Credibility + trust  are critical for organizations seeking results from their web content. Credibility has the power to change people’s attitudes and drive action, whether it’s convincing them to adopt a positive view of the organization, change their point of view, sign up for a newsletter, or make a purchase.

So what’s the state of web credibility? Do people embrace web content as trustworthy and reliable? Results are mixed, with some cause for optimism about the clout of online information and some indications there’s work to be done on the credibility front. Consider these research results.

81% of online Americans report their Internet and cell phone use has made them better informed about products and services today than they were five years ago. Pew Research Center

Three-fourths of Internet users believe that both the average American and the average student today are better informed thanks to the Internet, the 2014 study found. The web helps people learn new things, stay better informed, and share ideas and creations rather than crushing them with too much information and making it hard to find useful information. Products and services topped the topics about which people feel better informed, compared to others such as hobbies and interests (68%) and health and fitness (65%).

65% of study participants say web content is “hit or miss” or “unreliable.” — Content Science, Content + Credibility Report

While feeling better informed overall, people remain skeptical of much of what they encounter on the web, and the problem may be growing. Nearly two-thirds of respondents in Content Science’s 2012 study reported their trust in web content to be the same or lower than five years ago. A long-term study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for the Digital Future found that only 41% of users found most or all online information reliable in 2013, the lowest level since 2009. Over a quarter of people reported that half or less of the information on sites they visit regularly is reliable and accurate, a new high for the study.

Trust in advertising on branded websites increased 9 percentage points to 69% in 2013. Nielsen

Despite skepticism toward online content, people’s trust in online advertising is increasing as it becomes more ubiquitous. Nielsen’s longstanding, Trust in Advertising study found advertising content on branded websites to be the second most trusted format in 2013, a jump from fourth-place ranking in 2007. More than half of respondents said they trust consumer-consented email messages, an increase of 7 percentage points since 2007. Said Randall Beard, Global Head of Advertiser Solutions at Nielsen:

“Brand marketers should be especially encouraged to find owned advertising among the most trusted marketing formats. This form of advertising is trusted by nearly 70% of consumers globally, which emphasizes the notion that marketers maintain the ability to control the messages about their brands in a way that consumers consider credible. This perceived credibility is a key component in advertising effectiveness.”

Two-thirds of users take action at least some of the time based on branded websites and consumer-consented emails. Nielsen

Trust and action generally go hand in hand, the Nielsen, Trust in Advertising study also reveals. In fact, the study indicates, in some cases, people may be willing to check out a product or take action even when they didn’t find the information completely credible. With emails, for example, 65% of people reported taking action while only 56% reported trusting them. Trust in online advertising is rising as it becomes more pervasive and persuasive, Nielsen’s Beard said. “Even ad formats that are developing show they can be effective in getting consumers to the point of sale.”

Content source and usefulness drive people’s perceptions of credibility. Content Science, Content + Credibility Report

Many studies of credibility focus on design cues, or the form of credibility. Our research, however, shows that the substance of content—especially its usefulness—plays a vital role in credibility. Credibility and source are also closely connected. If people are confused or unsure of the source of information, or don’t trust the source, they don’t trust the credibility of the information.

B.J. Fogg’s ground-breaking research at the Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab revealed that perceived credibility is a result of perceived trustworthiness and perceived expertise. A hit to either is a hit to overall credibility.

These facts and figures provide some evidence that people are receptive to the messages brands and companies put forth, but they also illustrate the importance of establishing and maintaining trust and expectations to earning continued results from online content.

The Author

Content Science is a growing content strategy and intelligence company and the publisher of Content Science Review. We empower digital enterprises for the content era by taking their content approach to the next level. Customers of our professional services and one-of-a-kind products (such as ContentWRX and Content Science Academy) include the Fortune 50, the world’s largest nonprofits, and the most trusted government agencies.

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