What Makes A Blog Credible?

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Part 1: The Data

I was searching for a research study I had seen years ago, when I stumbled upon one conducted by BJ Fogg and his colleagues at Stanford’s Persuasion Technology Lab (love that name) about the factors that determine consumers’ perceptions of what makes a Web site credible.

The study found that there are five composite scales that contribute to credibility, and two that detract from it. Credibility builders include:

  • Real-world feel. This includes providing quick responses to customer service questions, providing contact phone numbers and email addresses, and showing photos of the firm’s employees.
  • Ease-of-use. Positive impacts on this scale include the ability to search through past content and a professional design. Difficult navigation is a major detractor to ease-of-use.
  • Expertise. Sites that list credentials demonstrate expertise according to the study. Interestingly, displaying awards was not a strong determinant of expertise.
  • Trustworthiness. People trust sites that are linked to by other sites they find trustworthy. Linking to other sources and materials — including competitors — also builds trustworthiness.
  • Tailoring. The strongest factor contributing to this scale was sending emails confirming transactions made. Surprisingly, recognizing past visitors was not a strong contributor to an overall tailoring score.

The two scales that diminish site credibility are:

  • Commercial implications. Sites that make it hard to distinguish ads from content score high (not good) on this scale. Popping up new windows with ads also contribute strongly to this negative rating.
  • Amateurism. Rarely updating the site with new content, linking to non-credible sites, broken links, and typos all contribute strongly to this negative factor.

My take: These same Web site credibility-building (and detracting) factors also apply to blogs.

Clearly, there are some strong parallels. Instead of quick responses to customer service questions, credible bloggers provide quick responses to visitor comments. The impact of a professional design should be taken seriously by those of us who rely on Blogger or WordPress for blog design. And I found the “commercial implications” factor particularly interesting, because of a pet peeve I have with blogs cluttered with so many Google ads that I have trouble finding, let alone reading, the content.

Part 2: The Confession

I have a confession to make. The research study I originally was looking for talked about how pictures of employees on Web sites builds trust with site visitors. I went looking for it because there’s a credit union blog I visit regularly that shows pictures of the site contributors — as children. And I have to admit that the pictures bug me to no end (I want to see what they look like today — not 20 or 30 years ago).

I wanted to find the data to prove to the credit union that while employee pictures were good — employee pictures as children were bad. Alas, I didn’t find that study, so I have no empirical data to support my opinion.

Part 3: The Revelation

It’s just as well that I couldn’t find the study I was looking for. Because two things dawned on me. First off, it doesn’t matter what I think — I’m not a member of the credit union, nor am I likely to become one. So if the pictures bug me, it’s my tough luck.

More importantly, though, was my second revelation: The kiddie pictures support the CU’s members’ cross-channel experience. Members that visit the site and see the kiddie pictures probably comment on them when they meet those CU associates in the branches. The pictures are a conversation starter — a mechanism for engaging members.

I don’t know if the folks at the credit union consciously thought about that when they decided to put their kiddie pictures on the blog (they’re probably reading this saying “of course we did!”). But for financial firms (credit unions or banks) looking to develop relationships with its customers, anything that gives them an opportunity to put a personal touch on their interactions with customers — and increase engagement — is a good thing.

After all, there’s got to be a good reason why Facebook is more popular than Textbook.

Technorati Tags: Blogs, Blogging, Persuasion Technology Lab, BJ Fogg, Web site credibility, Blog creditbility

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