I guess we still judge books by their covers
Many thanks to Angie McKaig's weblog for posting a link to this Research Report: How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility? Results from a Large Study (Oct 2002).
Unbelievably, Design Look ranked as the strongest determinant (i.e., cited by 46.1% of respondents) for a visitor's Credibility Rating for a website. Branding (listed as Name Recognition and Reputation) was only cited by 14.1%.
That study sure sends a strong message -- we should pay more attention to our site's overall look and feel, instead of relying on its content (Information Usefulness - 14.8%) to convince our website visitors.
I guess at the end of the day, we're still judging our books by their covers.