In the world of enterprise websites, there’s a question that comes up again and again: how much does good web design really matter in the grand scheme of things?
What if you’ve got a stellar marketing strategy, a strong brand identity, a good sales team, and a great product or service on offer, is spending time and money on great web design actually worthwhile?
Our answer to these questions is an unequivocal yes.
The answer is a little surprising. It’s not because there is something intrinsically good about a well-designed website, or because web design has a direct impact on your bottom line.
It’s something a little more subtle: good web design can significantly boost customer trust.
And cultivating deep customer trust has a slew of knock-on benefits—from increased purchasing rates, to long-lasting customer loyalty, to helping a company cement its credibility as a thought leader.
In today’s post, we’re going to dive into the links between web design and customer trust. We’ll look at how exactly web design builds a trusting brand-customer relationship, and we’ll highlight some key elements of trust-focused web design. But first, a quick primer on why customer trust matters.
Why Does Customer Trust Matter?
It might be tempting to write off ‘trust’ as a fluffy concept. But recent research has shown that feelings of trust have a major impact on how online customers behave. (For a scientific deep dive, you can check out a couple of studies here and here.)
For example, in a 2017 study, 79% of consumers said that a brand would need to establish a trusting relationship with them—by demonstrating their understanding and care for them as a customer—before they would consider purchasing a product or service.
So, trust can play a key role in encouraging prospective customers to follow through with a purchase.
But beyond this initial purchasing behaviour, trust also plays a role in building customer loyalty over the long haul. Companies that inspire trust in their customers also inspire repeat purchases and lasting business relationships. Obviously, if customers feel that a company is trustworthy, they’re more likely to continue devoting their time and money to that company over the long haul.
And finally, customer trust can help your company establish itself as an industry thought leader. If your customers trust what you have to say—and if the content you’re producing feels credible and reliable—they’re more likely to view your company as an authority.
So—trust matters. A lot. And web design is a surprisingly effective way to cultivate it.
The Design Effect
In 2004, a group of researchers in the United Kingdom set out to understand what inspired trust among users of health websites. They were especially interested in understanding the impact of web design vs. website content. And what they found was staggering.
When respondents distrusted a website, 94% of them reported that this mistrust was directly related to the site’s design elements.
By contrast, only 6% reported that their distrust was based on the actual content of the site. So web design was far and away the most important element in determining users feelings of distrust.
Participants also outlined the design redflags that contributed to this distrust including:
- Busy, complex layouts
- Too much text
- Small print that’s hard to read
- Over-the-top ads and pop-ups
- Slow website load times and slow introductions to a site
- Lack of navigation aids
- Boring web design and lack of colour
While this study looked at health websites specifically, the basic idea carries over to other industries as well.
The Stanford Web Credibility Project, for instance, found that web design can have a powerful subconscious impact on the level of trust that users extend to the information on a company’s website—and by extension, to the company itself. In their survey, 46% of respondents reported that they assessed website credibility based on the overall design of the site, including elements like typography, layout, and colour schemes.
There’s a fairly straightforward explanation for this powerful relationship between design and trust. It stems from the aesthetic-esability effect (a term coined by Nielsen Norman Group).
The basic idea here is that beautiful things inspire positive emotional responses—beautiful websites are usually seen as easier to use, more valuable, and more trustworthy than their badly designed counterparts.
So if your users have a positive emotion response to your visual design, it makes them more tolerant of any issues and it inspires feelings of trust and confidence.
But how, specifically, can your web design cultivate this kind of positive emotional response? Here are three tips for implementing trust-focused design on your own site.
3 Ways to Design a Trust-Focused Site
1) Conform to existing design trends to boost credibility
We’re not advocating jumping on every web design trend bandwagon that comes rolling your way—that would be exhausting, and it would probably give your users whiplash rather than establishing your site as a stable, trustworthy presence.
But one key element of trust-focused design is conforming to modern design standards. If your web design is dated, users will wonder what else is off. Is your product up-to-date? Is your company really credible? Is it at the cutting edge, or
2) Focus on design consistency
Keeping design elements consistent throughout a site is one of the keys to maintaining user trust.
If your user suddenly stumbles on an element of the site that feels out-of-step with the rest, it can be a jarring experience. And it can negate their feelings of trust in a big way. There’s something fishy about a business website that suddenly changes its stripes when you navigate to a new page.
Over at Appcues, they suggest performing a regular consistency audit to deal with this problem. They also recommend making all of the third-party elements on your site look native in order to provide a seamless experience.
3) Put security and transparency at the forefront of your design
Finally, you can build customer trust by designing a layout that emphasizes security and transparency. You can approach this in a few different ways:
- If you do e-commerce, you can design page layouts that draw attention to the security features of your site (think security badges and security policies)
- If you’re an enterprise company, you can establish credibility and transparency with well-designed team pages that give your company a human face, clear and easily accessible contact info pages
- You can provide explicit explanations of how you are protecting customer data (and use design elements to draw attention to these explanations)
- You can maximize legibility, readability, and simplicity so that users can easily understand your messages and services (and so that they don’t feel like you’re hiding any important information)
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of reasons to invest in good web design. But one of the most basic—and most often overlooked—reason is that strong web design can help your company build a deep and trusting relationship with its customers.
And that trust goes a long way: it inspires consumer confidence and loyalty, it drives purchasing behaviour, and ultimately, it’ll give a big boost to your business. Building user trust through web design is an investment. But it’s one that’ll pay off in the long haul.