Website Trust, Authenticity, and Credibility Factors

In 2016, website visitors and online customers are smarter and more savvy than ever. They are also much more cautious of online businesses and weary of new websites. In this post, I’m going to outline some of the main factors that come into play when a website visitor chooses to trust, or not trust a website based on the websites I’ve consulted on over the last few years.

A few years ago I published a study on Moz blog centered around online trust in e-commerce websites. Since then I’ve consulted on hundreds of more websites and had the opportunity to dive in and see what made them work…or not work. More importantly, I have a much better understanding of what makes people leave these websites i.e. bounce from them based on a ton of statistics and analytics.

Before we go any further there is an integral part about website trust factors you need to know: if your product or service isn’t inherently trustworthy , then none of this even matters. If you are selling something that isn’t honorable or trustworthy, it doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles your website has, people are going to leave.

For instance if you have free shipping labels all over your website then it comes time to check out and shipping is added , it doesn’t matter how many trust factors you have your customers will not trust you. As a result they will most likely leave your website and never return.

In short, you can’t inject credibility. No badge or seal will instill comfort in your visitor. If you are an online business and looking to make a good impression online, follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way.

Websites are no longer 1 dimensional. There are many different types of websites:

For the purpose of this post, I’ll mostly be talking about online trust and credibility as it applies to small business and eCommerce websites.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been making a list of factors I’ve found to play a part in online trust and credibility. Here we go!

Clear Cut Pricing

This might sound simple to most folks, but it needs to be said. If you say your dress costs $99 on one place on your site, you can’t have it listed for $119 on another place on your website. Well, you can but your customers will forever remember this glitch and come back to your site sometime in Nevruary.

Take this illustration for example. It has special member pricing, and you can be “eligible” for flat free pricing. Some people love this stuff, others are very confused by it, and would rather use Amazon or another store they are more familiar with.

pricing

Same goes with shipping and other add on items. If you say “free shipping” in an email, then you get to checkout and it says “only items under 20 lbs” its gonna leave a real stale taste in people’s mouth. Keep it simple, people don’t want to have to calculate stuff, go back and check, etc. If you are going to discount something, discount it. The worst possible thing you can do is make a price somewhere, and change it later.

Address and Phone Number

We realize that in 2016 that a lot of businesses are virtual and might not have an address, but does that raise an eyebrow when a customer is going to make a purchase? All I know is this: we ran a heatmap on about 50 local business websites last year and the “address” portion of the contact us page was the 4th most viewed portion of the website. People definitely still care about an address and phone number, for one reason or another.

If you don’t have an address, at least have a phone number. And if you don’t have a physical address, maybe say something like this: “We’re a virtual office! We work all over America, and you can reach us directly by doing XYZ.” With that, maybe show a map of where you all are?

People also want to be able to call you. More and more people also want to text as well, at least in certain industries. So having a phone number is definitely something we recommend. If you don’t have an official phone number and don’t want to use your personal cell, there are tons of options including call tracking, and more.

Links

No, I don’t mean having PR7 Trust Factor 70 DA 90 Ahrefs rank 100 links, I’m talking about backing up what you are saying with facts. For instance if you run a blog and cite a statistic about how your windows are impact resistant, patent pending, and have a greater impact resistance than all of your competitors, back that up with facts. And I don’t mean links to other pages on your website. Back it up with links to studies, links to pages on the local county government office etc.

404-lacking-credibility

Broken links can also be a big red flag in terms of trust and credibility. We recommend doing a quarterly broken link audit and do a site wide scan for broken links. This is not only great for users, but search engines will thank you as well.

Also be careful not to cite too many sources, that can get annoying and add confusion to your website. There are exceptions of course, such as educational type websites and other scholarly papers.

Domain / Brand Age

Sure your customers aren’t doing WHOIS queries on your domain, but having some age on your domain or brand definitely makes a difference.  Visitors are much more likely to make a purchase at a website where they’ve either used in the past or knows someone who bought there before.

Another aspect of “the domain” is the TLD / extension. Argue all you want, but for some reason people really just tend to prefer .com, .org, or .net. Yes, there are many exceptions to this rule but in general that’s the way to go.

I would also like to make a note about permalink. Be conservative with your permalinks. Let’s compare:

http://www.example.com/blog/i-love-cats-and-they-love-me

http://www.example.com/blog/cats-love

The first example just comes off as a little “much” while the second example does the job just fine, without exaggerating the position. It keeps things nice and tidy, and also saves space in case you have to text or tweet the URL to someone.

Update Frequency

I’m not going to say your website needs to be updated X times per day / week or month, but update frequency definitely does play a factor in how your website is perceived. Some say it is also an SEO ranking factor, but we’re not gonna go there right now.

