“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Frederick Nietzsche
Trust. It’s the bedrock of business and personal relationships, online and off. Trust can take years to build—and seconds to lose. With disastrous fallout.
Trust is tough to establish online
Trust’s building blocks are basic: Show up consistently. Tell the truth. Share. Be generous. Listen to others. Keep your word.
But establishing trust online is trickier than in real life. Because in the digital realm, your presence is uncertain and shadowy. When customers “visit” you, they don’t walk into a brick-and-mortar building. They can’t pick up and examine your products. They can’t shake your hand, look in your eyes, see your expressions or hear your voice.
They have no means of grounding you in the Real and True.
But there’s good news: Over the years, online marketers have discovered a number of best practices that work to build credibility and trust online. Analyzed, tried and tested, the following tips—gathered from successful ecommerce vendors, UX experts, designers, and content strategists—go a long way to build your digital credibility.
Today’s post provides 14 trust-building basics—founded on good character and sound website design. Tomorrow’s post gives you 16 additional pointers that show you how content, communications and social media can help you build trust online.
14 Practical Tips Proven to Build Trust Online
- Build trust the old-fashioned way
- Keep promises stated or implied on your web pages, product descriptions, blog posts or project agreements. Meet deadlines. Stick with agreed-upon pricing. Don’t bait-and-switch items or services. Hand in no-surprise creative deliverables.
- Don’t hard sell. Even consumers eager to buy, don’t want to be sold. Online visitors have sharper B.S. meters than offline customers. They mistrust your hyperbolic, “look at me” copy and overblown product claims. Focus instead on giving site visitors great content that describes, educates, delights, amuses, makes life easier and builds relationship over time.
- Sell a quality product. “One of the biggest secrets of marketing, is sell stuff people want to buy,” advises direct response copywriter Gary Halbert. Consistently reliable, solid, quality products build buzz, enhance your reputation, garner testimonials and otherwise build trust.
- Underpromise and overdeliver. Don’t promise the world and deliver Poughkeepsie. Better the other way around.
- Keep site design clean and simple. Concept-heavy, Flash-animated websites may thrill your designer, but they often leave visitors annoyed and wary. Splash pages, slow-loading content and obscurely moving graphics erode—rather than build—trust. Why? They make visitors feel stupid. High-concept design frequently makes it impossible for visitors to accomplish basic tasks and get key information. People feel inept when they don’t “get” your image-based navigation and self-referential terminology. They may even wonder if they’re in the right place: “Is this an ad agency, a mid-century furniture store or a ski lodge?” The longer you make them wonder, the stupider they feel—and the less they trust you.
- Use navigation that follows web conventions. “Navigation exists to help users, not to be a puzzle in its own right,” notes Jakob Nielsen, the usability master. When navigating online territory, visitors like to use the same methods and easily identifiable navigation buttons from site to site. Intuitive, consistent navigation makes them feel competent—and more trusting.
- “Don’t make me think.” As with navigation, your site’s usability should also employ consistent, tried-and-true standards. Don’t rely on your designer’s sign-off: Test usability. Spend time thinking about why visitors come to your site. To buy? To download a form? To find relevant information? Identify tasks and make it as easy as possible for visitors to get what they need fast. Online merchants need to take extra pains to create as few obstacles for visitors as possible: Avoid onsite registration and passwords. Simplify information fields and checkout. Let customers calculate shipping costs early in the sales funnel. Allow them a final review of their order before they press the big red button.
- Fix broken links. Dead links and error messages lend a neglected, unprofessional—and even shady—air to your website. Update links regularly using an automated link checker—here’s a review of a number of good, free link checkers.
- Keep blog archives updated. Your archives provide a goldmine of relationship-strengthening, lead-generating, trust-building information. Don’t let this 24 caret content go to waste. Make your archives accessible. Provide multiple paths to your archives in the nav bar, a search field, and featured buttons and links.
- Make contact information prominent. A business blog or website is no place for Greta Garbo-style privacy. Trust increases exponentially when customers know someone—a real email-able someone—is minding the shop. Even if your visitor has no intention of contacting you, she rests easier knowing you’re there and easy to get a hold of. Make contact links very visable. And let visitors know the best, most reliable ways to get in touch you—I provide phone number, email address and office hours at MarketCopywriter Blog.
- Show them your real face. Nothing says “I’m a real human being” like a photograph of beautiful, imperfect you—rather than a stock photo of an ivory-toothed, Photoshopped model. Display a photograph of yourself or your staff on your Contact and About pages, alongside social media profiles, embedded as an avatar photo in comment responses and elsewhere on your site.
- Give them product pictures worth a thousand words. Professional, quality photographs of your products—enlargeable and from numerous angles—go a long way to strengthen trust and help customers choose your product.
- Display badges proudly. Was your post reprinted in BlogHer? Did you get a nice mention in Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop? Have you worked for any “household name” big brand clients? Embed their badges on your site. You’re not bragging: Badges add solidity to your site. They tell folks, “If American Express trusts her, I can too.” So use those logos and badges, if you’ve got them, on your testimonial and home pages and elsewhere.
You can—and should—use the same credibility-boosting practices online as you do off:
Use website design to build trust
Trust often relies on subliminal factors. Offline, people respond as much to your vocal tone and hand gestures as your choice of words. Online, trust indicators can also be subliminal—and frequently depend on the look, layout and usability of your website. To build trust, focus on features that make your site easy to use and professional-looking: