As I mentioned in my general post about the Stanford Web Credibility Project, I’m going to look at each of their points in some detail. The first guideline from their research is Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site. The researchers further elaborate, “You can build web site credibility by providing third-party support (citations, references, source material) for information you present, especially if you link to this evidence. Even if people don’t follow these links, you’ve shown confidence in your material.” This particular guideline may not apply equally to all sites – some sites make few claims. Just about every site, though, makes some assertions that would no doubt be stronger if the reader thought they were backed up by hard data. Let’s start by looking at vitamin and supplement sellers – that’s certainly an area where lots of claims are put forth.
I started off at VitaminWorld, and randomly clicked on a featured home page product, NOS Tablets. I’d never heard of NOS tablets, so I’d be a good test subject for credibility building. The text for this product reads,
NOS from Precision Engineered delivers Arginine, the principal substrate for Nitric Oxide synthesis.* Nitric Oxide plays a pivotal role in many biochemical reactions, helping to maintain healthy circulation and immune system function.* Scientific research documents the ability of supplemental Arginine to assist in the formation of Nitric Oxide, a fundamental molecule involved in a variety of critical physiological functions.*
Clearly, there’s no third party verification in the main text, but the asterisk after the first sentence looked promising. Rather than citing a Harvard study, however, the footnote read, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” If anything, that’s a credibility reducer. I’m sure they have to put in that kind of language to avoid running afoul of FDA regulations, but VitaminWorld clearly missed a few opportunities to add positive credibility reinforcement.
What could they have done? For starters, there are several statements that one presumes are more or less factual that could have been backed up by citing related research. Any one (or many) of these statements could have been supported by a link:
- delivers Arginine
- the principal substrate for…
- …plays a pivotal role
- scientific research documents…
- assist in the formation of…
Picking a few of these where one could add a citation or link to a credible resource would have helped the credibility of this product description immensely. Grade: D
I looked at another supplement site to follow the arginine trail, Vitacost. This site provided extensive descriptive content, fully footnoted, along with illustrated product purchasing information. Their extensive description had no fewer than 17 footnotes referencing scientific journal articles. While these weren’t linked to actual articles, they certainly bolster the credibility of the text. In addition, the text itself features wiki-style hyperlinking for many of the contained terms. These links go to other content on the Vitacost site. That’s a nice combination of keyword optimization and user friendliness. All in all, this is one of the better examples of credibility by verifiability I ran across in this quick jaunt through the world of supplements. My only complaints are that the text is so long as to distract the reader from the purchase links, and that the references aren’t linked. Even if the papers aren’t online, I would have linked the journal’s name to the journal’s main site. Few visitors would click, but that link to Surgery or the Journal of Sports Medicine would add that reassurance that if they really wanted to check it out, they could. (I didn’t actually check these references to see if the were real, by the way.) The product pages at Vitacost, though, were somewhat credbility-deficient. While they did contain informative information about the use of the product and clear statements of ingredients, there was no credibility-boosting backup information or linkage. Grade: B
One thing that surprised me was that some of the top Adwords advertisers flunked this test so badly. Papa Nature and iHerb, for example, took me direct to a buying page. That’s not a bad landing page strategy, but at least a little background or a description of product benefits would have helped. If I had a vague notion that arginine might cure what ails me, or even if I had the product recommended by a friend, I wouldn’t blindly dump a product into my cart at one of those sites. I’d hit the back button and find a site that had a bit of credible information to give me the additional confidence to click “Buy”.