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Credibility: A crucial component of Web success

By Marc McDonald
Posted Thursday, December 2, 2004

The vast majority of Web site owners on the Net focus all their time and attention on two things: building their revenue and increasing their traffic. However, as important as traffic and money are, many site owners don't pay sufficient attention to another fundamental, but crucial, challenge: building credibility for their sites.

Why is credibility important? Because it ties in directly to the other "big two" goals: money and traffic. If your site builds credibility, you're already well on your way to success on the Web.

Credibility, of course, is important for any type of business. But, more so than in the "brick and mortar" world, credibility is even more crucial on the Web.

Consider the nature of the Web. Literally anyone can set up a basic Web site, with a minimum amount of effort. Truly worthwhile and compelling sites are far and few between. Therefore, if you have a site that has credibility, it tends to stand out from the crowd.

So-called expert Web marketing gurus are always rattling on about the importance of "stickiness" for sites. Every month, it seems someone has a new theory on how to increase stickiness (or the amount of time that your visitors hang around your site). The fact is, if you want a "sticky" site, (as well as a devoted and loyal audience), you've got to build credibility.

Increasingly, Web users are becoming more and more wary and skeptical about the information they get on the Net. This wariness is entirely understandable. For all the information that the Net offers, very little of it is actually quality, accurate information.

In this atmosphere, the relatively few sites that are deemed trustworthy and credible have an automatic major advantage over the vast majority of sites. If your site is credible, then you're not really competing with tens of millions of effect, you're only competing with the mere thousands of sites out there that have a credible reputation.

Credibility is not easy to achieve on the Web. But it's still a goal that any Webmaster can accomplish, particularly if you follow a few basic steps:

1. Be honest and straightforward. It doesn't matter if your site is about fishing or if you're an online merchant. Honesty pays---especially on the Web. It is vital that the information that you present on your site is accurate. Doublecheck your sources. The fact is, if you have inaccurate information, even on a minor issue, your credibility will suffer. If visitors find even one inaccuracy on your site, they'll wonder if any other information you're presenting is false, as well. Honesty and accuracy are particularly important for online merchants. The fact is, the Web has been a bonanza for dishonest merchants and scam artists who love to operate in the anonymity of cyberspace. In this atmosphere, people are (understandably) likely to trust only Web merchants who've earned a measure
of credibility.

2. Learn to write (or pay for the services of someone who does know how to write). The fact that anyone can set up a Web site by definition means that the overall state of writing on the Web is pretty atrocious these days. Even if you have a well-designed site and your information is accurate and honest, your credibility will suffer unless your writing is well-done. Sites that are full of misspellings and typos are much less likely to be taken seriously. You don't have to be a Hemingway to run a successful site. Indeed, you don't even necessarily need to know all the proper rules of English grammer. But you do need to know how to write clearly and be able to communicate your information in any easy-to-understand manner. The very fact that so few sites out there accomplish this means that the few sites that do are going to be rewarded over the long run. Remember, the vast majority of people on the Web want one thing: information. The fact is: a well-written site can succeed without a flashy design, Flash animations, cutting-edge technology and multimedia content. But on the other hand, even the most cutting-edge, high-tech sites can't succeed without well-written content.

3. Strive for media attention. Accomplish the two goals above and you'll be on your way to succeeding in achieving media attention for your site. If your site presents accurate information (and it's well-written), your odds of gaining media attention are greatly enhanced. A media feature, whether it's in a newspaper or a magazine, or a broadcast, can do wonders for cementing your reputation as a credible site (as well as drive loads of traffic your way). Media attention also has a way of snowballing. Once you get a couple of major media mentions under your belt, you'll often find that others are forthcoming. As far as getting the attention of the media, there's really no shortcut. Most Webmasters I'm aware of that have gotten a media feature have pointed out that they never submitted their sites for the feature or article in question. Of course, it can't hurt to contact journalists, computer and Web columnists and other writers and ask them for a feature. But, by and large, you'll find that journalists come to you; not the other way around.

If you're worked hard, paid your dues and built a credible site, it's really only a matter of time before you'll find your site featured in the media. Despite the vastness of the Web (and the millions of sites competing for attention), the sites that've worked hard to achieve credibility are invariably rewarded in the course of time.

Gaining credibility is the toughest challenge you'll face as a Webmaster. But it's a goal that any Webmaster can achieve, with enough dedication and hard work.

About the Author
Marc McDonald


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