58.2, May 2011

Color Matters: Color as Trustworthiness Cue in Web sites

Wouter A. Alberts and Thea M. van der Geest


Purpose: In today's increasingly technological world, the first impression of an orgnization is often based on a user's judgment of the corporate Web site's trustworthiness. This study investigates whether color as a Web site element can serve as a trustworthiness cue. In addition, the context of these Web sites was taken into account as research indicates that emotions associated with colors might differ between contexts.

Method: An experimental study was conducted in which first impressions of trustworthiness of Web sites were measured in relation with the chosen color scheme. More than 200 participants evaluated eight finance, eight legal, and eight medical Web sites on perceived trustworthiness. Each respondent was presented with an identical Web site that only differed on the used color scheme. Four different color schemes (red, blue, green, and black) were put to the test.

Result: The findings indicate that when the same Web site is presented using different color schemes, the Web sites are considered to have different levels of trustworthiness. Color has a statistically significant but limited effect, compared with all other reasons people can have to trust a Web site. Overall, the blue color scheme was perceived as most trustworthy and black as least trustworthy. The effect of the context is statistically significant, but very small.

Conclusion: The color-trustworthiness relationship has never been demonstrated in the context of Web sites. This study supports the common sense idea with scientific evidence by showing that color matters in a user's judgment of a Web site's trustworthiness. Web site designers can increase the trustworthiness of a Web site by using an appropriate color scheme.

Keywords: color, trustworthiness, Web site, credibility, trust.

Practitioner's Takeaway

  • The users’ view on the trustworthiness of a Web site is influenced by the color scheme of that Web site.
  • The influence of color scheme on the trustworthiness of a Web site differs between contexts.
  • Blue and green color schemes are a safe choice for different contexts.


One of the many design decisions that Web site designers have to consider is the basic color scheme for a Web site under construction. For existing brands it is often easy: The choice of color scheme is determined by the existing corporate color scheme. Some sites have a strong thematic association, like green and blue for nature and environment conservancy organizations; other sites are directed by a dominant corporate brand color, like blue for “Big Blue” IBM and red for the Coca-Cola Company. But what do you do when the brand doesn't exist yet, or when organizations merge and in the process are changing names and corporate styles? Common sense tells us that color matters: we don't expect a law firm or a hospital to present itself in purple, or a toy store in black and white. The chosen color scheme is particularly essential for e-commerce and e-service organizations that must make the right impression just through their Web site, because they are not supported by the physical qualities of the products offered the cues in the physical and spatial environment of the store, or the likeability of the sales person. The Web site must not only make the service or product offer very clear, but also create the users’ perception that the organization can be trusted to deliver the purchased service or product as expected. Mackiewicz (2009) supposes that technical communicators might lack confidence in their color choices. They might wonder whether it matters which color is selected for the site, and if so, which color would work best if they intend to create a trustworthy impression for an organization. In this article, we report on an experimental study in which first impressions of trustworthiness of Web sites are studied in relation to the chosen color scheme. We focus on color because it is one of the easiest Web site characteristics that designers can manipulate.

Trustworthiness, Credibility, and Trust

Trustworthiness and credibility of Web sites, and the resulting trust that users have in Web sites and in the organizations behind the Web sites, have become a topic of engaged scientific debate among e-commerce researchers in the past ten years. Building trust is assumed to be imperative for success in the e-commerce environment (Corritore, Kracher, & Weidenbeck, 2003; Jarvenpaa & Tractinsky, 1999). Lack of trust is often mentioned as one of the main reasons for non-adoption of e-commerce and online purchases (e.g., Jarvenpaa & Tractinsky, 1999; McKnight, Choudhury, & Kacmar, 2002; Reichheld & Schefter, 2000). Trust in general is an important factor in contexts of risk and uncertainty, when one party (the trustor) has to rely on the behavior, the integrity, and the expertise of the other party (the trustee or the object of trust). In the business context, it determines the nature of people's interactions and their expectations for the relationship with a vendor. Gefen (2002) defines trust as a concept with several layers of meaning. It refers both to a general belief that the other party can be trusted, and to specific beliefs that a trustor holds about the integrity, benevolence, ability, and predictability of the party to be trusted. Those specific beliefs compose trustworthiness. In the context of the Internet, initial trust is assumed to be very important (McKnight et al., 2002). Initial trust is the kind of trust that trustors must invest when they do not have meaningful information or a positive or negative bond with the trustee. As McKnight et al. state: “The period during which a consumer visits and explores a vendor's Web site for the first time […] is clearly within the domain of initial trust” (p. 336). In this study we have focused on initial trust, evoked by Web sites that are viewed for the first time. For an overview of other factors related to trust, see McKnight et al. (2002), Gefen (2002), Gefen and Straub (2000), and Grabner-Krauter and Kalusha (2003).

