A Matter of Online Trust

Give customers a reason to trust you over the other guy.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the August 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Brick-and-mortar sells. Your customers can see it, touch it and drive to it. Upon entering, they can look around and then look you and your colleagues in the eye and gauge your trustworthiness. On the web, however, most companies--especially startups with no track record--are suspect until they prove themselves dependable. Rather than take a chance on a startup, potential customers will often pay more for identical products and services offered by a business they feel they can trust.

The Gold Standard
Because trust is such a valuable marketing commodity, building trust online is crucial to gaining a competitive edge. When it comes to website features and a design that engender trust, I recommend the following.
An attractive and professional design: If you've never designed a website, don't start now. Hire a pro instead.
Clear and simple navigation: Your site's navigation should meet the needs of your customers, not your organization.
Engaging, informative content: Content is king and includes graphics, video and images.
Error-free copy: This is a must.
"About Us" page: Complete with bios and photos allowing potential customers to "meet" you
Physical address, telephone number and e-mail address: Each is essential to building trust. Don't make visitors have to search for them.
Testimonials from real customers: Include first and last names-always.
Privacy policy: Assure customers that their information is safe.
Ad-free: Pop-ups and Google ads cheapen the appearance of your site and call your integrity into question.
When battling for market share, imagine competing against the Amazons of the world. If I'm looking to purchase a blender and have the choice to buy it from you or from Amazon, chances are good I'll buy it from Amazon, even if it's more expensive.

I know my information is safe, my order will be processed quickly and correctly, and if anything goes wrong, Amazon will stand behind its sale. With you, since you're a startup, I'm not so sure.
Your goal should be to make me--your potential customer--confident that if I do business with you, I won't be disappointed. Design your site with trust in mind (see "The Gold Standard") and you're more than halfway toward earning my business.

While your website is home base, don't be afraid to wander from home into the communities where the people you want to serve congregate. Posting quality content on social and professional networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn and through microblogging services like Twitter establishes your startup as a credible source--if done with integrity and transparency.

Also keep in mind that what you do offline will have repercussions online, so no matter how good your design or user experience, your offline actions could cause your online efforts to fail. Always operate with integrity and focus on customer service.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. When he's not working or ghosting blog entries for clients, Mikal can be found musing about the world on Belicove.com and can be reached at mikal@belicove.com.
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