If you’re Amazon or Apple – congratulations! You don’t have any credibility issues. Most of us aren’t so lucky. Almost all but the biggest companies have an uphill credibility battle ahead of them every time a new visitor lands on their site.

What’s website credibility and why is it important?

BJ Fogg – the world’s leading researcher on web credibility – has said that web credibility is about making your website in such a way that it comes across as trustworthy and knowledgeable. Your website is often the first point of contact for the customers, responsible for first impressions and of course sources of revenue. Companies that design for credibility have a strategic advantage over competition.

Fogg says there are 4 types of credibility:

  • Presumed credibility – general assumptions  (e.g. a brand we’ve heard of is more credible, unknown brand less)
  • Reputed credibility – third party reference (e.g. your wife said it’s good or your friends said service X sucks)
  • Surface credibility – what we find on simple inspection (e.g. the website looks quality or “this seems confusing”)
  • Earned credibility – personal experience (e.g. friendly customer service or text full of typos and factual errors)

In this post I’ll focus on what you can do right now to boost the credibility of your site.

“Would you like a new iPhone 5 – it’s just $20?”

Let’s say you’re walking down the street. A twentie-something dude comes up to you – “hey, are you interested in a new iPhone 5? I’ll sell it to you for $20″. He pulls it out of his pocket and it looks legit. What do you do?

My guess is that you won’t buy it – even though the price is amazing and you know it’s a good product. Why not? Because of lack of trust. Does it work? Is it stolen? What if it breaks the next day? Why so cheap? You’ll get all these questions in your head and since you don’t know the guy, you’ll probably pass.

Same  goes for your website

Your goal is to talk about your offer in a way that makes people feel they’re getting iPhone 5 worth of value for just $20 bucks (not by deception, but through communicating the value of your product). If you’re credible, you have yourself a customer.

Credibility leads to money. Four in five users say that being able to trust the information on a given website is very important to them. You don’t buy from someone you don’t trust, do you?

A credible website makes people

  • trust what it says,
  • feel comfortable sharing their personal data,
  • confident it’s worth spending their money here.

 Website Credibility Checklist

Go over this list and see which of the following items you could add to your own site to boost credibility.

