Today’s marketplace is full of unsavory brands and entrepreneurs who will do anything to make a quick buck. In the process, they often leave customers hanging out to dry.
Over time, customers are forced to develop thick skin and long antennas. They come into contact with hundreds of brands on a daily basis and must be able to quickly filter out the good from the bad.
On a neurological level, no filter is more important than trustworthiness. Whether consciously or subconsciously, customers are constantly evaluating whether or not a business is trustworthy. If the answer is yes, they let down their guard ever so slightly and look to gather more details. If the answer is no, the relationship is over.
If you’re serious about connecting with customers and growing your business, it starts with building trust. And while trust must be emphasized at every customer touchpoint, your website is arguably the best place to begin.
A website that oozes trust and credibility will be a much more powerful asset for your business than one that’s a generic representation of vague brand ideals. The more specific and genuine you make it, the better your results will be.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through some of the very specific elements that make up a trustworthy website (and how you can plug them into your website even if you don’t have a massive budget or internal marketing department). But first, let’s get clear on the two overarching components of website trustworthiness.
The 2 Theaters of Website Trust
Every single interaction you have with a customer on your website directly influences whether or not they’ll return in the future.
At its core, customer trust is reciprocal to what they receive. If you meet needs (or make it overwhelmingly clear that you can meet needs), trust is cultivated. Not only will they feel comfortable coming back and engaging with you again, but they’ll want to. And they may even invite others.
Trust is the driving force behind brand loyalty. And when you look at your website, there are really two foundational components or categories of trust:
- Reputation is all about giving your website visitors assurance that your brand is credible. Depending on the niche you’re in, this may look like offering direct or implied assurance that customers will get their products on time, that their products will be of the highest quality, and that you’ll stand behind the transaction even if things go wrong. If you run a service business, reputation may be underpinned by competence, skill, and experience.
- Security refers to the integrity of your website on a technological level. Visitors need to know that they’ll be fully insulated from security breaches, hacks, or other forms of data infidelity when they transact with your company. With the rise of website hacks and data breach issues over the past couple of years, this element is more important than ever.
In this article, I’m going to give you a long list of different elements and factors you can use to foster trust on your website. And though each one stands on its own merit, each fits into one of these two categories. It either enhances your reputation or gives customers confidence in the security of the site and/or their relationship with your brand.
When you understand how these two theaters of website trust work together, your website will finally start to realize its full potential as a mechanism for driving conversions and fostering healthy customer relationships.
15 Elements of Trustworthy Websites
Your website can either be a magnet for trust or a blaring siren that tells people to back away. It’s up to you to influence which direction things go. Here are some of our best suggestions:
1. Domain Name
Your domain name says a lot about your website from the get-go. Whether someone types it in or clicks on a Google search result, your domain name gets some degree of visibility. It either helps or hurts your trust.
A trustworthy website domain should be simple (ideally between two and three words and/or less than 20 characters). It should also have a common top level domain (TLD). A .com domain name is definitely the preference, but .net, .org, and .co are also trustworthy.
2. SSL Certificate
SSL technology (Secure Sockets Layer) is a global standard of website security technology that secures the connection between a web server and the web browser. It’s basically the top security technology for websites. And because of its wide use, customers have come to know and trust it.
For starters, your website needs to have an SSL certificate. And once you have it in place, you can proudly feature an SSL certificate badge on your website. This creates an instant element of credibility.
3. Homepage Design
When people land on your homepage, they’re making a quick (and almost involuntary) decision about whether they know, like, and trust you. And while you’d like to think they wait until after reading your copy and browsing a few pages of your site to make a determination, you don’t have that much time. It happens within seconds. And that means your visual design is responsible for almost 100 percent of the first impression.
The definition of good homepage design is constantly evolving over time. As technology and preferences evolve, so does the framework for a good homepage. However, in terms of establishing trust, the following basic principles always remain true:
- Always show rather than tell
- Keep it simple
- Use negative space to keep it clean
- Stick to one call-to-action per page
- Use a simple navigation menu
- Rely on the principles of color theory to establish trust
Every brand is going to have it’s own unique look, but simplicity should be at the core. Clean and simple breed trust, while complex and busy lead to confusion and doubt.
