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Effects of Sponsorship, Web Site Design, and Google Ranking on the Credibility of Online Information



In this article, Axel Westerwick discusses the effects of sponsorship, website design, and Google ranking on the credibility of online information. Westerwick discovers that websites with an appealing user interface or design may be perceived as credible, compared to similar topics from sponsors with higher expertise. Furthermore, a well-designed, but less quality sponsor, may be perceived as equally credible as a better-quality sponsor. Google ranking also influences the credibility of online information. Because the internet is a vast space, the concept of uncertainty in information seeking has risen. Thus, page rankings help “reduce uncertainty about the relevance of online information for their search terms”. In other words, page rankings, in a way, sort out a way to view all the information from a search result. Westerwick found that many users trusted the rankings from search engines and preferred the top search results. In a study about Google’s users’ perceptions of search result rank and relevance, the overall results indicated that even if links in higher positions were less relevant to the search terms in lower ranked links, participants preferred the links in the higher positions. Thus, “a highly ranked Web site may be perceived as more credible than a lower ranked Web site”, implying that Google rankings do play an important aspect of the user’s assessment of web pages.


This article is relevant to the topic of Page Ranks, and it further investigates the consequences of having higher ranked pages and ads. I found this article very interesting because it confirmed my own inherent biases towards higher ranked pages, and contextualizes a few factors that play with credibility. For example, whenever I use Google, I typically only click on pages in the first page of the search results, either because I inherently trust the credibility of the first few pages, and/or I believe that the results are most likely more relevant than pages in later searches. However, higher ranked pages do not necessarily imply that the pages are actually more credible. Consequently, even though something maybe not actual be credible, there are many ways that can make it appear more credible that it actual is.


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October 2018