (and why big agencies spend tens of thousands of dollars doing research and creating user profiles before they draw so much as a line of design).

8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).

Turns out, people assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed. It’s also useful as a sort of proof of life. If your business has a blog, and the most recent post is a year old, a lot of people will straight up assume you’re out of business.

If you’re a busy person, or hate writing, there are plenty of freelance copywriters and content marketers available for hire. Try out a few who specialise in your niche and see who does a better job, and who you like working with most. Then stick with them. The longer they work with you, the more familiar with your business they get, the better their writing will become.

9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).

Quoth, “If possible, avoid having ads on your site. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your own. Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct, and sincere.”

In other words: apply Gary Vaynerchuk’s principle of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, and also stop annoying people with your stupid pop-ups.

10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

Typgraphical, err, sorry, typographical, errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than you would think. Make sure you spell check everything, and test your links regularly (especially if they appear in content that people still see frequently – this is less important for 2-year-old blog posts that get one view per month). Oh, and make sure your site is actually online.


Wow, you made it to the end of the post. That probably means you enjoyed reading this list. Or you have the attention span of a goldfish and decided to scroll to the bottom when you were about five words into the post.

Either way, I’m psyched that you’re here. Please consider subscribing to my newsletter, where I write about things of interest to anyone who owns a website and wants to make it less sucky. ❤️

List courtesy of:

Fogg, B.J. “Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility.” A Research Summary from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Stanford University.