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How to Check a Website’s Reliability

How to Check a Website's Reliability

We all know the feeling: you're happily surfing the internet, devouring information like candy, when suddenly a little voice in your head asks, “But…can I trust this?”

And it's an excellent question to ask. For days, the internet is questionable in an age of digital pranks, fake news, and online hoaxes. It’s the Wild West of information – anyone can plant a virtual flag and make any claim they want.

So, how do you separate the wheat from the virtual chaff? How do you look at a website and know if it’s legit or just full of it? That’s what we’re going to learn in this post. So buckle up and get ready to become a web credibility ninja!

Why Does Website Reliability Matter?

Before we jump into tactics, let’s take a moment to consider why on earth we should vet websites for credibility these days. Our modern world is incredibly connected, with most people relying on the internet for…

  • News about current events
  • Academic research for school or work
  • Health info to help us make treatment decisions
  • Learning new skills through online courses
  • Shopping for products and services
  • Managing our finances and investments
  • …and much more!

In short, just about everything. At this point in history, pretty much all aspects of our lives have gone digital in some way, shape or form — which means that one false website could throw a serious wrench in your plans.

Suppose you follow unsubstantiated advice as though it were fact. In that case, you might make poor decisions that impact your education, safety, health care choices (and thus physical well-being), financial stability…pretty much every area where this matters most! 

Unfortunately, there are many sources out there looking to deceive us: from fake consumer review sites trashing companies left, right, and centre (which grinds my gears because those guys work hard, damnit) to all the conspiracy theory peddlers masquerading as credible journalists. In light of this fact, we must develop a critical eye when evaluating trustworthiness on the web.

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The 8 Key Signs of a Reliable Website

What Makes A Website Credible

So, with no more ado, here are some critical things to consider when determining whether a website is legitimate.

1. Domain and Site Ownership

Firstly, examine the domain name itself and the site’s ownership information. Domains that end with .gov or .edu are usually reliable as they are owned by government entities and educational institutions, respectively.

For domains such as .com, .net, or .org, you can look up the registered owner using a service like A promising sign is if it’s an established organisation with a physical presence in the real world; it’s more suspicious if it’s an individual you can’t verify.

You can also right-click on many websites and select “View Page Source” to see all the code behind the page. If the copyright listed there belongs to a reputable entity, that is another positive signal.

2. Site’s ‘About’ and Contact Info

Reputable websites will have an “About” page that tells you what the site is for, who runs it – either an organisation or individual – and any relevant credentials or affiliations they have.

Similarly, there should be easy-to-find contact details such as a phone number and physical address; if there’s just a web form and nothing else, this could be a red flag.

3. Website Design & Experience

While not foolproof, how professional-looking a website’s design and user experience (UX) can give you valuable hints about its credibility.

A trustworthy site will usually have a clean, modern design with a straightforward navigation structure; grammar/spelling will be correct; multimedia elements like images/video will be high-quality, etc.

On the other hand, an amateurish or outdated-looking design that appears to have been thrown together might indicate less authoritative/established sources. Of course, judging a book by its cover isn’t wise, but design quality still provides some context clues!

4. Content Quality & Accuracy

This is where the rubber meets the road: what does the stuff on the site say?

Are articles/reports/other content well-researched and cited adequately from credible sources? Is data backed up with verifiable evidence & solid facts instead of just made-up numbers? Is the writing style objective with minimal bias/inflammatory language, etc.?

If numerical stats are given, can you track down the source from which they were derived to see if it’s legitimate? Look for author credentials/affiliations indicating subject matter expertise, etc.

Also, sites that extensively source/link to other highly regarded .gov, .edu, research or mainstream media websites are a good sign.

5. Reputation & Third-Party Reviews

Now, I realise you can’t believe everything you read online (oh, irony!), but looking into a site’s overall reputation can give you some valuable clues about its reliability.

Major mainstream media sites that have been around for years or decades and have withstood public scrutiny are generally trustworthy.

Search the website name/organisation and see if reputable third-party sources like journals, watchdog groups or review sites have vetted/fact-checked their information. What do other people say about this site’s trustworthiness?