Trustworthiness is often confounded with credibility. In a narrow sense, credibility is the trustor's belief that information is accurate and reliable, for example because the source (the person or object who delivers the information) has a reputation of giving accurate information, or because the information is supported with ample and convincing evidence. McKnight et al. (2002) assume that credibility is built up when parties have interacted for some time, and hence is different from initial trust. Trustworthiness is a broader concept than credibility, because it is not restricted to the perceived quality of information. It covers every aspect of the Web site and its content that can contribute to beliefs that the other party can be trusted. However, the two concepts are used as equivalents in many studies of online trust and trustworthiness.

In our study, the trustworthiness of Web sites was measured. On the Internet, the Web sites rather than the organizations themselves or their representatives, become the object of trust and must evoke or create the specific beliefs that compose trustworthiness. For designers of Web sites it is essential to know which design elements, features, or characteristics of the Web site are signaling trustworthiness and can serve as cues for the creation or maintenance of trust.

Trust Cues in Web sites

Trust results from a mix of beliefs and convictions. For a legal Web site, a visitor can hold the beliefs that a particular legal firm is very trustworthy, that many lawyers are crooks, and that the legal system in general is in our common interest. These convictions play an important role when someone judges the trustworthiness of a legal Web site, and Web site designers cannot easily change or influence these beliefs. However, it is worthwhile to consider what a Web site designer can include in the design that can serve as trust cues and add a belief to the ones already established. Hence our focus on Web site design elements as trust cues, and on color in particular.

Several previous studies have focused on trust cues in Web sites. We are currently reporting studies that focus on visual elements, in particular color, as trust cues. Fogg (2003) developed a theory of credibility, which he defines in a way that matches our definition of trustworthiness. The prominence-interpretation theory explains how people assess the credibility of Web sites. It posits two aspects of a credibility (or trustworthiness) assessment: the likelihood that an element related to the Web site will be noticed or perceived (prominence) and the value or meaning assigned to the element based on the user's judgment, good or bad (interpretation). Fogg (2003) identified five factors affecting prominence: user involvement, information topic, task, experience level, and other individual differences. Three factors affect interpretation: user assumptions, user skill and knowledge, and contextual factors such as the environment in which the assessment is made. The study presented here can be placed in the framework of the prominence-interpretation theory. It investigates whether color as a conspicuous Web site element (prominence) can serve as a trustworthiness cue (interpretation).

In an exploratory investigation of trust cues, Fogg, Soohoo, and Danielson (2002) asked more than 2,600 users to evaluate sets of paired live Web sites that were selected from 10 different contexts (for example news sites, travel sites, financial sites). Each pair of Web sites presented side by side belonged to the same category. The participants were asked to rate which of the two presented sites they found more credible. After having rated the pairs, they explained their criteria for credibility in open questions. The aim of this study was to obtain insight into the factors which, in the view of the respondents, determined the credibility of Web site. Fogg et al. found that users rarely used rigorous criteria when evaluating Web sites: “the average consumer paid far more attention to the superficial aspects of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content” (p. 6). For example, nearly half of the participants evaluated the credibility with a reference to the appeal of the overall visual design of a Web site, such as the color scheme. Fogg and his co-authors emphasized the speed with which users generally make judgments, and stated that visual design is important because, “The visual design may be the first test of a site's credibility. If it fails on this criterion, Web users are likely to abandon the site and seek other sources of information and services” (p. 26). They also stressed that the impact of overall visual design varied between site categories. Visual design criteria were mentioned more frequently for assessing finance, search engine, travel, and e-commerce sites, and less frequently for health, news, and nonprofit sites. This suggests that visual design as a trustworthiness cue within Web sites might be context-sensitive; a relation that we further explored in our study.