4. Copy Quality
The quality of your content says a lot about the trustworthiness of your website. It needs to be clean, simple, and valuable to your audience. On the contrary, if it’s littered with grammar issues, spelling errors, and poorly-worded content, you’ll have trouble getting anyone to trust you with their time or money.
People don’t care if you use impressive words or flowery language. What they really want is a simple message that resonates with them on an emotional level and speaks to their pain points and desires.
Quality copy – particularly on your home page – sends a signal of competence and shows visitors if you’re a good fit. And as long as you’re driving the right traffic to your page, you won’t have any trouble converting visitors into paying customers.
5. Clear USP
When people land on your website, they should be able to instantly tell what sets you apart and why you’re worth their time, attention, and dollars. You have to give them a clear and convincing reason to trust you instead of the competition. This can be done by crafting and displaying a unique selling proposition (USP).
A USP is basically the one thing that makes you different from the competition. If you imagine a Venn diagram in your head, your USP lies at the intersection of “what your business does well,” “what customers want,” and “what the competition isn’t doing/doesn’t do well.”
Don’t confuse a marketing offer with a USP. The fact that you offer free shipping or around-the-clock customer service is not a USP. It embodies who you are and what you do (and should be crystallized into a single sentence or statement). Examples include:
- When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight (FedEx)
- A diamond is forever (DeBeers)
- You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free (Dominoes)
- They’ll fight over it when you’re dead (Saddleback Leather Co.)
Your USP can be displayed in a number of locations on your website, but should be prominently featured in your homepage’s header. This ensures it’s the very first thing visitors see when they land on your site.
6. Original Images (and Real People)
Stock photos are cheap, easy to use, and require virtually no effort to source. But they’re actually doing your website far more harm than good.
Customers don’t trust cheesy stock photos for a second. They’re fake, overly-polished, and highly ineffective. And if your website is chock-full of these pre-canned, stock images, you’re doing your brand a disservice.
Though it takes extra time and money, incorporating high-quality, original images into your website is a game-changer. Take pictures of your team, your products, and your business. People will instantly feel a connection with your business that’s impossible to forge via sterile stock images.
7. Clear Contact Info
There’s nothing fishier than a website that fails to give out contact information. It begs the question, why?
You don’t have to give out your personal cell phone number, but you should make multiple forms of contact clearly and readily available to visitors. A customer support email address is the bare minimum. Ideally, you’ll also include a phone number. Onsite chatbot support is another cost-effective and convenient choice.
8. Detailed About Page
Every website has an “about us” page. However, the vast majority of them add little-to-no value. If you want yours to be different, you’ll have to optimize it with trust in mind.
When optimizing an about page, think like a customer. When you visit a company’s about page, what are you trying to find out? You’re likely in search of some information about who runs the company, how long the company has been in business, and some other interesting information that humanizes the brand. Your website visitors are looking for the same things.
Do away with the corporate jargon and stale mission statements. Instead, zero in on your actual values, feelings, and motivations. Use this space to pull back the curtain a bit and tell your story. You want people to know that you and your team are real people with real stories.
9. Trust Seals
Trust seals, also known as secure site seals, are little badges or graphical emblems that are displayed on a site as a way of reassuring customers that the brand is carefully vetted.
Trust seals can be used in any number of ways, but are often deployed as a way of showing how secure a website is. If you search the header or footer of most websites, you’ll find trust seals like SSL certificate badges, Better Business Bureau accreditation logo, and even badges for guarantees and free shipping.
10. Media Logos
Trust can be imparted from one entity or individual to another. And even if your brand doesn’t have a ton of internal credibility, you can always ethically siphon some from external places. This is commonly done with media logos.
If you’ve ever visited a website and seen a section that says something like “As featured in” and includes a bunch of logos from different publications and media outlets, then you’ve seen this principle at work.