You can also check whether other authoritative sources you already trust/reference frequently link back to this one.

6. Editorial, Advertising, & Privacy Policies

Last but not least – reliable websites should have clear policies/documentation designed to help build user trust:

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An editorial policy that explains their guidelines for content creation/publication, how they fact-check things, what happens if there’s an error/how corrections are handled, potential conflicts of interest management, etc.

An advertising policy that explains how the site is funded and keeps advertisement separate from editorial content.

A privacy policy explains how user data is gathered and utilised, creating trust and protecting visitor privacy.

When there are no clear guidelines or transparency on a website, questions should be raised about its intentions and validity as an information source.

7. Bias vs. Objectivity

Although every piece of writing comes with some form of opinion or bias, reliable websites strive for neutrality by providing information from both sides. They should present multiple perspectives rather than pushing one view alone.

Be cautious of emotionally charged language that takes strong partisan positions or ridicules any opposing view. A neutral source sticks to facts while recognising valid counterarguments.

Opinion pieces must be logical and based on cited expert opinions and data, not unsupported claims made by individuals without credentials in related fields.

8. How Often Is It Updated?

Finally, consider the frequency at which new posts appear on this website; if it's covered in cobwebs dating back centuries, then we're not feeling too confident about things in 2024.

Legitimate sources consistently refresh their pages with fresh articles to show an active web presence where motivated editors keep things current and relevant.

News sites should have updates almost every hour, given how quickly stories develop nowadays; similarly, tech or health science blogs will post multiple daily posts since those fields change rapidly. Niche evergreen topics may only see updates once a month or less frequently, but they should still happen periodically.

Step-by-Step: How to Assess Website Credibility

Credible Sources Vs Non Credible

Now that we've covered the critical criteria for what to look for, here's a handy step-by-step checklist you can follow to vet any website thoroughly:

Step 1: Briefly skim the site to get an initial impression

  • Note your first gut reaction to the design quality, user experience, and general professionalism.
  • Do you trust this site at first glance? Why or why not?

Step 2: Thoroughly examine the website content

  • Read through multiple pages, articles, or other material to assess the depth, accuracy, objectivity, and quality of the actual content substance.
  • Look for proper citations and credible sources being referenced.
  • Evaluate the apparent expertise of any named authors based on their stated credentials and bio information.

Step 3: Check site ownership and operations transparency

  • Look up who owns the domain name and examine their About page and listed contact information.
  • Are they an established entity you've heard of or can verify with a real-world presence?
  • Do they have transparent, detailed policies and documentation around content guidelines, privacy practices, advertising standards, conflicts of interest, and corrections procedures?

Step 4: Search for external citations, references, and third-party reviews

  • Run some searches to see if other credible websites, publications, or public authorities reference or link to this site as a trusted source.
  • Look for watchdog reports or press that objectively fact-check or scrutinise the site's legitimacy.
  • You can also contact the site owner directly to ask questions about their editorial standards and sourcing practices.
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Step 5: Consider the frequency and consistency of updates

  • Note how frequently new pages or information gets published to demonstrate an active presence.
  • Are there any visible timestamps or dates showing how current the content is?

Step 6: Put it all together

  • Weigh all the factors together – both positive and negative signals.
  • Don't dash a site's credibility just from one lukewarm element, but look for a preponderance of evidence from multiple criteria.

A Closer Look at Some Telltale Signs of an Unreliable Website

Fake News Website Reliability

Now that we've covered the key markers to identify trustworthy sites let's flip it over and examine some of the giant red flags that should make you seriously question a website's credibility.

Pushing an Extreme Agenda or Conspiracy Theory

If a website seems hellbent on pushing a particular, extreme agenda through the use of emotionally charged, us vs. them rhetoric and hyperbolic language, that's a huge red flag. The content may be riddled with speculation, grand conspiracy theories about shadowy entities controlling world events, and zero facts or data.

