When it comes to boosting your website’s overall credibility, factors such as a website’s usability and its “aesthetic beauty” can have a significant impact on trust and (as any good designer will attest) attractive websites are generally viewed as more trustworthy and easy to use than less attractive ones. With regards to isolated components of a website, there is evidence to show that you can boost the perceived expertise and trustworthiness of (for instance) a web article by adding a formal photograph of its author to the page (as compared to using an informal photo or none at all).
However, if you want to boost the credibility of an entire website and, by extension, the brand and business behind it, the process becomes much more complex. Add to this the fact that people express huge variances in the kinds of faces and photographs that they prefer and the challenge becomes harder still. Let’s consider the world of e-commerce for a moment. Since the birth of the online marketplace, companies have been falling over themselves in a bid to find the Holy Grail of e-retail: those elusive, cast-iron conversion principles that, once implemented, are guaranteed to attract and convert the hordes of global online shoppers eager to blow their hard-earned cash.
While there are key principles for conversion (as we’ve already seen) the success of these principles does vary according to the contexts in which they are applied. For example, adding a photo to an e-commerce website (as opposed to a web article) can, in two different contexts, have completely opposite effects on perceived credibility. In a study designed to investigate this phenomenon, psychologists found that people were able to accurately judge a vendor’s trustworthiness when no photos were added to its website. Show me no photos and I’ll tell you no lies. When a few photos were thrown into the mix, however, it was an entirely different story. Visitors were less able to distinguish between those vendors who had good reputations and those who had bad ones.
The very simple act of including photographs was enough to artificially level the reputational playing field. In an unpredictable turn of fortunes, adding photos actually increased the perceived trustworthiness of vendors who had bad reputations, while simultaneously decreasing the credibility of those vendors who had good ones. Yes, it is weird, but it does tell us one thing: credibility is a fragile notion and one that rests not on reason alone but also on a whole host of factors, of which many exert their influence below the level of our conscious awareness.