Robins and Holmes (2008) explored in their study the possible link between page aesthetics and a user's judgment of the site's credibility. They selected 21 Web sites and made them all available in two versions: a high aesthetic version (screen dump of the original) and a low aesthetic version (copy of original stripped of its visual elements). Twenty participants judged the 42 Web sites on their first impressions. Robins and Holmes conclude that when the same content is presented using different levels of aesthetics, the more aesthetic Web site was judged as having higher credibility. Van der Geest and Van Dongelen (2009) manipulated visual appeal of 12 Web sites (screen dumps of home pages) and presented Web sites with high and low visual appeal during 750 milliseconds to prompt their 588 participants to report on first impressions of expected information quality (credibility in the narrow sense). A week later, 355 of the original participants were exposed again to the sites but now for a longer time (5 seconds) and again assessed the expected information quality. Their findings supported Robins and Holmes’ (2008) conclusion that Web sites with a high visual appeal were rated higher on expected information quality than comparable Web sites with a low visual appeal. The longer exposure in the follow-up study reduced the effect of visual appeal somewhat, but the difference between more and less appealing Web sites remained. On the basis of these studies we conclude that visual design elements do act as trust cues in Web sites. One of the most prominent visual cues is color.

Perception of Color in Web sites

Perception of Aesthetics

Tractinsky and Lowengart (2007) examined the role of beauty (indicated with the term aesthetic design) in Web stores. In their study, they state that beauty is a subjective perception, based on a viewer's evaluation of visual design properties: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. According to Tractinsky and Lowengart (2007), aesthetic evaluations of an artifact are made on the basis of both what the object looks like according to the viewer (perceptual evaluation) and what it means for the viewer (cognitive evaluation). The perceptual evaluation is based on the design properties that create appearance, such as color, shape, and size. The cognitive evaluation relates, in their opinion, more to the artifact's meaning or to the elicited associations and hence is influenced by concepts such as symbolism, identity, or image.

Tractinsky and Lowengart (2007) say that prior research suggests that there are two basic mechanisms by which aesthetics can affect decision making, such as the decision to make a purchase in a non-rational way. They base the two mechanisms on the Elaboration Likelihood Model of Petty and Cacioppo (1986). The first mechanism they suggest is the halo effect, which carries over first impressions of a Web site to user evaluations of other attributes of that Web site. For example, a beautifully designed Web site of a clothing store might lead users to believe that the garments on offer are also very beautiful. The aesthetic design is seen as a sign of professionalism and therefore a good indication of the organization's quality and ability to serve its users. The second mechanism suggested by Tractinsky and Lowengart (2007) is that aesthetics may influence the users’ evaluation by inducing an affective, non-rational response. When viewers are not motivated or do not have the capacity to process the information, they tend to use such non-rational “mental shortcuts,” indicated with the term “heuristics,” to come to a decision. One of the heuristics that is known from other fields of research is: What is beautiful is good. Applied to our case, it means that people may base their trustworthiness judgment on first impressions of Web site attractiveness or on a very shallow analysis of the site, rather than on a careful evaluation of the attributes and content of the site. They jump to conclusions based on the Web site's attractiveness. Because the Web site is visually appealing at first sight, they assume it is trustworthy. In our study we have assumed that color is an important and prominent element of the first visual impression of a site.

Perception and Appreciation of Color

Several studies have focused on the role of color in the perception and appreciation of Web sites. Gorn, Chattopadhyay, Sengupta, and Tripathi (2004) investigated the link between the color of a Web page's background while the page was downloading and the perceived quickness of the download. Their study indicates that the background screen color influences how quickly the user thinks a page is downloaded, even when in reality the download time was exactly the same for each tested background color.