Instead of objectively examining an issue, the writing takes on an aggressive, partisan tone of angry manifestos aimed at radicalising people into believing an ideological belief system or political doctrine. Credible sources present balanced perspectives on complex issues without resorting to brainwashing tactics.

Wild Pseudoscientific Claims or Miracle Cures

Similarly, be extremely wary of websites making grandiose pseudoscientific claims that fly in the face of established scientific consensus and verified evidence. Classic examples include:

  • Miracle cures for chronic conditions or diseases that have stumped medical researchers for decades
  • Claims about latent powers like psychic abilities, bending spoons with your mind, or talking to the dead
  • Fad diets promising to melt fat off your body in ridiculous, unnatural ways
  • Conspiracy theories about scientific topics, like saying climate change is a globalist hoax

While the internet has fostered a lot of unique crowdsourced scientific collaboration, it's also given a larger platform for unsubstantiated pseudoscience and snake oil peddlers to spread misinformation.

Deceptive Sales Tactics or Questionable Monetisation

Some websites exist solely as elaborate funnels to extract money from unsuspecting visitors through unethical means. Key signs include:

  • Aggressive monetisation through spammy ads, affiliate links, or sponsored content masquerading as genuine editorial
  • Incentivised reviews, rankings, or endorsements that seem biased or lack true independence
  • Outright fraud trying to steal financial information or set up money transfer scams
  • Hard-sell tactics with a heavy push to buy dubious products or services with hyped-up claims

While there's nothing inherently wrong with monetising a legitimate website through standard advertising or approved affiliate programs, once the sales tactics become the primary focus over helpful content, that's a huge problem.

Blatantly False or Impossible Claims

This should go without saying, but if a website reports provably false information or makes claims that are simply logically impossible, it has zero credibility. Some extreme examples include:

  • Reporting blatantly made-up events, statistics, or other fabricated information that has no basis in reality
  • Asserting things that defy the laws of physics, like perpetual motion machines or anti-gravity devices
  • Taking obvious parody or satire pieces and treating them with zero context as if they are real news
  • Making grandiose promises that are mathematically impossible, like doubling your income in a week through some shady scheme
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If something on a website seems too outrageous to be accurate, you should carefully verify it through other credible channels before believing it.

Amateur, Incomplete, or Inconsistent Information

Even if a site may be well-intentioned instead of outright malicious, amateurish or haphazardly incomplete, content that lacks editing and quality control is a sign you shouldn't fully trust the material. Signs include:

  • Glaring spelling errors, broken links, and overall sloppy execution
  • Articles or information sources lacking any dates, updates, or context around recency
  • Open questions left unanswered and critical details missing
  • Contradictions and factual inconsistencies across different pages
  • An overall lack of depth, citations, or nuanced exploration of complex topics

While perfection is unrealistic, consistent quality, timeliness, and attention to detail build confidence that the site's information is thoroughly fact-checked and adequately maintained.

Getting a 360-Degree View: Tools and Strategies for Checking Website Legitimacy.

Why Wordpress Sites Get Hacked

While manually scrutinising each site is essential, having the right tools and techniques at your disposal can streamline the process of holistically evaluating online sources:

Website reputation and safety scanning tools: Run a URL through a free tool like Web Risk API, Google's Safe Browsing transparency report, or VirusTotal to check if the site is flagged for malware, phishing attempts, or other security risks.

Browser extensions that show background info: Installing add-ons like Wayback Machine that surface a site's history and changes over time can offer helpful context. WOT (Web of Trust) browser extensions display user-generated reviews and trust ratings.

Cross-referencing academic databases: Cross-check sources through academic journal databases like PubMed or Google Scholar to verify credentials and citation trails for research-oriented information needs.

Social media and online community cross-check: Search X, Reddit, and other social platforms to see how people discuss the website and whether any red flags or trust concerns are raised.

General internet searches: Run broader searches on the site, organisation names, author details, and key phrases from the content to unearth any relevant third-party sources discussing the reliability.

Using browser incognito or private modes: View the site with all extensions disabled while logging out of any accounts. The experience should be the same as what a new visitor encounters.