Take your blog for instance. Having a blog is great, but if people navigate over to your blog and see the last time it was updated in 2013, it leaves kind of a “stale” taste in their mouth. In short, if you are going to have a blog, be sure to update it at least quarterly, preferably monthly. If you can’t commit to that there is no shortage of guest bloggers looking for a place to showcase their work.

Same goes for images, the design and theme of your website, and the resources on your website. I’m not a fan of doing major re-themes on my websites, but I do try and keep the material contained therein updated.

Level of Detail

One of the biggest reasons why Amazon is such a great place to shop online is because it has everything you need to know about a product in one. It has official product photos, photos of the product uploaded by customers, questions and answers from real users, reviews, directions, links to manufacturers, videos, and much more.

amazon-detail

Amazon is awesome, and (in general) super credible because of all the data to back it up.

That said, if you are an eCommerce shop owner and want to compete, you better bring your A-game. If visitors don’t find what they are looking for, they can and will find it somewhere else.

Gimmicks

In general, people are getting hip to most gimmicks and tricks online. One recent example I came across during this post was a “limited time” offer. I’m not sure what the deal with this is, but I don’t like to be rushed, and therefore I bounced.

gimmicks

Limited time = limited credibility

Be weary of other gimmicks and lengthy sales pages that require you to enter an email address before you can view the information, or asks for some other personal information.

Pop-Ups or Interstitials

I’m not going to insert my opinion in here, but I will give some advice. If you insist on using some sort of popup, use them like you would curry in a recipe: sparingly. Google has also recently laid down the law on interstitials so be aware of that. In fact, don’t be surprised if your search presence suffers as a result of your pop ups. r

Some other advice regarding popups:

I used to draw a hard line on pop-ups, forbidding any of my clients from using them but in the last few years I’ve started recommending them, on a limited basis in certain scenarios.

If that isn’t enough for you, know that TIME magazine voted pop up ads one of the 50 worst inventions of all time.

Paginated Posts

Next > Next > Next > Next >

How does chopping your page up into 20 different sections requiring your user to click “next” every few sentences improve the authenticity of your website? It doesn’t. Users hate these type of pages (ad companies love them.)

paginated

If you paginate your posts, you basically hate your users.

These pages exist for the sole purpose of increasing revenue for ad companies.

If you care about your users, please resist the urge to use these.

Website Hygiene and Operations

Does your website actually work? Does it load on IE8 on Windows 2000 on a Packard Bell? When you scroll vertically on mobile, does it act wacky? If you enlarge the page too much, does it break everything?

Every website has minor glitches, but having major operational issues can frustrate the bejeezus out of people and have them click the back button faster than you can say “bounce rate.”

It is also important that your website is responsive. It is no longer acceptable to have a “mobile only” website, Google has officially put the axe on those. Google has also started to take mobile a lot more seriously. People browse the web in their Tesla, on their refrigerator, their smart mirrors and on their 90″ flat screen TVs. Your website should respond to them appropriately.

The best way to make sure your website is properly operational is to do some good old fashioned testing. Load it up on a Mac, Windows desktop, laptop, iPhone, Android, and using a bunch of different browsers. Open up your galleries, your contact forms etc and test away. Make a list of any issues you have and send them over to your web developer.

My philosophy: less is more. Modern day JavaScript libraries are great,  but sometimes these things can cause issues with less savvy users. It may cause you to lose customers as well.

SSL / HTTPS

It’s no surprise that SSL can have a major impact on buying decisions of website visitors. In a recent study by Global Sign, 84% of those surveyed stated they would abandon a purchase if they knew their data was being sent over an insecure connection.

green bar = green money

And it’s true, if you enter a credit card number over Wi-Fi (or other mediums) and the website doesn’t have SSL, your credit card could easily be sniffed (stolen.)

But there’s more. People just like that green bar. I can’t tell you how many potential customers that ask us “can you make us a green bar” only to realize they are talking about getting an SSL certificate.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, its also an SEO ranking signal. Before you go implementing SSL just remember this is a huge decision that can have a major impact on your website. If its implemented incorrectly it could have just as much negative effects than positive, so do your research.

Testimonials / Reviews

This is a hot topic of debate, and has been for some time now. Everyone wants to use a product or service with great reviews, but when it comes down to it no one believes most of the reviews posted on the web. And this is a huge issue, no one has been able to solve the internet’s review problem. Not even Google, Yelp, Facebook, Amazon, etc. Show me a website where you can leave reviews, and I’ll show you a way to get fake reviews. Add in the fact that you aren’t allowed to ask for reviews, and it makes it really hard to showcase legit reviews.

