Thursday, August 23, 2007

7 tips on evaluating web credibility

Ever do some research on the web, and wonder whether a site was worth quoting or linking to? How do you determine the authenticity and reliability of a web site? Actually, web sites can be judged much as you judge any other source of information.

Here are some guidelines for you, that are true most of the time for most web sites.

Evaluating Web Credibility

(1) Design:

Is it ugly, amateurish, sleazy, inappropriate, childish, dysfunctional? Trustworthy sites tend to look professional, classy, and elegant. Credibility studies at Stanford University prove that most users exit a web site within 5 seconds if the web site looks "wrong" for what it's supposed to be.

(2) About Us:

If all you get on the About page is a mission statement, a declaration of purpose, a "we" this and "our" that -- exit fast!

You cannot trust any web site where the people behind it are anonymous or mysterious. About Us should include names, photos, bios of top executives and customer service personnel. Every About page must reassure readers of the company's or individual's integrity and expertise.

The About page on a web site is your main chance to prove you're not an anonymous, fly-by-night, raving lunatic with no expertise and no clients. Yet many web sites have stupid, un-informative About pages!

(3) Sidebar Links:

Who do they link to in their sidebars? Known and reputable sites? Or a bunch of weird, unknown, questionable sites? Or to no sites?

When doing research, start with sites you already trust, like the Mayo Clinic, BusinessWeek, or CNET. Then click on links you find at the trusted site. It's called trust linking. A good way to find more reputable sites.

(4) Contact Us:

Do they provide you with multiple contact options: email addresses, cell phone, land phone, physical address (not just a P.O. Box)? If not, why are they hiding?

(5) Ads & Sponsors:

Is the site sponsored by, or partnering with, credible companies? Are there ads for reputable companies? (Anybody can put ads on their site, so that's not much help.)

If there are too many ads, and it's hard to find the actual web content, the site loses credibility. An ad-heavy web site appears to be a gimmick or trick: a little bit of relevant content to draw readers to the ads.

(6) Editorial Links:

Does the content, the articles or blog posts, have links in it? If there are no links within the text of news items or general content, why? Are they lazy? Or do they not really know what they're talking about? A credible source will quote and link to other credible sources.

(7) Content Quality:

Are there typos, wrong spellings, rash statements, poor research methods? Does the material seem biased, slanted, giving all praise, or all condemnation? Credible sites take time to polish their prose and check their facts.

These simple 7 tips on evaluating the trustworthiness of web sites should help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

Further Reading

"Web Credibility Project" [the classic study] (Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab, B.J. Fogg, PhD.)

Jakob Nielsen: B.J. Fogg's "Captology" book [review]

WebWatch on "Web Credibility" (Consumer Reports)

"Critical Evaluation of Resources" (UC Berkeley)

"Verifying Sources on the Net" (University of Illinois)

"Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources" (UCLA)

"Evaluating Web Pages" (UC Berkeley)

"Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools" (Olin and Uris Libraries, Cornell University)

"An Educator's Guide to Credibility and Web Evaluation" (University of Illinois)

"Citing Internet and Print Sources" (West Texas A&M University)

"Web Credibility Destroyers" (Vaspers the Grate)

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