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.

Thinking about how the internet connects them to information, many Americans report being better informed than they were five years ago. NORC at the University of Chicago

Three-fourths of internet users believe that both the average American and the average student today are better informed thanks to the internet, a Pew Research Center 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. According to NORC, more than 6 in 10 report being better informed about lifestyle topics such as hobbies, health, or pop culture, and similar proportions say the same about international and national news.

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. And with the public’s heightened awareness of fake news, it’s no surprise that a December 2016 Pew Research Center study found that about two in three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events.

87% agree that it is damaging for a brand to advertise on a news site associated with a fake news story. —  Reuters

With Americans struggling to determine which news sources are trustworthy, who are we relying on to get accurate information? Believe it or not, Pew Research Center reports that the majority of Americans say public libraries are helpful as people try to meet their information needs, with Millennials standing out as the most ardent library fans.

About eight-in-ten adults (78%) feel that public libraries help them find information that is trustworthy and reliable. — Pew Research Center

And although Forbes reports that fake news isn’t going away any time soon—or ever, Reuters’ Tomorrow’s News 2017 survey found that while fake news can be damaging for both news brands and advertisers, brands that advertise on trusted news sites can benefit.

The proliferation of online ad formats has not eroded trust in traditional paid advertising channels. Roughly six in 10 say they trust ads on TV (63%), in newspapers (60%) and in magazines (58%).  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 branded websites were the second-most-trusted advertising format in 2015, behind recommendations from friends and family. Nielson reports:

“Owned (brand-managed) online channels are also among the most trusted advertising formats. In fact, branded websites are the second-most trusted format, with 70% of global respondents saying they completely or somewhat trust these sites. In addition, more than half of respondents (56%) trust emails they signed up for.”

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 that for many paid advertising formats, self-reported action actually exceeds trust, particularly for online and mobile formats. With ads served in search engine results, for example, self-reported action exceeds trust by more than double digits (47% trust; 58% take action). “Online and mobile formats make it exceptionally easy for consumers to live in the moment and take quick action on the advertisement. Often, consumers simply click a link and they’re directed to a place where they can receive more information or purchase the item,” said Randall Beard, Global Head of Advertiser Solutions at Nielsen.

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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