10 Things That Make A Website Look Untrustworthy

After the latest Android update crippled my workhorse handset, I went in search of a replacement. I – as most modern consumers do – went straight to Google and searched for reviews and prices. A simple search for smartphones UK throws up 95 million searches.

The front page alone brought six different eCommerce websites, three different listicles and three Google News snippets. Where do you even start?

I spent a few hours trawling through review sites and eCommerce stores before eventually deciding on a Xiaomi Redmi Note 2. I’m still waiting on it arriving from China but I’ll tell you how it is when it arrives.

But I digress. During my search, I started noticing little design flaws on each sites. Who had good navigation? Who had too many calls to action? Who didn’t invest in good photography? The little things that instantly make you feel as if there’s something not quite right about the website.

Take Pixmania, for example. There’s no contact details on the homepage. No email, no phone number, no address. There’s nothing to assure me that it’s an actual business and not some fake website thrown together by a bored teenager.

And Pixmania isn’t a small company. It’s a huge eCommerce site that ranks on the front page of Google for smartphones UK. It’s amazing that they’ve decided not to include simple contact details.

After a while I realised I had ordered my phone but was still looking through websites picking out faults. In no time at all I’d filled an entire sheet of A4 and I knew I had to write a blog post. So here are 10 Things That Make Your Website Look Untrustworthy.

#1: Competing Calls to Action

The Paradox of Choice is a psychological theory proposed by Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less. The short version is this: adding consumer choices can greatly increase anxiety for shoppers and decreasing consumer choice can greatly decrease anxiety in shoppers. This is the complete opposite of our traditional notion that more options, more competition and more choice is a good thing.

In his TED talk on the subject, Schwartz talks about a study carried out by his colleague in collaboration with the mutual-fund company Vanguard.

“A colleague of mine got access to investment records from Vanguard, the gigantic mutual-fund company of about a million employees and about 2,000 different workplaces. And what she found is that for every 10 mutual funds the employer offered, rate of participation went down two percent. You offer 50 funds — 10 percent fewer employees participate than if you only offer five.”

More choice means less decisions and the same is true with calls to action too. You present your audience with a barrel full of options and they’ll sit there in a sort of decision paralysis.

For example, if I send a visitor to a landing page to claim a free copy of the Little Blue Book and then hit them with additional prominent calls to action for free consultations and service demonstrations, they get confused and don’t choose either.

Limit the purpose of each page to one primary goal and have one primary call to action. Any more and you’ll split your visitor’s attention and make it less likely they’ll act in any decisive way.

#2: No Social Proof

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times: social proof is your most powerful marketing tool. The studies are absolutely mind blowing, just take a look at these statistics:

  • 75% of people don’t believe that companies tell the truth in advertisements (Yankelovich)
  • 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust unknown users, 27% trust experts, 14% trust advertising, 8% trust celebrities (Econsultancy)
  • 70% of people who read reviews share them with friends, family and colleagues thus amplifying their impact (Deloitte & Touche)

So 75 percent of people won’t believe your advertisement for a product but 70 percent will believe a stranger’s review. That should tell you all you need to know about social proof.

Amazon is the king of product reviews, building belief in their products and driving conversions with hundreds of reviews for every listing. Across the web, eCommerce websites without reviews perform on average 7 percent worse than those with reviews. So you really need to ask yourself: is that 7 percent you can afford to ignore?

#3: Intrusive or Lax Gating

Gated content is a tremendous data capture method. You provide your users with a piece of valuable content and in exchange they give you their contact details.

However, this value proposition is a tricky balancing act. Ask for too little information and your visitors may undervalue your content. Ask for too much and they will feel like you are violating your privacy. Slipping to either extreme makes your proposition look less authentic and kills off your conversions. Ask yourself what you would be prepared to exchange for your content and ask that of your users.

#4: Bad Design

It takes the average user less than one tenth of a second to form an opinion about your website. In the blink of an eye, they’ve decided whether your business is a legitimate outfit or shady con artist. That’s not a long time to make a good impression.

To make matters trickier, design is a pretty broad notion covering everything from performance on mobile devices to page load times. Just take a look at some of these consumer statistics.

  • Once your page loads, users form an opinion in 0.5 seconds (Kinesis Inc.)
  • You have 10 seconds to leave an impression and tell them what they’ll get out of your website and company. After this time, they’ll leave (NN Group)
  • 40% of people will choose a different search result if the first is not mobile friendly (Skillcrush)
  • 40% of people will leave a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load (Econsultancy)

Good design can make a business but bad design can just as easily break it. Invest your time and resources in the right place and build a site which wins over your consumers.