In an experimental study, Schenkman and Jönsson (2000) studied the first impressions of 13 different web pages presented to 18 participants. They distinguished the following four primary dimensions as influencing preferences for particular designs:

  • Beauty
  • Mostly illustrations versus mostly text
  • Overview
  • Structure

Participants were proven to base their preferences primarily on the beauty dimension, how beautiful and appealing the person thought the page was. Schenkman and Jönsson did not specifically study the color aspect of Web sites, but point out that “[…] color would be expected to be one of the important factors for the preferences and the beauty ratings” (p. 376). The study reported here further investigates the role of color in creating trustworthiness.

Color in Context

Information is always selected and processed within a particular context. People use the context to quickly decode which information is relevant to the situation. The context defines how the message gets interpreted, a process known as sense-making (Dervin, 1989). With regard to color, the meanings attributed to different colors are associated with the context in which the color is used. In fact, color meanings are learned (Grossman & Wisenblit, 1999). For example, the use of a red instead of a black pencil when commenting on text has become associated with marking errors, a color association that we have learned to interpret as meaningful in the context of text reviewing and grading (Rouland, 1993).

Valdez and Mehrabian (1994) studied the effect of color on users’ emotions. They demonstrated that the context in which a color is used can have a substantial bearing on users’ emotions evoked by the color, as illustrated with the following example: “although the present data indicated blue to be a pleasant color, blue hair or blue food, for instance, are not expected to elicit pleasant reactions” (p. 408). Bottomley and Doyle (2006) also explored the relation between context and color, focusing on the process of building brand meaning by using colors that are appropriate for particular contexts. Distinguishing functional brands (that fulfill practical needs of consumers) from sensory-social brands (that fulfill more symbolic needs such as self-identity), they showed that it is more appropriate for functional products to be presented in functional colors (gray, black, blue, and green), and sensory-social products in sensory-social colors (red, yellow, bright pink, and purple). Their explanation of why some colors are more appropriate in a category than others is interesting. They assume that appropriateness is influenced by the ease with which a stimulus is processed: A congruent combination of color and product will be processed with less effort and hence be perceived as more appropriate than incongruent combinations.

These studies show that perception and evaluation of colors are linked to contexts and that judgment about the most appropriate or the most preferred color differs between contexts. People do not have just one favorite color, but a favorite color for each context (Grossman & Wisenbilt, 1999). We decided to study the effect of color use on trustworthiness judgments of a site, taking the influence of context into account.


Our study addressed the following research question: What is the relationship between the color scheme used within Web sites and the perceived trustworthiness of those Web sites, and does the Web site context have an effect on this relationship? We set up an experiment to investigate those relationships.


A convenience sample of 220 students at the University of Twente, which is located near the German border, participated in the experiment and completed the questionnaire. Eight of them proved to be color blind; their results were removed from the data set. Thirty-three respondents were not Dutch nationals; 28 of them were German. We decided to treat the non-Dutch respondents as a separate group because visual design preference may be related to culture (Aslam, 2006; Madden, Hewett, & Roth, 2000). We removed their responses from the data set for the main analyses, but retained the considerable group of German respondents to explore any differences between two so closely located countries as the Netherlands and Germany. In this section, the results are reported on the remaining 179 Dutch participants. They are average Internet users (weekly 10 to 20 hours) and their mean age is 22 years (SD = 2.1).

To make sure that the respondents saw the online questionnaire in more or less identical conditions, we also gathered statistics about traffic to the online questionnaire (screen resolution, color depth, and time visit). The most important conclusion is that participants were able to view the Web sites accurately, with sufficient color depth (98%) and screen resolution (99%). The average visit time among participants was between 10 and 15 minutes, which was also announced as the time needed to complete the experiment. Participants received no money or course credit, but were told they could win a free lunch by completing the study.