The key is to gather data from many angles and credible third parties to build a well-rounded assessment instead of solely relying on the site's claims about itself. Triangulating across a variety of vetting strategies gives you added confidence.

Reliable Content is a Precious Commodity – Treat it Like One!

Whether you are an academician in search of authoritative citations, a citizen trying to find unbiased news about current issues, or merely someone eager to learn new things, having the capability to differentiate quality facts from trash online is a must.

The internet has made knowledge accessible like never before. However, with this increased availability also comes an increase in false information and questionable sources that intend to deceive people for political or financial gain.

Following our suggested methods for determining website credibility and dependability, you can sift through unreliable sources more efficiently to recognise high-fidelity signals while filtering out low-fidelity noise. It may require additional effort to check multiple sources, but arming yourself with these critical thinking skills will enable you to approach digital media as an informed citizen rather than a naive one.

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Therefore, do not stop being critical; continue cross-referencing wherever possible, and most importantly, keep thirsting for knowledge! Your journey towards wisdom on the web begins by discerning which sites deserve your confidence.

FAQs on Assessing Website Credibility

How can I check if a website is reliable for health information?

Focus on sites operated by major hospitals, public health organisations like CDC or NHS, or official medical journals/associations. Be very sceptical of personal blogs pushing alternative cures or unproven remedies.

Are mainstream media websites always trustworthy?

Not necessarily – major media sites can still have flaws, biases, or misinformation. However, their overall reputation and scrutiny give their reporting more baseline credibility than small, unknown sites.

How reliable are Wikipedia articles?

Wikipedia strives for accuracy and neutrality, but individual articles vary in quality because anyone can edit pages. Wikipedia should be used as a broad starting point for research rather than a definitive source.

Should I trust websites ending in .org or .net over .com sites?

Not automatically. While .org and .net may imply non-profit or networking sites, credibility depends more on content and ownership than domain suffixes.

Are personal blogs and small websites consistently unreliable?

No, not necessarily. You'll want to assess blogs case-by-case, looking at factors like the author's expertise, sourcing practices, transparency around potential biases, etc. Don't disqualify small sites automatically.

How can I check if a website is frequently updated?

Look for visible date stamps on pages and articles. You can also check the page source code for metadata when the content was last modified. Use tools to analyse historical updates over time.

What if I need help finding information about a website's ownership or operators?

That's a red flag. Legitimate sites should have precise, transparent details on their about and contact pages. If an organisation seems sketchy or unable to be verified, that raises credibility concerns.

Do more citations and references always make a website more trustworthy?

This is optional; you must also evaluate the quality of those referenced sources. Citing other low-quality sites doesn't make the information any more credible. Focus on references to authoritative, respected sources.

Should I trust user reviews and ratings about a website's legitimacy?

User reviews can provide some helpful extra context, but take them with a grain of salt. Look for patterns, but don't place too much weight on any single random review that could be disingenuous.

How do I fact-check statistics, data or claims I see on a site?

Trace back to the source(s) for any cited statistics or data points. Then, vet those primary sources for factors like rigour of their research methodology, reputability, potential conflicts of interest or agendas, etc.

What's a website's privacy and advertising policies have to do with credibility?

Clear, transparent policies around editorial practices, separating advertising from content, and data privacy help build user trust. It shows the website aims to operate ethically and has nothing to hide.

Statistics, Tables, and Graphics for Reference

To provide some quantitative context around the importance of evaluating web sources, let's look at a few relevant data points:

60% of the world's population currently use the internet as of 2024. This share has been steadily rising.

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63% of internet users say they have been exposed to problematic, potentially unreliable information online in the past year.

59% of internet users encounter fake news online every week, although this number varies across different demographics.

Here are the top 5 website subjects where people most frequently encounter misleading or unreliable information online:

Subject% Frequently Exposed
Consumer Products44%
Personal Finance33%
(Source: Harvard University Misinformation Review)

The ability to effectively assess web source credibility has become one of the most essential digital literacy skills for safely navigating today's information ecosystem. These data underscore why actively applying critical thinking is so crucial when consuming anything you find online.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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