“Confidence, like the soul, never returns whence it has once departed.” ~ Publilius Syrus
Your business is built on trust. Your customers need to believe in you, your products and your promises. But online, trust can prove elusive. In yesterday’s post I shared 14 trust-building secrets of successful online marketers, focusing on good character and solid website design.
Today’s post provides 16 more pointers that build credibility and trust.
Use content to build trust.
- If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Great content is the foundation of online authority and trust. To make the most of your site’s content, keep these suggestions in mind:
- Speak like a real person. When writing website or blog content, speak in a friendly, conversational voice. Address readers as “you.” If this feels awkward, try imagining yourself chatting across the table to one person—rather than “addressing” a huge demographic swath. When you’ve finished drafting, read your copy out loud. Does it flow? Does it sound friendly and helpful? Or is it awkward, stilted and trying to impress? Keep rewriting and reading aloud. With practice, your content will start to sound more warm, natural and personable. For pointers on intimate conversational style, study Chris Brogan’s newsletters. Chris expertly communicates in an intimate, epistolary style—even when writing generic email to tens of thousands.
- Anticipate and address customer objections. Before you create content, think about the challenges or obstacles that stand in the way of your customer taking action on your website. What might prevent her from moving forward to sign up for your mailings, buy a product, contact you or take other action? Obstacles may be practical—she can’t find your RSS sign-up link—or less tangible—your site’s awkward design makes her uneasy. To uncover subtle customer objections, think about where customers fit into your Sales Cycle and Trust Continuum. This critical information helps you write the assuring content your customer needs to overcome objections.
- Make a blog your home base. A thoughtful, customer-focused blog is perhaps the best trust-building tool available. Infinitely flexible, your blog can be a store, printing press, open mike, think-tank, salon and more. A blog helps you attract like-minded customers and colleagues. It allows you to create, publish and distribute targeted, useful content. Consistently updated, it confers reliability. Comments provide a powerful way to access customers’ needs and wants—and to address their concerns and objections.
- Provide useful content. According to a recent study, customers need to hear about your company 3-5 times before they believe information they hear about you. Useful content is great way to repeatedly get your name and value proposition in front of customers’ eyeballs—without being annoying. Tools like white papers, articles, eBooks, tip sheets, interviews, book reviews and, of course, blog posts provide the useful information customers need and want. Bear in mind that great content isn’t limited to definitive, 2,000-word posts. It could be aggregated links, quick how-tos, a brief review of a book or app, an embedded video or podcast, an interview with a pro in your field and more.
- Don’t blow your credibility with typos and misspellings. Okay, blog readers are more forgiving of grammar and spelling errors than, say, readers of The New Yorker. But still. Think about it: Do you trust an accountant whose site urges you to “Mange your taxes faster” Or “Ass about accounting software”? Probably not. Ideally, let your final draft copy sit for 24 hours and come back to proof it with fresh eyes and recharged brain. Or consider professional proofreading—it costs less than you think. If you can’t swing pro proofing, at least try to get a second set of eyes—your English-major child or grammarian friends make great proofreader candidates—to scrutinize your copy.
- Reveal yourself through your content. Judiciously. Here’s the paradox of online personal branding and trust building: You want to appear professional and competent, but also human and “transparent”—open, honest and authentic. Lines between professional and personal life are far more blurred these days. No one can define this persona for you—it’s something that evolves organically as you publish content, listen to your readers and customers and respond to their needs.
- Use video on your website. Studies indicate that 50-90% of human communications are non-verbal: Eye contact, gestures, posture and the way your body uses space tell an enormous amount about you. Video gives you a powerful medium to communicate your humanity and trustworthiness both verbally and non-verbally. Think about including video in your blog—in lieu of a text post, as a product how-to, for book reviews or a song, like the Communicatrix’s Boulder Song. (Warning: NSFW or with little kiddos nearby.)
- Post or publish content regularly. Whether you post once a month, once a week or once an hour, consistent posting sends a message of reliability.
- Respond to comments. When someone takes time to leave a comment on your blog, respond. If you’re a lucky blogger with a gazillion comments, it’s not necessary to respond to every single person. But checking in, saying thanks or adding a few words lets readers know a real, responsive person is at home.
- Reply to inquiries and emails in a timely fashion—and state your response timeframe on your contact page or in an auto responder. My contact page says, “I check email several times a day and will get back to you within 24 hours unless I’m on deadline.” If I’m insanely busy, I shoot off a quick email saying so—and promise to respond more fully in a day or two.
- Get a witness. Self-serving puffery and sales claims are not credible. But words of praise and recommendation from a disinterested third party are another story. Independent reviews, client recommendations and customer testimonials go a long way in building credibility and trust. So include testimonials on your site. You can give testimonials a dedicated page, sprinkle them next to relevant copy, or use audio or video testimonials on your home page.
- Create a brief or assignment sheet for creative services. Use this document to describe the project in detail and allow clients to make suggestions and changes before you begin work.
- Guarantee your services. Let’s face it: You’re an unknown quantity to online customers. Why should they buy products and—more especially—services from a complete stranger? Make their decision less risky: Offer a money-back guarantee or equivalent satisfaction for services rendered. I guarantee clients two free sets of rewrites for my copywriting to assure they get exactly the words they want.
- Build online outposts across several social communities. A network of online outposts sends a subtle but powerful message that you’re real, authoritative and contactable. Start with one community—it could be a blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare or Quora—and add more as time and interest permit. Be sure to fill in your profile or bio and contact information and add a photo. Update, publish and link useful content on your platforms regularly. Respond to tweets, updates and comments, answer LinkedIn and Quora questions and, if you have time, hang out in forums.
- Cross-pollinate content. In addition to being informative—and fun—social media has the power to amplify online presence: With a publishing platform such as a blog or ezine as your home base, you can leverage content in other social communities with very little effort. Keep in mind, however, that social media messaging can backfire if used only as a broadcast bullhorn. Balance your self-referential tweets and updates with conversation, helpful responses and links to others’ content.
- Connect online dots for customers. Make it easy for people to find you wherever they feel most comfortable. Integrate your online outposts with links, badges and feeds to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other digital bases.
Communicate responsively to build trust.
Back up promises with trust-building practices.
Use social media to build trust.
Choose the trust-building tactics that work for you
Bottom line, no one knows your customers better than you. So use the suggestions that sound most helpful for your online community. And feel free to add your own online trust-building insights in your comment below.