Web sites. We aimed at measuring the perceived trustworthiness of Web sites in various contexts, using actual home pages of real Web sites. We used English language Web sites from non-Dutch and non-German organizations and removed the original organizations’ logo and Internet address from the pages to prevent possible recognition of the Web site by participants. In the questionnaire, we presented each Web site as an image of 408 × 318 pixels. In previous studies, images of the object of analysis have proved themselves as reliable and valid material (Brunel & Kumar, 2007). By showing the Web sites as an image that could not be manipulated, and that only differed from its counterparts in color scheme, differences in trustworthiness judgments could only be attributed to the different color schemes.

Context. In this study, we defined context as the commercial sector in which the organization behind the Web site was active. We decided to select three equally “risky” contexts in which initial trust is essential, so we chose Web sites of financial, legal and medical organizations that our respondents were not familiar with. Risky contexts are those in which users have to rely on the expertise of the other party and must disclose personal, possibly sensitive information about themselves. In this kind of context, users must trust the Web sites and hence will be more sensitive to trustworthiness cues. By selecting three contexts with a similar degree of perceived risk, we controlled the factor of risk influencing trustworthiness. Finally, we presented eight unfamiliar Web sites from each of the three contexts to make sure that the expressed judgments were stable, and influenced by the Web sites, and not just a haphazard answer to a one-time question or influenced by prior experience with the company.

Color Scheme. Because Web sites rarely have just one color, we selected and redesigned existing Web sites using different hues and tints from one of four color schemes: red, blue, green, or black. Figure 1 shows the four color varieties of one of the eight financial Web sites.

Figure 1. Example of a financial website in four color schemes: (upper-left) blue, (upper-right) black, (bottom-left) red, and (bottom-right) green


To answer the research questions, we conducted an online experiment. First, participants were presented with written instructions in Dutch and then were asked to complete a color blindness test according to the Ishihara method, in which participants have to distinguish a digit in a pattern of dots (Ishihara, 1969). Next, participants were asked to evaluate the trustworthiness of a series of screen images, which were presented two at a time, side by side, that were only different in the color scheme used in the Web site (see Figure 2). We did not reveal the purpose of the study to participants; they were only asked to judge trustworthiness of each Web site (screen image) on the basis of their first impressions. Each participant saw two of the possible four color schemes for each Web site, in a random, counterbalanced color combination, random presentation order, and random left-right position. In total, the respondents rated 48 screen images (24 pairs) for trustworthiness, expressing their judgment “I consider this Web site…” on a 7-point scale (not trustworthy at all to very trustworthy), a presentation format that was identical to the one used in the study of Fogg, Soohoo, & Danielson, 2001. Eight pairs of Web site screens were from the financial context (such as stock brokers and financial advisors), eight pairs from the legal context, and eight pairs from a medical context.

Figure 2. Experimental presentation of two color versions of a medical website; (left) red color scheme and (right) green color scheme

After every set of eight screen images from a particular context, we asked the participants with an open question to indicate which color they thought was the most trustworthy for that particular context: finance, legal, or medical. After completion, participants were debriefed and thanked for their participation.


Color Scheme and Perceived Trustworthiness

Our main question was whether there is a relation between the color scheme used in the Web site design and the trust the site evokes in the viewers. Did our respondents judge the trustworthiness of Web sites differently on the basis of their color?

Figure 3 shows that the color scheme of the Web site did influence the trustworthiness judgment. Over all contexts and Web sites, the blue color scheme was perceived as most trustworthy and the black color scheme as least trustworthy. The differences in trustworthiness judgments were not caused by individual differences between respondents or by “chance”, but were statistically significant (tested with ANOVA, (F(3, 8158) = 198.21, p ≤ .001). Therefore, color matters within Web sites, and leads to different perceptions of trustworthiness.

Figure 3. Perceived trustworthiness by color schemes, all contexts (scale 1 = not trustworthy at all, 7 = very trustworthy)

Having assessed in general that color matters, we checked in more detail whether the four colors differed from each other in their effect on trustworthiness by analyzing the trustworthiness judgment for the two similar screens that were presented side by side (see Figure 2). In this way, we could see whether the difference between (for example) green and red or between red and black is statistically significant. This proved to be the case, as Table 1 shows. As one can see, the trustworthiness of (for example) the blue versions of the sites was rated 0.87 points higher on a 7-point scale than the trustworthiness of the black versions of the sites. The difference between the trustworthiness judgments of the red and black color scheme is statistically significant at p = .018, all other differences at p < .001.

Table 1. Mean differences of trustworthiness of color schemes

Color scheme













Note. First column represents color schemes with highest perceived trustworthiness.

Our analysis of variance (ANOVA) analyses of the perceived trustworthiness judgments allow us to determine what the effect size is of color scheme; therefore, to what extent color contributes to the trustworthiness. The effect size of color is limited; it explains (over all contexts and Web sites) 6.8% of the variance in perceived trustworthiness. We will discuss the interpretation of that limited effect below.

We checked whether the women and men in our test judged the trustworthiness differently. The 73 female participants proved to rate the various color schemes significantly higher on trustworthiness than the 106 men. The mean value for women was 4.52 on a 7-point scale, against 4.27 for the men (analysis with T-test, p ≤ .001). The effect on trustworthiness explained by the color scheme was also higher for women (7.4%) than for men (6.3%), suggesting that women, a bit more than men, base their trustworthiness perception on the used color scheme.

Context and Perceived Trustworthiness

We also explored whether the relationship between trustworthiness and color scheme would hold in the three different, but equally risky contexts: financial, legal and medical. To do so, we analyzed the data set for each context separately (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Perceived trustworthiness of color schemes, by context (scale 1 = not trustworthy at all, 7 = very trustworthy)

Our repeated measure ANOVA analyses showed that, for each of the three contexts, the color scheme used influenced the trustworthiness judgment, but this was not or only barely the case for context. The red and black Web sites from the finance and legal contexts did not lead to statistically significant differences in trustworthiness. The other combinations of color and context had a statistically significant effect on trustworthiness, but the effect size was very small, ranging from 0.1% to 0.4%. Context did not add much to the effect of color on trustworthiness. Yet the differences in trustworthiness scores in the various contexts are different. The ANOVA test showed that in the finance context, the color scheme of the Web site had a larger effect (11.2%) on the perceived trustworthiness, than in the legal (4.3%) and the medical context (5.8%). This finding suggests that color can have different effects in particular contexts, but to see this more clearly, the effect should be explored in contexts that are much more different from each other than the three equally risky contexts that we selected for this study. We conclude that for some Web site contexts, the used color scheme appears to be more important than for other contexts.

Color Preferences for Trustworthiness

We asked participants to indicate the color they thought to be the most trustworthy for each context. As seen in Table 2, blue was perceived as most trustworthy across all contexts. Within the financial and medical contexts, the second most trustworthy color was green, and within the legal context it was the color black. The third most trustworthy color differed between contexts: for finance it was black, for legal it was green, and for medical it was white. The most preferred colors were also the colors used in the experiment—blue, green, red, black—which could be an effect of presenting Web sites in those colors. Interesting is the number of participants expressing a preference for black in legal sites, and an aversion against red for finance sites; color preferences that were not expressed in the trustworthiness ratings of the presented Web sites.

Table 2. Number of times a color is preferred as most trustworthy





























































No idea










Differences between Dutch and German participants

As we mentioned before, we explored the differences between the trustworthiness judgments of the 179 Dutch participants and the 28 German participants. Figure 5 compares the results.

Figure 5. Comparison of trustworthiness scores between Dutch and German participants (scale 1 = not trustworthy at all, 7 = very trustworthy)

The group of German respondents found, as much as our Dutch respondents, the blue and green color schemes the most trustworthy. Yet there are some minor differences between the two groups. The Dutch were more positive about the trustworthiness of red sites than their German counterparts (tested with t-test, p ≤ .001). Looking into specific contexts, it proves to be the medical and the legal context that makes a difference: The Dutch are more positive about the red medical sites, and that difference is statistically significant (T-test, p = .044). Over all Web sites and contexts, nationality proved to have some influence (tested with ANOVA, p = .017), in interaction with the main effect of color scheme (p = .003), but not with context (p = .27). The ANOVA tests show that combined, color and nationality account for an effect size of 7.5%, and again it is mostly color (7.1%) that influences the judgments about trustworthiness of a site.

Conclusions and Discussion

This study investigated whether perceptions of trustworthiness differ between Web sites with different color schemes and whether this relationship is affected by the context, demonstrating color-context associations.

The results showed that different color schemes resulted in different degrees of perceived trustworthiness, which led us to believe that color as Web site element can serve as a trustworthiness cue. Of the four tested colors, the blue color scheme was perceived as most trustworthy and black as least trustworthy. The results showed that the effects are strong in a statistical sense, but limited in effect size. They predict about 7% of the trustworthiness judgment. Trust is a consequence of various beliefs and convictions, which are established outside the realm of the Web site. Those beliefs and convictions determine to a large extent how much trust is invested in a Web site of a company in a particular business context. They cannot easily be influenced by the Web site design. As far as the design goes, color is one of the many design characteristics that determine the prominent visual appearance of a site, together with, for example, size and content of images, use of white space, and typography. Given all those factors that are likely to contribute to the judgment of trustworthiness in Web sites, we believe that the 7% effect size of color scheme still is a sizable contribution. In other words, color matters in the trustworthiness perception of Web sites, particularly as it is one of the easy ways to manipulate characteristics.

Further research could reveal which particular colors and hues would predict the highest or lowest perceived trustworthiness in Web sites. Although this study has provided some results, we are fully aware of the limitations in the number of color schemes used. We cannot formulate conclusions about specific hues (for example that light red is more trustworthy than dark blue) and about color schemes that were not used within this study.

We expected that the relationship between color scheme and perceived trustworthiness in Web sites would be affected by the context of the Web site because of different color-context associations. We selected three contexts for which Web sites assumedly need to be trustworthy: finance, legal, and medical. The results in a statistical sense supported the idea of color-context association, but the effect size of context was very small. Yet, we saw some differences between the three rather similar contexts we investigated, which is a good reason to explore this issue in a more varied set of contexts. We explored differences among Web sites from three contexts that presented functional services: financial, legal, and medical services and products that help clients to prevent or solve a problem. Our respondents found blue and green color schemes, the colors marked by Bottomley and Doyle (2006) as appropriate for typical functional products, the most trustworthy for Web sites with these functional products. We hope that someone will pick up this lead and explore the effect of color scheme on the trustworthiness of very different types of sites and products, like entertainment versus functional service sites, low versus high involvement product sites, or low risk versus high risk sites. We have come to believe that for some Web site contexts the used color scheme is more important than for other contexts.

The color-trustworthiness relationship has never been demonstrated in the context of Web sites. This study has upgraded the common sense idea on the importance of color choices to scientific evidence, by showing that color matters in user's judgment about the Web site's trustworthiness. From a user interface perspective, color is an important design characteristic because it is in the control of the user interface designer. Using a trustworthy color might be especially important for start-ups and firms that have not yet established an offline presence or brand reputation. They have to build customer relations and credibility on the basis of their online presence: It takes users only one click to leave the Web site. Therefore, particularly these companies should take advantage of controllable factors such as the color scheme of their Web site. As an online communication design characteristic, color is simply too important to ignore.


The authors contributed equally and are presented in alphabetical order. Both would like to thank three anonymous reviewers, the editor-in-chief of this journal, and University of Twente colleagues for the time and effort they invested in the quality of the article.


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About the Authors

Wouter Alberts has a passion for social science, strategy, and technology. He integrates these ingredients as researcher and business consultant within the areas of marketing and corporate communication. He obtained his Master's degree in Communication Studies (with honors) at the University of Twente, the Netherlands. Contact: w.a.alberts@alumnus.utwente.nl.

Thea van der Geest works with the Media, Communication and Organisations group of the University of Twente, the Netherlands. She has (co-)authored a wide range of articles and books on acceptance and trust of e-services, factors determining the user experience of Web sites, accessibility and usability, and evaluation methods of mediated communication.