If your website was a person, would you date it?
Since the advent of the Internet, there have been scammers and spammers lurking and looking to take advantage of our innocent web surfing behaviour. Some want to deposit the sum of $50,000,000 into your account, while others want you to buy their magical “system” that will make you millions overnight.
Today, with billions and billions of websites out there, trust and credibility are hard to come by. Let’s be honest, not all websites are created equal!
So while surfing the web, how do you judge or draw conclusions about a website’s credibility? From a visitor’s point-of-view, do you look for sites with brand relationships you recognize and trust? Or do you base it on how trustworthy the source or friend who referred you to the website was? Are there key design elements you look for? And what if you’re a small start-up firm looking to build awareness and trust with your visitors? How do you create this sense of credibility, this level of virtual trust that entices visitors to engage with your site, while also drawing them into a business outcome you want them to accomplish?
A lot of questions… with a lot of answers… and to be honest, a lot of it depends on the industry you’re in. An e-commerce website selling t-shirts will approach it’s “trust factor” differently from a chiropractor’s clinic or a content driven website such as an online magazine or newspaper.
Each industry is unique, but some key principles are universal, and the first question you need to ask yourself is, if you met your website in a coffee shop, would you date it?
6 first impressions to help build online brand credibility
When it comes to trust, I like to draw parallels to the way human beings judge credibility in other human beings. After all, your website is a virtual represenation of who you are, it’s like a sales agent or receptionist, but with a virtual face. So when a visitor (customer) lands on your site, can your virtual sales agent close the deal? Is your receptionst friendly and inviting or is she rude, confusing, and turning away customers? What kind of first impression is your website (virtual face) leaving?
Depending on the first impression, visitors will decide whether or not to continue. Similarily, during our interactions with other people or random strangers, we first tend to look for personality traits or visual symbols that express a feeling of comfort and trust. A website is no different. The only difference being, it’s virtual.
Now let’s break this down further by taking a look at some of the key factors that people generally look for when judging credibility in another person. Under each factor, I’ve drawn paralells to your website (your virtual face).
1) A positive first impression (i.e. an optimized landing page)
Yes, your grandmother was right. First impressions last a lifetime. If you’re trying to impress someone from the opposite sex, stuttering on your words, poor language skills, irrelevant/goal-less conversation won’t leave a positive first impression. So then why is everything on your website’s landing page cluttered, irrelevant, and poorly optimized?
Please, please, please ensure your pages are optimized for a desired business outcome. Focus on the customer/visitor. Designing with a customer-centric approach will help you leave that positive first impression. Make sure you have no spelling mistakes or grammar errors. Avoid trying to please everyone by cluttering everything on one page. If the persona you want impress are females 24-35 years old and they’re your target market, then design your landing page accordingly. Use language and colors they can relate to. And think about the first, most important thing you want to say to this demographic (tied to a business outcome) and build around this.
2) A trustworthy face (i.e. look, feel, functionality of the website)
If you’re dressed like a hobo, you’ll be treated like one. You wouldn’t attend an art gala in ripped jeans and a tank-top would you? The overall look and feel of your website plays a huge role in establishing trust. Everyone knows what a shady used car salesman looks like. There’s just something about them that makes them not trustworthy; cunning eyes, cheap suit/cologne, ready to con you into a purchase you really don’t want to make!
Similarily, your website can also come across like a shady used car salesman. If you have broken links, poor use of colors, irrelevant affiliations (bad SEO practices), limited contact information, and too good to be true testimonials, then you’re putting your trust factor on the line. If you want your customers to listen to you, give your website’s trustworthiness a thorough evaluation and fix what’s broken.
3) A history or background info (i.e. location, length of existence, the intro)
So… what’s your story? Where are you from? How long have you been around? Are you a start-up with a revolutionary product or a professional who’s been around the industry for 20+ years? No matter what your background is, it’s always a good idea to tell people a little about yourself (or the people within your organization). It personalizes the virtual interaction.
Adding your physical location also helps in creating a positive first impression. It makes you transparent, and shows that you have nothing to hide. Sharing your hi”story” and location helps establish relevancy and rapport with your visitors. Visitors will trust you, the more they know about you.
4) A common connection or reference (i.e. shared brands and affiliations)
Are you a member of an assocation? Do you share similar passions with other websites out there? Adding these links will not only help your SEO initiatives, but will also help establish rapport and build credibility.
Be careful not to inundate your affiliations page with links unrelated to your business. If you’re in the fashion business, showing your affiliation with your local plumber might not be a good idea. Such practices can create some friction and might send some shady vibes to your visitor. The above screenshot is from a website about “business” with links to Auto Detailing, Payday Loans, and Pubs in Newcastle. They offered me to exchange links with them, but after landing on their site, they failed to establish trust and credibility.
5) An inviting or non-threatening approach (i.e. no incessant pop-ups telling you to register or sign-up, and friendly copy to make the visitor feel comfortable)
You wouldn’t talk to someone who kept interrupting you every 10 seconds now would you? So then why would you use pop-ups on every page to interrupt the interaction with your visitor? Nobody likes to be forced into doing anything. Repeatedly asking someone to sign up or register for a product will simply lead the visitor to a bounce from your page.
Be subtle yet assertive. Guide the visitor through meaningful and friendly copy. Communicate in a non-threatening way. Invite visitors to learn more and continue walking them down a path of conversion (your business outcome!).
6) Reputation (i.e. word of mouth, reviews, testimonials, case studies, social media presence)
“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” – Socrates
If you want to provide good service or support to your customers, your website should successfully facilitate this desire of yours. My local phone company is always stressing that their number one priority is to provide excellent service. But when I visit their site to view my bill, I can’t for the life of me figure out how to access/make changes to my account!
When it comes to testimonials, it’s best to feature testimonials from trusted sources i.e. your local newspaper, a satisfied client (with a link or contact information pointing to this client), or other partners in your business. Avoid adding your neighbour’s testimonial/review.
Having a social media presence also helps. Are you actively reaching out to your customers/visitors? Have you established on ongoing communication channel through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.? In the age of telling others who/what we “like”, immersing your feet in social media plays an intricate role in helping build and establish online trust and credibility.
7) Other ideas?
Feel free to comment, add your input and help expand this list. What do you think builds online credibility? Which trust factors do you specifically look for online?
Base it on your prior experience, case studies, or even on your own experience while circulating late-night parties… Please share any success or epic fail stories.
Looking forward to reading your comments!