How to Gain the Trust of Your Users
by John S. Rhodes
I recently conducted a short and informal survey to
determine what makes users "trust" a Web site. While some respondents claimed
they would never trust any Web site, the vast majority of the respondents had something to
say about what worked well to gain their trust.
Three primary trust factors surfaced from the survey: good content, simple design, and
few grammatical errors. Solid and well-written content is crucial to gaining trust.
Similarly, trusted web sites are content driven versus design driven. Fancy graphics,
animations, and eye candy are catchy but they do not seem to facilitate the development of
trust. Lastly, grammatical errors tend to repel users and discourage bookmarking.
Trust can be improved when a Web site is well organized and provides users with material
that is frequently updated. Respondents said that they tend to trust Web sites that are
easy to access and easy to search. Another factor was content freshness. Fresh material
is easier to trust than old material.
As a whole, the survey provided some evidence for a simple folk theory of mine. People
tend to trust Web sites that are more usable.
Since you cannot convince a person face-to-face that a Web site is trustworthy, the site
must fight tooth and nail on its own. The interface is on its own it does the
"talking" to the user, not you. You cannot personally persuade a user to trust
your site (unless they contact you via email and you respond). Seemingly small things,
such as spelling errors, quickly turn users off and their trust will drop.
Trust is especially critical for web sites that sell products and services. Even a
minor grammatical error can deter a sale. And for those sites that provide users with
news, when there are usability problems, people tend to go elsewhere. There is a simple
relationship that you should remember: a decrease in usability leads to a decrease in
Based on the survey, here are some guidelines to follow to gain users trust:
1. Make sure that your content is audience-appropriate and user driven. Create
content first, design second. Then, repeatedly test the content and design with users.
Systematically proofread, then do it again.
2. Make sure the Web site is as simple as possible. Effectively organize content,
and use a minimum of colors and graphics. Be consistent from page to page.
3. Be sure that the Web site contains no grammatical errors. Be aware of factual
errors; don't say something that is not true and don't fabricate information.
4. Where appropriate, provide references (author, publisher, data) and links to
sources. Give credit where credit is due.
5. Be sure that material is frequently updated. Inform users of the date of the
last update (this is usually done at the bottom of the page in the footer area).
6. Minimize the use of graphics. When using graphics be sure that they are
appealing. Graphics should generally provide extremely useful information or they should
present an idea not easily expressed with words.
7. Be sure that there are no dead links on
8. Be sure that user email (especially user feedback) is responded to as fast as possible.
An increase in response time is inversely proportional to trust. Also, be sure to
utilize the power of your .sig file.
UPDATE: Jakob Nielsen just wrote an article that complements this one
quite well (7-March-99). Some of his suggestions mirror the ones I made several months
ago, while others are much better. His article is also good in that he identifies some
excellent resources. When you are done reading the article, please be sure to head back to