The basic premise is that by aligning yourself with authoritative businesses and names, you can instantly make your brand seem more credible. If you don’t have any existing relationships like this, go out and make them. It’s surprisingly easy to get quoted in a publication or featured as a guest blogger on a credible website. Seize these opportunities and then leverage them in the form of media logos on your website.
If you’re in a B2B business, you can create this same effect by featuring logos of clients. If you’ve worked with recognizable companies (nationally or locally), their support of you lends credence to your message.
11. Social Proof
People want to know that they’re falling in line with their peers. If other people are doing it, more will follow. And the best way to show your customers that other people are using your products or relying on your services is to integrate as much social proof as possible into your website design (or redesign) and content.
Social proof is basically any element that builds trust by showing website visitors that other people already approve of your products and services. The most common forms of social proof include reviews, testimonials, ratings from third-party websites (like Amazon), usage statistics, celebrity endorsements, and positive social media comments. You could argue that other proof elements like trust seals and media logos fall into this category as well.
Social proof should be present on every page. However, it’s especially vital on the homepage, product pages, and checkout pages. Anywhere there’s high visibility or a call-to-action, social proof is needed.
12. Simple Checkout Process
For better or worse, Amazon sets the bar for ecommerce transactions and the online shopping experience. If you can’t offer a checkout process that’s as simple and fluid as Amazon, you’re automatically bleeding trust at the most critical juncture of the sales funnel.
The more time you give a customer to think about the purchase, the worse it’ll go for you. A one- or two-step checkout process gives them confidence in your competence and significantly lowers shopping cart abandonment rates.
13. High-Value Content
There’s so much cheap and mind-numbing content on the internet these days. Almost nothing is original or valuable. Quality seems to take a backseat to quantity. But you can use this to your advantage.
If everyone else is creating low-quality, self-promotional content that does nothing for the marketplace, it creates an opportunity for your website to jump in and fill the void. By developing high-value content that gives your readers practical and hands-on information, you can brand your website as the go-to resource for trustworthy insights.
While quality is more important than quantity, don’t underestimate the role of consistency. If someone visits your blog and notices that your last post was published 18 months ago, it raises questions. But if they see you’ve published two or three new posts for each of the last 18 months, it gives them reassurance that they’re in the right place.
14. Case Studies
Case studies can be an amazing source of proof. They show prospective customers that people just like them have experienced profoundly positive results by simply purchasing the product or service that they’re considering.
Case studies have a way of making big ideas and theoretical marketing feel more tangible. Data doesn’t lie and there’s something very reassuring about seeing statistics and documented outcomes. When combined with other elements, it has a way of breeding trust.
People are naturally hesitant to do business with a company that they’ve never purchased from in the past. Even if you do all of these other things well and create a strong sense of trust, there will always be a certain percentage of people who need that last little nudge to click “buy” or schedule an appointment with you. Guarantees can help get you over the finish line.
A guarantee is basically a promise that you’ll stand behind your customer should something go awry. There are dozens of different ways to offer a guarantee, but the most common one is a 100 percent refund or money-back guarantee with no questions asked.
Many businesses are hesitant to offer this sort of guarantee over the fear of increasing logistical complexity, creating more customer service issues, and/or being taken advantage of. If you’re worried about the latter, I’d recommend rethinking.
Assuming your product has decent quality and that you aren’t overselling it on the front end, you’ll find that a very small percentage of people ever take you up on a money-back guarantee. (Depending on the industry and offer, it’s usually less than 5 percent of orders.)
When it’s all said and done, the guarantee is responsible for generating more sales than it takes away. And if it’s a net gain, I say keep using it.
Build Your Website With DEV.co
At DEV.co, we understand the power a website has to pull customers in, cultivate trust, and promote long-term loyalty that translates into a steady flow of dollars for your business.
If you’re looking to build a brand new website – or give fresh breath to a stale and decaying site – we can help.
Our team of experienced website developers and designers are literally obsessed with designing digital experiences that move the needle for our clients. Whether you sell physical products or services, we’re here to help.
Contact us today and we’d love to explore opportunities to work together!
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