Technology

Evaluating a Website’s Credibility

Website credibility is not a static state and no website is 100% free of bias all the time.

With misinformation rampant online, how do you find credible sources? What makes a website credible and how can you build your own website’s credibility? These questions face anyone seeking answers via the internet. Maybe a website tells you that you can clean your drain with a lemon, but should you believe them? 

Determining credibility online is about locating trusted sources with up-to-date information and without an ulterior motive. To evaluate a website’s credibility you’ll want to look at five areas of legitimacy of the information. Plan to ask these questions: 

  • Is the information current?
  • Does the information answer your question or relate to your specific situation?
  • Who is the source of the information and what authority do they have on this topic?
  • Where did they get the information? How has it been verified?
  • Why does the information exist and what is their motive for posting it?

We’ll cover each of these questions in detail below so you can easily start to assess a website’s credibility with confidence and ensure access to accurate information.

Authority

Authority is important in determining the credibility of a website because it demonstrates that the author has an in-depth specialized knowledge or experience on the topic. The author’s credentials and relationship to the topic are important. They might also list an institutional affiliation, especially in scientific or research-related topics. 

It’s also a good idea to look for contract information to ask follow-up questions as an author with authority on a topic will welcome questions and discussion. 

In addition to the author’s authority, the web domain itself might demonstrate authority. Domains that end in .edu and .gov are restricted domains and indicate an accredited institution of higher learning or an official government site, respectively.

Timeliness

The next important factor for website credibility is its current relevance. An article might have been published on vaccination by a credible authority in 1990, but that information might be outdated with current medical advances. 

Depending on the field, even information that is a few months old can be out of date, so you’ll want to double-check that the article is truly the latest information on the topic. In the case of Covid-19, there is new research coming out every few days. 

Check both the article publication date and how frequently the website is updated. A website that has not been updated in more than a year will also not be a trusted source. 

Relevance

Is the information presented on the website relevant to your specific question or concern? There might be a website dedicated to the dangers of vaccination for children with a rare genetic disorder. If your child doesn’t have that disorder, the information presented is irrelevant. 

In addition to overall relevance to your concerns, look at the scope of the coverage. Most scientists and researchers are careful to state the limitations of their research and avoid broad sweeping statements. Does the site use precise language and discuss limits to the information presented? 

Look also for interlinking to other trusted sources, a bibliography, and any other supporting materials to confirm relevance. 

Accuracy

Accuracy starts with a clear, professional website free from errors or typos and extends to supporting materials and documentation. Do they quote other authorities, list scientific research, display charts, bibliography or other objective information? 

A site that is willing to quote other authorities, site sources, and share research backing demonstrates accuracy and credibility. Look also to ensure that the author doesn’t appear to have one specific objective to twist accuracy. 

Purpose (objectivity)

Finally, you will want to look at the purpose of the website. Is it to educate and inform? Or is there a purpose to “sell” you on a specific idea, product, or belief? Does the website seem free of political, ideological, institutional, personal, religious or cultural bias? 

While some cultural or religious bias is alright, depending on the information you are seeking, the more objective a website is, the more you are sure the information is accurate. Does the author acknowledge limitations in the information or their own bias? Is there a stated purpose for the website? Is it fact, opinion, or propaganda? 

Taken all together, you will start to get a feeling for whether the website strives for objectivity or a certain bias, and be able to assess its credibility accordingly. 

Putting It All Together

Website credibility is not a static state and no website is 100% free of bias all the time. Seek out websites that provide the most timely information, from the most trusted sources with reference to your question or concern. 

As information is evolving so quickly, websites need to continuously update their information to reflect the latest research and understanding. Learning to evaluate a website’s credibility puts the power of information in your hands. 

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