#5: Irrelevant Images

We’re visual beasts, us humans. We like pretty pictures alongside our words. We like illustrations and diagrams and visual representations of what we’re reading.

However, that doesn’t mean using images for the sake of using images. Good imagery does either one of two things:

  • It demonstrates your value proposition; or
  • It illustrates the narrative of your page

Take a look at the homepage for the Adventurists, a company dedicated to making the world a less boring place through adrenaline fuelled motoring adventures around the world.

Their imagery perfectly marries both goals, selling the experience and drawing you into a story. If they had used a stock landscape, that connection simply wouldn’t be there. So, yes, including imagery is important but choosing the right photography is more so.

#6: Spelling and Grammar Lapses

It’s the internet. None actually cares about spelling, right? Well, as it turns out no. Consumers have just as high literary standards for online businesses as they do for their real world equivalents.

In fact, since the majority of your communication is done via text, those linguistic slip ups may be even more obvious than usual.

  • Over 70 percent of users claim they pay attention to the quality of spelling and grammar on websites. (Real Business)
  • Almost 60 percent of Britons would not use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material. (Global Lingo)

However, we know the public are a pretentious lot. If you ask the public how they like their coffee, they’ll say black and strong. But in blind taste tastes they usually like it milky and weak.

So do they really notice spelling mistakes?

According to online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe, they do. Duncombe founded fashion retailer TightsPlease.co.uk back in 2001 and has grown the niche site into an eCommerce giant. However, over the years he has endured highly publicised difficulties recruiting staff with adequate literacy skills.

In 2011 Dunscombe revealed that a TightsPlease product page with an obvious spelling error would generate half the revenue of one without. He estimated that poor spelling was losing businesses tens of millions of pounds every single day.

Simply put, poor spelling and grammar costs you money.

#7: No SSL Certificate

As the world moves to rely more heavily on digital technologies, online security is becoming increasingly. With high profile security breaches hitting the headlines every few months, consumers are paying more attention to the security measures put in place by websites.

What payment gateway do they use? Do they store my card details? Is the website from a company registered in the UK?

One of the most visible ways website are assuring customers is through SSL certificates. These certificates mean websites are using an extra layer of encryption to protect your credit card transactions, sensitive data and login information from prying eyes.

With encryption and data security increasingly in the public spotlight, the public are now expecting websites to have security measures in place. Considering the relatively low cost of SSL certificates, you really don’t have an excuse for not having one.

#8: Missing Contact Details

Websites can afford businesses a certain degree of anonymity and that can often be a huge benefit. For example, a sole trader without an official place of work can present a professional image without compromising their personal privacy by listing their home address and phone number.

However, for larger companies omitting contact details sends out a terrible impression. If a big site like Pixmania doesn’t list their phone number, I instantly want to know why. Why can’t I call them? Were they receiving too many complaints?

What’s the story here?

Modern users expect online businesses to play by the same rules as their offline equivalents. That means publishing the address for work premises and traditional lines of communication.

#9: Walls of Text

In 1997 the researchers from the Nielsen Norman Group set out to investigate how users read on the web. The conclusion?

“They don’t. People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.”

That research paved the way for a whole generation of web copywriters who leveraged the way people read on the web to increase consumption and get their message heard.

Where the problem lies is when you get a website written by someone who cut their teeth writing for print. They see no problem with chunky paragraphs and slowly unfolding narratives. This, however, will immediately alienate online audiences.

Solid walls of text tell your readers that you don’t understand the nuances of digital. And when you’re advertising your business online that will put off potential customers.

#10: Hidden Shipping Fees

Picture this. You’re shopping online for a new tablet when you stumble across a small eCommerce website offering the exact model you’re after at an unbelievable price. You add it to your basket straight away and hit checkout. The price suddenly jumps up as shipping fees are unexpectedly added on. The deal doesn’t seem so good now and you click away from the site.

Sounds familiar? That’s because it is.

Earlier this year Formisimo published their study into shopping card abandonment rates. The leading causes are shown in the graph below.

Unexpectedly high shipping costs led the way in cart abandonments. Other shipping fee annoyances featured throughout the list too.

Hidden, obscured or otherwise absent shipping fees are a sort of bait and switch, tempting users in with one price before jacking it up. However, with online shoppers now expecting discounted or free shipping as standard, these practices simply won’t fly and leave a bad impression.


So there you have it 10 things which make a website look untrustworthy. If your website ticks any of the boxes above, it’s time you get on the right track. Get in touch with our expert team of web designers and developers today!

About The Author: Digital Impact Team