  1. Web design matters. People judge the book by their cover and your website by its design. If you designed your website yourself and you’re not a designer, it sucks. Like many others before him, Dr. Brent Coker studied the impactof attractive websites on human behavior.This is what he said: “As aesthetically orientated humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence.”Websites that are more attractive and include more trimmings create a greater feeling of trustworthiness and professionalism in consumers.
  2. Make your address and phone number visible at all times. Include it in the footer (a must), but depending on your site also in the header (especially if your business depends on incoming calls) and on the sidebar, in the microcopy.
  3. Make it very easy to contact you. ‘Contact’ link should be always in your navigation menu as the very last link.
  4. Message relevance and tailoring. A website that displays relevant information to the visitor is instantly more credible in their eyes. If possible, use content tailoring based on user profile and behavior.
  5. Simple  language. People don’t trust what they don’t understand. Write like you talk using the same language your customers do.
  6. Correct spelling. Broken grammar and incorrect spelling certainly make you seem less credible. It’s more forgivable in blog posts, but unacceptable on your home page, product pages and other more static pages.
  7. Link to external websites that reference your organisation. If NY Times, Techcrunch or OC Weekly has written about you, link to those stories. It doesn’t have to be a well-known outlet necessarily (but it helps), what matters is that somebody other than you has written about you and possible said some good things.
  8. Provide staff bios and photos. People don’t trust anonymous websites. If you don’t show your photo, are you hiding something? Is it that you don’t want people to recognize you on the street? People want to look you in the eye, enable it. Always use photos of the actual staff.
  9. Show photos of your office. If you have a real office with real people and stuff inside, I’ll believe you more. You don’t need to make yourself appear a bigger company that you are. Avoid stock photos.
  10. Avoid cheesy stock photos. Nothing says ‘I’m fake’ like suits shaking hands or smiling customer service people with the headset.
  11. Visible return and refund policies. What happens if I’m not happy with your service? People want to know in advance before making a purchase.
  12. Email policy. What will you do with my email address once I give it to you? Will you rent it, share it, sell it, spam people?
  13. All statements and claims should be backed up by third-party evidence, neutral experts or verified (scientific) studies. List sources.
  14. Avoid superlatives. Don’t say you’re the best, no-one is going to believe you anyway. Be specific (“Fastest pizza delivery in town” vs “We deliver your pizza in 10 minutes”).
  15. Detailed product information. 50% of the online purchases are not completed due to insufficient information. Are there enough details for a reasonable conclusion about the information?
  16. Show prices. Many companies (and not just B2B) don’t reveal their prices, and make people get in touch instead. People always want to know how much a product or service costs. If your competitors publish their prices, they’re getting the business.
  17. Show client list. This is social proof – nobody wants to be the only idiot buying your services.
  18. Mention the number of your clients. If you have an impressive number of customers, say it out loud for social proof (“12 457 happy users” etc).
  19. Show a link with a reputable organization. Are you somehow connected to a university, a governmental agency, a research lab, or another reputable organization? Perhaps you’re service provider, reseller, partner, sponsor, advisor or what not. If yes, tell the world.
  20. Use testimonials. Testimonials work well if they’re by real people. Real people means that there are photos, full names, what they do, their employer. Well-known people are even better. Video testimonials are the best.
  21. Case studies of your work. Use case studies to prove the benefits of your services and to show off your expertise. Both make you more trustworthy.
  22. Put customer reviews on your site and elsewhere. People still trust them. It’s the upper hand Amazon has on everyone else.
  23. If you take credit cards online, is it safe? Provide the information about your secure channels, 256-bit encryption and what not.
  24. Display trust marks. Take credit card payments? Prove me it’s safe (256-bit SSL encryption etc). Use The Verisign Seal or equivalent. Have people opt-in to your email list? Put a TRUSTe privacy seal on your site. And so on. Find out what’s a known trust mark on among your customers, and use it.
  25. Maintain a blog or a latest news section. This does 2 things: 1) it shows your site is constantly updated and 2) provides free information to prove your expertise. A note of caution: if your latest news item was published 2 years ago (‘We launched a new website!’) or your last blog post was written a year ago, it communicates that you might have gone out of business. So if you can’t regularly update your news or blog, you can do one of the 2 things: 1) not have one, or 2) remove the dates.
  26. Get an authority recommendation. When Oprah recommends a website, it’s instantly credible. Get someone your audience knows and trusts to “approve your message”.
  27. Articles in (online and offline) publications. Credibility is not only what your website is like, it’s also what people read and hear about you *before* they get to your site. If they’ve seen or even read articles by you in different magazines or newspapers, you have more credibility.
  28. Guest blog. This is basically the same as the previous point. If your users have come across your posts on blogs they read, you’ve more credible to them. Also, you can mention and link to the blogs that have your posts.
  29. A jobs page. You must be a real company if you’re hiring :)
  30. Make sure it works. Dead links, non-functional forms and everything else that might seem broken will take away from your credibility.
  31. Have a social media outlet. If you have an active Twitter account or Facebook page, it furthermore shows there are real people behind the organization.
  32. What does WOT say about you? WOT user community has rated over 36 million websites. Some people might check you out there.
  33. Your brand on Google. When they Google you (and they will), what will they find? Besides searching for just your brand, they’ll probably also check ‘[yourbrand] reviews’ and possibly also ‘[yourbrand] sucks’. Make sure you like those search results.
  34. No hype, blinking banners nor popups. If your site looks like a Christmas tree, you need to change that. Make sure the copy is hype-free, nothing blinks and just know that people hate all kinds of pop-ups. Don’t use them unless you want to annoy people.
  35. Keep ads to a minimum. Too many ads kill the user experience and communicate that the user does not come first. Might also make you seem desperate.  If your main income does NOT come from ads, don’t use them at all.
  36. Website speed. If your website is slow and seems to takes forever to load (10+ seconds), people will certainly get doubts about you and leave. Use caching or a CDN. I personally use Cloudflare and am very happy with them.
  37. Ranking in Google. If you rank high in Google (say in the top 5), you must be there for a reason (Google says so!)
  38. Signs of community. If you have an busy forum, lots of comments on your blog posts or any other visible signs of an active community, you’ll come across more credible – “people must be hanging out here for a reason!”
  39. Be a good and honest person. If you’re an a** and treat your customers bad, it will come out eventually. Be friendly, generous and honest – always.

Sources

Don’t overdo it

Note that you don’t want to overcrowd your pages with credibility elements. It will have the opposite effect.

The other day I hired a cleaner from Craigslist. She came over, and her first words after I opened the door were “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna steal anything“. Guess what my first thought was – “Is she gonna steal something?”

I wasn’t even thinking about theft, but she planted the thought in my head. Now I started to look for clues to confirm my theory – and her tattoos didn’t help my suspicious mind.

Image credit

The same applies for your website. If you scream “Trust me! I’m not gonna rip you off!” – people will get suspicious even (or especially) when they weren’t before.

Everything in moderation. What’s the right quantity? Follow BJ Fogg’s maxim for credible design:

To increase the credibility impact of a website, find what elements your target audience interprets most favorably and make those elements most prominent.

How do you personally determine whether you trust a site or not? Have you given it any conscious thought?

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