Once done with creating and improving a website, you can very well spend your time on improving your online business. Apart from providing a useful product, you can consider building more trust with your customers to become more successful.
Online world is quite different from the real world. Not only in how people operate there, but also how they perceive it. When surfing the Net, it is impossible to touch, smell (until the devices become wide-spread, that is) or use a tangible product, so you have to make your decisions, based solely on the information you read (which may not be 100% correct and honest, too). Thus, one of the most important things you need to feel before making a decision to buy something online, is whether you trust the seller.
You can judge how competent the seller is and how quality his product is by trust, because trust is built by people, not machines. People develop products, create websites, communicate with the customers and also use the products. If in most (or all) instances you come across a company or a product you trust a company, the chances are you will buy their product or use their services.
Trust gives you something to back on before buying a product (you are sure in its quality), while using it (you are sure you'll get help, if needed) and after (you are sure you'll get an issue fixed or get a new, better version). In short, trusting a company and a product gives you confidence you'll enjoy using it. That's why it is one of the most important things that power your and others buying habits online.
How to build trust?
As mentioned before, only humans can build trust. So, when it comes to building trust with your customers, you'll need to make sure your and your staff personality shines through however you communicate with your customers: through your website, via support emails or by phone.
That's why to build trust, you'll need to make sure your message is sincere, in good will and aimed to deliver value to the customer. Only then they'll be able to trust and feel confident when buying from you. To build trust, you may do one of the following:
- provide honest, correct information about you, your company and the product
- make is obvious that there are real people behind the company (via about pages, for instance)
- be open to communication with your [potential] customers (a clear way to contact you, have a forum or even a blog)
- underpromise, overdeliver
- write in simple language, while focusing on the people
- have a user-friendly website
- make it obvious that the site is well managed by updating content often, having time-sensitive information - news, press releases, dated posts - on the site, responding to site feedback
Read more about credibility at the Stanford University.
As you can see from the list, you can build trust by providing value to your customers and making it obvious to them.
Exact trust-building techniques
Once we have outlined the direction you need to be going to establish trust with your website, let's see examples of what exactly you need to do:
- have staff photos and bios on the about page
- write text (especially staff bios) in conversational, personal style
- make it really easy to contact you by placing your phone in the site header, having a visible email, using a working (with few fields) form, a forum, a blog, a software feedback form, etc
- always provide exact, helpful and polite assistance in any type of communication
- be personal (as in casual, conversational, but no personal accusations) in communication: let them know there are real people behind the company
- have an easy to use website (includes both website usability and accessibility) to show that you do pay attention how easy to use the site is to your visitors
- place your customers testimonials on your website (test which most visible ones improve conversions the most, though).
- be polite when customers ask you for a refund, stay close to your announced refund policy
- use any negative comments about your company (on forums, blogs, email messages) as a chance to improve your company, show the customers you do pay attention to them, do strive to improve quality and are a reliable company
Yet again, the above list could be continued, but the principles are the same: you need to focus on delivering value to your customers and be open about it with them. It is the people that count, not websites.
When you analyze your website from the point of view of making it more credible, you should, most likely, find more ways to earn trust with your customers, as each case is individual.
Building trust with site design
While the points above cover the site content (text, images, audio, etc) mostly, you can establish trust by having a professional and a usable website. First, let's see what makes a site look professional:
- professional looking graphics (clean, nice looking)
- a working website (the site displays correctly at all times)
- good product images
- a good choice of colors (blue is said to inspire trust and confidence, for example)
- sufficient use of white space (non-cluttered site layout)
So, in essence, the site should look like it has been invested in and worked upon. In conjunction with the other points about site content, it should make a nice combination to form a sense of confidence in customers. Apart from visual design, the site should be easy enough to use:
- a visitor can see what the site offers and quickly understand if he/she needs it
- a customer can find what he wants on a site (a product description, an image, a customer testimonial, support information, etc) easily, so you need to:
- have a well structured (based on customer research) site layout
- always providing a path to learn more or to end the visit (checkout, download, sign-up, etc)
- provide related information where available and possible (a person looking for shoes, might be interested in socks and shoe polish, for example)
- recommend products, depending on human buying patterns (people who have bought this, also bought:)
- have a functional (and easily accessible) site search
- the text is properly formatted and written in simple language
- only request absolutely necessary information with forms and don't ask for more
- have an easy way to check out (the least amount of steps, save data in case a page reloads, show where the customer is in the process, show all charges upfront, etc)
- use some accessibility options to make the site usable by 10-20% of the population (and to comply with US/UK laws, too)
While the list is by no means extensive, it ensures that your customers do what they want with your site and have a good overall experience.
Trust and SEO
Another reason to build a solid, trusted website is to get into the circle of other established websites in your industry. This means that you will be getting more sophisticated, determined and targeted customers through links, than you would get from marginal communities. You will also be able to build relationships with other people within the industry, which will help you to learn more and get noticed, eventually.
In essense, it is quite an important moment to remember about your website, as it will allow you to build links naturally from trusted, related websites, which will improve your rankings easier. Some respected experts, like Ammon Johns, say that building content to get links is the easiest way to get links, so you should pay attention to this, too.
Building trust-inspiring websites, based on research-based data
Sure, focusing on the customers is a great start to build trust. But what are the fundamentals you need to follow and which steps you need to consider for your particular situation? Here, various researches and studies have examined how trust is built on websites, how different people evaluate websites and what you can do about it.
- Stanford research-based credibility design 10 top list
- How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility? Results from a Large Study (Full Report) (Aug, Nov 2002) - notice how 46% evaluate design look and 25% check site structure/information focus
- Expert vs consumers in assessing websites (including trust) (Oct, 2002) (the page breaks awfully now, but hopefully they'll fix it some day - you can download a 800kb PDF, though)
- From bricks to clicks: building customer trust in online environment (Nov 2003) (also about using images to build trust)
- Can one build a Web site or application that engenders trust? (Nov, 2006)
It all comes down to how safe a customer can work with a website, whether he'll lose a lot of time on it and whether there's a chance of him losing money one way or another (phishing, bad product, no product delivered, etc). Paying attention to your customers, making it obvious that you work on overdelivering value to them (via your messages, site design and text, support, etc) will inspire people to prefer you over other less trusted online businesses.
Once you are done with the basics of improving your website, you can focus on building your loyal customer base by being open with them. This should, normally, involve communication via a company blog, various forums, other sites and such. The more value you deliver via the open channels, the better.