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Trustworthiness of search results: How can businesses build a better online presence?

Published on 03/07/2023 by Sukanya Awasthi

To explore consumer sentiment around the trustworthiness of search results derived from search engines and social media platforms, we surveyed 1,021 web users in the UK. Read on to learn more about this and how small businesses can use these insights to build a better online presence.

A trustworthy website can potentially add more credibility to a brand

A Statista report shows that the UK accounts for almost 4% of a major search engine's worldwide traffic. Considering this, it's safe to say that a significant proportion of the UK population regularly uses search engines. Our question is - how trustworthy do they find such search results and what can SMEs do to position themselves online better?

To do this, GetApp launched a survey between 9th February and 16th February 2023, gathering the participation of 1,021 UK residents above 18 years of age. In addition, we screened for people who search online more than once per month. For the purpose of this article, ‘online searching’ refers to the practice of using tools such as search engines and social media platforms to conduct a specific search. For the full methodology, see the bottom of this article.

In terms of what SMEs can do to aid growth —certain specialised software— such as search engine optimisation (SEO) software, can help businesses by offering features such as analytics, facilitating the use of high search volume keywords, as well as content management. We discuss more such tips and insights further on in the article.

Online information shared by well-known brands, scientific organisations trusted more

Consumers may not always trust the information they see online. In fact, according to a report, ‘In 2022, a majority of search engine users in the United Kingdom (65%) thought that some of the websites would be accurate and some won't be’. So in terms of which information sources our respondents tend to trust more, we found that: 

  • 45% said that they trust information if a well-known brand shares it 
  • 44% stated that they trust information if it comes from a scientific organisation
  • 41% trust information shared by a news organisation
  • 37% of respondents shared that government-disseminated information would be trustworthy for them
  • 36% would be ready to trust data if it is shared by a recognised content creator

Keeping these stats in mind, businesses can build their online presence to become more well-known brands by posting impactful messages/posts or collaborating with recognised content creators. They can even partner with relevant government agencies or news organisations —which have a higher trust factor among consumers— to increase the trustworthiness of the information posted by them.

How can a brand increase its website’s DA/DR?

Domain authority or domain rating (DA/DR) indicates how a website ranks on search engines and the strength of a website's backlink profile. The authority of a website may be linked to its trustworthiness, age, and credibility, among other factors. 

Websites with a high DA/DR have the chance of appearing higher up in search results and potentially getting more clicks. Here are some of the practices businesses can adopt to increase the DA/DR of their website:

  1. Getting high-quality backlinks: Backlinks have an important role to play when it comes to the calculation of domain authority. Getting backlinks from authoritative sites can give a boost to the authority rating of your website and content.
  2. Creating valuable content: When the quality of the content is good and matches the search intent, there are higher chances of it appearing higher up in the search results. This also opens an opportunity for other websites to link to your content, again enhancing the possibility that your website gains more authority. 
  3. Removing bad links: The domain authority of your website may suffer if it receives links from spammy websites. Using link management tools, you should ideally identify backlinks that lower your domain authority score and remove them.

52% trust search engine results, but with caution

Now that we know the different kinds of sources that may make consumers trust online information, let us look at whether/how much trust they place in search engine results. Of the respondents who use search engines to search online, 52% said that they generally trust the information they find through search engines but are cautious about it.

Some of the factors that may make users a bit cautious about what they see online are that not all the information appearing on the search results comes from verified sources. Search results may also return inaccurate results to the users if the query entered in the search engine is too vague or incorrect.

Majority of respondents trust search engine results, but cautiously

Businesses looking to attract more customers and appear higher in search results can do so by optimising their content in accordance with the latest SEO guidelines, ensuring that titles and meta descriptions accurately represent the content, and including relevant source links in their web pages. For example, if your business posts an article that talks about offering a particular service, adding unnecessary links to a random website which is not related to the theme of the article can do more harm than good. 

Once businesses adopt such practices, customers can ideally quickly validate your information, get the answers to their queries, and learn more about the topic they were searching for.

How can businesses build a trustworthy website?

In times of rising competition and decreasing attention spans, it may be important for businesses to have a website that is credible and trustworthy for the users. The trustworthiness of a website may also have a direct impact on brand loyalty. According to an Adobe report, 7 in 10 customers will buy more from brands they trust. Some of the ways in which brands can possibly increase their trustworthiness are by adopting the following:

  1. Having a professional looking website with a neat design and easy navigation.
  2. Getting a credible domain name that clearly reflects what the website is about. Having an SSL certificate is even better. 
  3. Not stuffing the website with too many ads. More ads than necessary may distract users and make navigation harder.
  4. Making sure that the internal and external links within the website are not broken and direct users to relevant pages.
  5. Including client testimonials, user reviews, and success stories may also make your brand look more legitimate.

Only 11% fully trust information they find via social media

In part 1 of this article, we saw that only 5% of the total respondents use only social media platforms to search online. When we asked the same subset of respondents if they trust the information they see on such platforms, half of the respondents (50%) said that it depends on the query and sources.

Majority trust the information on social media on the basis of query and its source

How to make your social media content more credible?

Engaging on social media platforms could give your company the opportunity to showcase your brand personality and brand values to your followers. It can also help them perceive your brand as offering high-quality and credible content that is both reliable and educates them about your business, service, or product. Here are some ways in which businesses can make their social media content more trustworthy:

  • Posting relevant content: When making a content plan strategy, the aim should be to create content so that users can derive something useful out of it. This can come in the form of offering tips, sharing topical information, adding product specifications, etc. As an example, if your company produces shampoos or other skin-care products, you can post about how sustainable your processes are or how your ingredients are sourced using fair-trade practices.
  • Interacting with your audience: Regular interaction with your followers not only adds a human element to your profile but also gives users a chance to clear their doubts and ask any questions related to your product or service.
  • Featuring user reviews on your social media profiles: Reviews can be a great way to build brand credibility. Collecting and prominently placing user reviews and testimonials on your social media profiles can be a good way to encourage potential customers to convert to paying clients.

