Consumers increasingly trust websites due to a general improvement in the aesthetics of the internet, according to a new report.
According to a study by the University of Melbourne internet consumers are 20% more trusting of websites than they were five years ago despite the increase in online scams.
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The survey reveals that while internet users may be more trusting online shoppers are 30% less loyal to online businesses than in 2007.
Study author Dr Brent Coker says the increase in online consumer trust is largely linked to the visual appeal of websites.
“We’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence,” Coker says.
“As the internet has become prettier we are venturing out and becoming less loyal.”
Coker, whose data covers 1100 websites, has developed a formula to track patterns and trends in online behaviours and purchasing.
The formula, known as Webreep, creates a score based on visual appeal, trustworthiness, ease of use, search quality, information quality, information relevancy and load speed.
Coker has been tracking people’s reactions to websites for more than five years and says the research could have a profound impact on the future of e-commerce.
“The best way to stop defection to other websites and increase loyalty is to be interesting. Being pretty but with nothing to say is not enough,” he says.
The research found if a website has poor navigation or access to information or takes more than two seconds to download web surfers are more likely to opt against purchasing and go to an alternate website.
The research reveals that in the past five years the frequency of referring others to websites has increased by 32%.
“This increase is largely due to social networking sites like Facebook that enable users to share links and recommendations,” Coker says.
According to Coker people are developing relationships with the internet the same way they develop relationships with other people.
“Compared to five years ago we are more trusting of attractive websites, less tolerant of websites that have irrelevant information and more likely to introduce ourselves to websites that are new,” he says.
While Coker’s research highlights the importance of aesthetics online entrepreneur Fred Schebesta believes information quality and information relevancy are the most important qualities in a website.
“eBay for example is not going to win an award for its visual appeal but its information is second to none,” Schebesta says.
“When someone searches on Google for a business and lands on a website they immediately want quality information … there should be a series of dot points or a series of paragraphs that identify a problem and how that business might solve that problem.”
In addition to contact details clearly displayed in the top right hand corner and/or the footer Schebesta says there should be a call-to-action button in a bright colour such as green.
Call-to-action buttons are the buttons that businesses want all their users to click on when they land on the homepage. Usually they’ll be a link to a download, signup or sale.
“Consider hiring a professional writer, at least for the homepage or the main category page as these are the most important pages,” Schebesta says.
“With regard to visual appeal there are thousands of nice templates you can use or enlist the services of a crowd-sourcing site like 99designs.”
Schebesta says an easy way to improve search quality is to insert Google Site Search, which allows businesses to put a Google search box on their website, enabling prospective visitors and customers to find information instantly.
“With regard to low speed the trend here is that a lot of small businesses are hosting locally rather than overseas because local hosting prices have gotten a lot better,” he says.
“However be careful who you use. Ask around a bit – ask web developers who they’re hosting with … the faster your site loads the more persuasive and trustworthy it is.”