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Amateur Hour: Credibility Testing for Small Business Web Sites

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Purpose: Much has been written about the importance of Web site usability. However, a Web site that is usable in terms of navigation can still have credibility issues that reflect negatively on an organization. As a result, Website credibility assessments have gained popularity, but little research in that area has examined one of the most common forms of Web site communication—that is, small business Web sites that do not pose risk and do not offer e-commerce. This paper begins to address that gap by exploring the relationship between Web visitor expectations and their credibility judgments about a small business based on its Web site.

Method: I conducted research based on principles of Prominence Interpretation Theory of Web credibility. This research included focus groups of likely consumers to explore the relationship between Web visitor expectations and judgments about the small business Web site and credibility judgments about the small business. Data from the focus groups was used to: (1) determine the factors that women use when setting expectations and making credibility judgments about a small business based on their Web experiences, and (2) identify if those factors vary generationally.

Results: The results of the research revealed that likely consumers of the small business did not believe the Web experience projected a credible brand with which they would want to engage. In other words, a Web site that was intended to promote the products and the store was ironically hurting the business by turning away potential customers.

Conclusion: I show how a six-step credibility test (based on Prominence-Interpretation Theory principles) can be used by communications consultants, Web site developers, and small-business owners. Such a test is an effective yet simple approach to gauging Web credibility judgments and making sustainable Web site changes in organizations with limited resources. The ease of this test combined with the time- and cost-effectiveness make it especially useful for small business Web sites, where expertise and resources may be limited.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2013

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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