Finally, it is interesting to note that regardless of whether our respondents use search engines or social media platforms to search online, only a relatively small proportion of them completely trust the information they get online. This can indicate a need for businesses to make an effort to consistently improve the quality of their content and share valid information regardless of whether they’re optimising content for search engines or social media platforms.

Majority of respondents find personalised search results useful

Now that we have had a look at the trustworthiness of search results from search engines and social media platforms, let us look at another aspect of search results called personalisation. Personalised search results are aimed to provide relevant information to the users on the basis of their geographical location and cookie information. 

To do this, the web browser typically collects user information like their current location, past search history, etc., and stores it in cookies for search engines to refer to. For example, if a user searched for a coffee shop from a particular location, a search engine will store that information and use it to recommend other coffee shops in that locality.

To find out the usefulness of these results, we asked our respondents how they feel about personalised search results, and we found that:

  • 54% find them somewhat useful
  • 21% find them very useful
  • 18% find them not very useful, and 
  • 7% find them not useful at all

Personalised search results: benefits and downsides

Breaking down why users prefer/don't prefer to get personalised search results, we got some interesting stats:

Benefits: More than half (55%) of the respondents stated that personalised results make it easier for them to find what they’re looking for as one of the benefits. 24% said that they get results that positively surprise them, and 21% said that they can save more time with personalised search results. 

Downsides: Of those respondents who said that they do not find personalised search results useful, 44% said that they don’t want the search engine to decide in advance what they might find interesting. This is followed by 27% stating that they have privacy concerns and 21% stating that personalised results usually don’t match what they’re looking for, among others.

How can personalisation software help businesses?

Our data indicate that a significant number of users find personalised search results useful. Businesses that want to personalise their content for users can also make use of personalisation software. Such software can collect, analyse, and manage data collected from customers in order to plan for individualised experiences like promotions, automated marketing initiatives, product recommendations, and dynamic pricing. 

For example, if you sell candles, such software can collect information about your customers, their past purchases, the occasion for which they made that purchase, and other details and can potentially recommend a suitable product to them to invoke a purchase.

77% find location-based search results useful

Personalised search results are useful for a majority of respondents. Now, let's analyse whether location-based search results fare better or worse. To evaluate the importance of location-based search results, we asked respondents how they feel when search engines or social media platforms use their location, such as city or country, to provide results. The following answers were recorded:

54% of respondents find location-based search results somewhat useful

Moreover, we asked survey-takers who find location-based search results either somewhat or very useful about the main benefits of such results, and here’s what they had to say: 

  • 62% said that location-based search results make it easier to find places or events that are near their houses
  • 38% stated that their search results are more accurate

Overall, our data indicates that users find location-based search results useful to them.  Businesses can use this information to their advantage by promoting their businesses to locals and people in the area either by organically appearing higher up in the search results or by running paid marketing campaigns that target certain geographical areas.

SMEs can benefit from improving their brand positioning online

Below are some of the tips that SMEs can incorporate into their strategy for building a better online presence and to aid growth:

  • Businesses should work towards creating more credibility around their brand and regularly review and improve the information available on their website. They can do so by creating relevant content, collecting user reviews, interacting with their audience from time to time, and addressing their concerns and queries. 
  • They can make use of SEO software to improve the positioning of their website and web pages on search engine rankings through optimisation. This can possibly help them drive more traffic to their website.
  • They may also look at adding targeted/personalised elements to make customers feel more connected to the brand and provide them with more relevant information. This can be done through personalisation software which can help them personalise recommendations to cater to different demographics.
  • Businesses can integrate location-tracking on their website to provide location-based search results to users who are looking for location-specific answers to their queries. To do this, they should also be transparent about collecting such data and comply with GDPR regulations. 
  • SMEs should strive to create trustworthy content to increase the credibility of their website, which in turn can result in a high DA/DR as well. This can be done by adding SSL certification and including high-quality links in their content.
  • They may also expand their presence from search engine results to social media platforms. This will not only expand their footprint but also help them reach larger audiences belonging to different generations.
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The 2023 Decentralisation of Search Engines survey was launched between 9th February and 16th February 2023. It was undertaken by 1,021 participants from different parts of the UK. For the purpose of this article, by ‘online searching’, we refer to the practice of using tools such as search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckduckGo, etc.) and social media platforms (Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) to conduct a specific search for something in particular. This search can be for any kind of online information on any topic. 

When we mention the term ‘search online’, we refer solely and exclusively to the process of intentionally searching online for information about a topic. Within this concept, we exclude activities such as ‘surfing’ the internet or using social media platforms just to look at the feed.

The criteria for selecting the participants is as follows:

  • Resident of the United Kingdom
  • Above 18 years of age
  • Search online more than once per month

NOTE: This document, while intended to inform our clients about the current data privacy and security challenges experienced by IT companies in the global marketplace, is in no way intended to provide legal advice or to endorse a specific course of action. For advice on your specific situation, consult your legal counsel.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Sukanya is a Content Analyst for the UK and India market. Committed to offering insights on technology, emerging trends and software suggestions to SMEs. Café hopper and a dog mom.

Sukanya is a Content Analyst for the UK and India market. Committed to offering insights on technology, emerging trends and software suggestions to SMEs. Café hopper and a dog mom.