Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

Quick Second Credibility Usability Test

In a Lance Loveday’s article called Designing For The Subconscious Mind, he described his experiences when showing two different web site pages to an audience a half second apart. He then asked the participants which web site they’d prefer to do business with. The “professional” and “credible” page won over the “small time” and “cheap.”

As Lance pointed out, nobody said, “I don’t have enough information to make that judgment.” I’m willing to bet in that particular setting, those who wanted more information felt too intimidated to ask, but his quick test is still fun to try and think about.

Is your web site credible?Like Lance and my usability consultant peers, we’re presented with hundreds and hundreds of web sites. We’re asked, “What do you think?” Thinking has nothing to do with usability. In fact, if we have to think, that’s often a problem. The better question might be, “Are you compelled to do something on this site?” Or, “Do you trust the claims?” Or, assign users a task to see if you successfully planned and designed the site so they could easily complete it.

We bring our judgments with us

Truth resonates and we’re impatient

It’s fascinating to think about Lance’s audience responses because they had no time to evaluate authenticity, truth, genuineness, credibility or great customer service in half a second. They did what we all do when we enter a room filled with strangers. We look for the best dressed. The pretty women. The handsome men. The story teller. The joker. The flirt. The rich guy. The sexy older woman who loves quantum physics and tests web sites for a living.

It isn’t until we use a web site or interact with a person that we begin to understand on a deeper level what, if anything, we can do with it, or with them.

With web sites, we need a few things immediately. Right away, we must know we arrived at a page that will meet a need or want. Therefore, the information hierarchy must state a page’s purpose right away, rather than tease someone or waste their time waiting for flash animations to load. There is a time and place for flash, just like there’s a time to ask where the beer is or asking the host to introduce you to the hot woman in the corner petting the Shitzu.

We sense authenticity, but can be fooled. So, presenting something like testimonials is a weak attempt at credibility, unless they can be followed up on by contacting the person. Health product sites that claim a secret ingredient with a fancy name but offer no data, research, FDA approval or valid way to prove you won’t lose your eyebrows if you try it are suspect. Sure, someone will be desperate enough to try it, but the moment the lawsuit comes out, the brand is finished.

Interestingly, user engagement does not always equate to conversion or even desired results. At any moment during a task, web designers sabotage the process with unnecessary navigation, off-site ads or new topics that lead their visitor on a new adventure. Sometimes the experience of a site is just that. An experience. For some people, even after experiencing the experience and even liking it, they return to their most trusted brand because that one has already earned their trust.


We judge aesthetic value by our ability to discriminate at a sensory level. We arrive at sites with our personal set of economic, political or moral values, as well as our technology, skills and credit card. What are the connections between the mind, emotions and beauty? Can we expect a web page to transport us to our happy place? Sure. Some of the newer site designs are like polished gems that you want to stare at and hold in the palm of your hand.

Sadly, these visual beauties are using their looks to make a sale, rather than the quality of their product or service. It’s in the area of customer service that a less attractive web site beats out the high class model it competes against. And it’s here that an audience making a decision on whom to do business with in under a second may make the wrong choice. They need more than a peek. They need to hear a site’s heartbeat.

The web site that succeeds is the one that can prove it’s alive.


This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, May 22, 2009

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