So that is the conundrum. One of the main ways around this is to back your testimonials up with a phone number, real last name, photo of that person, etc. The more the better.

We’ve even found that negative reviews can play a positive role in online buying. People just don’t believe that all-positive reviews is realistic, but a group of 2 / 3/ 4 / 5 star reviews is much more likely. I suppose now we will start to see people buying fake bad reviews :/.

If you don’t want to do reviews on your website, perhaps you might want to consider doing a client list.

company-lists

Client lists can showcase who trusts you and can instantly increase credibility.

While client lists are awesome just remember they aren’t enough in and of itself. People like to see who your clients are, but they don’t just trust that because their logo is on your website they are your client.

Pictures

Much like your address and phone numbers, people like to look at photos of your business, your staff, and your products. While professional photos are definitely the way to go, a lot of people will use a well done smart phone photo to do the job. If you don’t have an actual office, consider taking photos of your home office or a photo of you working at your desk.

company-photos

Company photos = instant credibility…or at least adds some credibility

If you make your own products (clothing, candy, furniture) consider taking some photos of you crafting your work. People love to see behind the scenes shots and it adds a ton of credibility to the fold.

So, while pictures tend to equal good things that isn’t always the case. Shoddy photos can yield unpredictable outcomes. This is especially true of product photos, which is a whole ‘nother blog post.

Legibility, Reading and Comprehension

I was going to label this section “spelling and grammar” initially, but it goes so far beyond that. Your website can have perfect grammar, but still hard to read due to font size, color, face etc. Some writers have a really off-putting tone and can really scare people off with the way they write.

One of my favorite UX companies Nielsen Norman group actually recommends breaking some grammar rules in favor of clarity. You can read more about that in a study they did in 2014 that is still relevant today.

In terms of spelling, it is one thing to make a minor spelling or grammar every once in a while, but major spelling and grammar mistakes throughout your website will move the “credibility” needle in the wrong direction. It basically says either: “I don’t care” or “I don’t know what I’m doing.” I’m a minor perpetrator of this crime, but hey I’m working on it.

There are tons of more tips to avoid such as using too much formatting, TOO MANY CAPS, OR TOO MANY EXPLANATION POINTS!!!!!!!! OMG!!!!! BRB K THX BYE

Pay close attention to common UX pitfalls such as using a font that does not contrast well with the background, and other easy layups you can easily avoid.

Professional Associations

This is really a topic for hot debate online, as there are so many professional associations and “professional associations” (if you know what I mean) online. That said, people do like to see that your company is accredited. For instance, for a local electrician you may want to showcase:

…on your website. People look for this stuff and expect it, at least in many industries. Be careful not to overdo it, again as I alluded to in my original post on Moz more is not always better.

Some business owners obsess about company seals others don’t really bother with them. Either way, be aware of them and don’t overdo it and you’ll be fine.

Lack of Experience

Another trend we’ve been seeing a lot in the online world in the last few years is an overall lack of experience in website development and operations. Individuals in droves are flocking to the web hoping to start a work from home business via website. While I applaud these entrepreneurs, many have opted to take a “DIY” approach to their website instead of hiring a professional to do it. The result has produced thousands of poorly made websites throughout the web.

In 2014 we wrote a post centered around “legitimizing the shady SEO industry” in response to the increase of SEO companies that lacked experience, and credibility for that matter. There are some industries that are more trustworthy than others such as timeshares, etc.

The ironic thing is, a lot of the clients that we get are a result of other SEO companies / web development firms screwing something up and needing help to fix it.

Policies

This has gotten to be a huge topic of conversation in the last few years. When I say policy I mainly mean:

Privacy polices used to be something a lot of people skimmed over, but now is something a lot of people scrutinize. If you run a business where you work with a lot of sensitive information, you really want a lawyer or a paralegal to do your policies. If you run a small shop, you can probably get away with using an open source or free version of a privacy policy but it is always best to consult your attorney.

In reality I don’t have any advice for this section, other than having your game on point.

More

There are many more aspects of website trust and credibility that could come into play, it really just depends. Some of those are:

If you have anything to add, please do so in the comments or on social media.

References and Advanced Reading

I’ve based most of my opinions in this post on the data I’ve collected as a result of consulting on client websites over the past decade or more. The following research articles were referenced as well:

¹ A framework for understanding web trust factors in web-based health advice

² The role played by perceived usability, satisfaction and consumer trust on website loyalty

³ Trust factors influencing virtual community members

Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe is the founder and CEO of Elite Strategies Llc. Patrick takes a hands on approach to managing Elite Strategies and loves to get involved with technical projects relating to clients inbound marketing needs.
Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe
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