The issue of trust within the internet is a significant one. How do you avoid your website or blog being seen as ‘some random blog’- to coin a phrase I heard recently?  Lack of trust is one of the main reasons why prospects do not become buyers. Credit card fraud, email spam and spyware all work to reduce trust in internet-based businesses. For some customers, if something goes wrong their first instinct is to assume the service they are using is somehow attempting to ‘scam’ them. Others will not even consider buying online.

A website has a single purpose; to sell. In order to achieve that, it needs to do a number of the following:

 

·        Capture the attention of visitors and retain that attention

·        Enable you to begin a long term relationship with your visitors

·        Convert visitors into buyers through an efficient checkout process

·        Reassure customers with good contact and support functions

·        Provide best practice systems and policies

·        Establish credibility

 

So it is pretty crucial to the success of internet businesses that they are able to build credibility into their blogs, the foundation stone onto which their businesses can continue to grow. But how is it achieved?

There are a few theories around the topic of credibility floating, including some interesting studies into it such as The Stanford Web Credibility Project.

The Stanford Web Credibility project, commissioned by Web Watch consumer reports and conducted through the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab under the directorship of experimental psychologist B.J Fogg, for over more than ten years investigated what causes people to believe what they find online. The study, ‘How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility? Results from a Large Study,’ published in 2002, invited 2,684 "average people" to rate the credibility of websites in ten content areas. The study evaluated the credibility of two live websites randomly assigned from one of ten content categories including ecommerce, nonprofit, opinion or review, search engines and more. A total of one hundred sites were assessed. The objectives of the research were

·                    Performing quantitative research on Web credibility

·                    Collecting all public information on Web credibility

·                    Acting as a clearinghouse for this information

·                    Facilitating research and discussion about Web credibility

·                    Collaborating with academic and industry research groups

 

Findings

The study found that when people assessed a real website's credibility, they did not use rigorous  assessments, a contrast to earlier national survey findings by Consumer Reports Web Watch, A Matter of Trust: What Users Want From Web Sites (April 16, 2002).  The results found that the average buyer paid more attention to the aesthetics of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content. In example, nearly half of all consumers (or 46.1%) in the study assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, and color schemes.

What is interesting too is that the reliance on a site's overall visual appeal to gauge credibility occurred more often with some categories of sites then others. Consumer credibility-related comments about visual design issues occurred with more frequency with websites dedicated to finance, 54.6%, search engines, 52.6%, travel, 50.5%, and e-commerce sites, 46.2%, and less frequently when assessing health, 41.8%, news, 39.6%, and nonprofit, 39.4%.

"I would like to think that when people go on the Web they're very tough integrators of information, they compare sources, they think really hard," said Fogg, "but the truth of the matter–and I didn't want to find this in the research but it's very clear–is that people do judge  a Web site by how it looks.

An easy conclusion to make would be that the key to web traffic is love at first click. However the apparent mismatch – ie what people say they do and what they actually do online has been further explained by the Prominence –Interpretation theory.

 Previous research had focused specifically on the judgments people make about Web site features (e.g those corresponding to the credibility laid down by the WebWatch’s five general guidelines. Identity, Advertising and Sponsorships, Customer Service, Corrections, and Privacy .The other piece, investigated by the Stanford Project, dealt with what people notice when they evaluate a site for credibility. Until the Stanford study, there was no data about this second piece and so it was a turning point in generating findings about what people notice when they evaluate a Web site for credibility.

Putting these two pieces together — what people notice about a site and the judgments they make as a result — gives a fuller picture of what occurs during an online credibility assessment.  (Source http://www.consumerwebwatch.org/dynamic/web-credibility-reports-evaluate-abstract.cfm)

 

The Stanford Project, in conjunction with parallel  partner studies ( conducted by Consumer Reports  and Sliced Bread Design, LLC)  into  website credibility ;  put forward  10 guidelines   for building credibility into a website based on 3 years of collaborative research- the largest web credibility project ever conducted:

 

The Ten Guidelines For Building Credibility

 

(My comments in italics, additional comments from the study included in inverted commas)

 

1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site

 

 

‘You can build web site credibility by providing third-party support (citations, references, source material) for information you present, especially if you link to this evidence. Even if people don't follow these links, you've shown confidence in your material.’

 

 

Many publishers still desist from linking out. This is a mistake and Google in fact, rewards linking out to relevant sites

 

2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site

‘Showing that your web site is for a legitimate organization will boost the site's credibility. The easiest way to do this is by listing a physical address. Other features can also help, such as posting a photo of your offices or listing a membership with the chamber of commerce’.


. This is an opportunity to humanise your business. If you are a limited company, it is a legal requirement to include your registered address.

People do get concerned about credit-card fraud when they buy online so it is a good idea to reassure them. The best protection comes from the services you outsource to. If you use paypal, Nochex or WorldPay your users’ credit card details are never stored on your server but on the secure servers of these providers, each of which will have policies to protect customers from fraud.

 

As you will be storing the email addresses of users who sign up, use a licensed, responsible autoresonder service that obeys the anti-spam regulations.

Include the company logos of the service providers you use on your site and particularly, your landing pages. Link the logos to the service providers’ consumer protection policy pages (ensuring the link opens in a new window or tab rather than overwriting your page). Consider joining Safe Buy (www.safebuy.org.uk) to be accredited to further reassure potential buyers of your legitimacy.

Ensure you notify the Information Commissioner’s Office that you will be storing personal data, at a small cost – www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/data_protectiion/notification.aspx.

 

3.  Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.

 

 

‘Do you have experts on your team? Are your contributors or service providers’ authorities? Be sure to give their credentials. Are you affiliated with a respected organization? Make that clear. Conversely, don't link to outside sites that are not credible. Your site becomes less credible by association.’

 

Display awards, badges, and any other significant recognition you have received. You can add Twitter follower counts to your website or blog- obviously only do so if you have a several hundred Twitter followers. Ditto face book.  Link to blog posts you have written in other highly credible sites.  Make sure your blog content is both fresh and  relevant to your customers and reflect different stages in the customer buying cycle.

 

 

4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.

‘The first part of this guideline is to show there are real people behind the site and in the organization. Next, find a way to convey their trustworthiness through images or text. For example, some sites post employee bios that tell about family or hobbies.’

 

Face book pages are an excellent way of doing this. You can also post videos ‘behind the scenes’ of your company on your blog or YouTube Channel. .Use Social Media to really connect with your customers- you can upload your tweets onto your blog too. Ask your customers what they think of you as part of a satisfaction survey. Ask what aspects of your service they value most and least. Include in your survey a question asking the customer to summarise what they think of your service, letting them know you may use their comments on your website while reassuring them that their full name will not appear. The effect of this is that people often write their comments with the intention of them appearing on the website. Clearly you should not include negative comments and also edit any testimonials that are poorly written…

Graham Jones’ credibility pyramid identifies customer care and concern as being the most important element of building credibility (50%).

 

pyramid Official 10 Ways To Build Credibility Into Your Blog

 

 

5. Make it easy to contact you.

A simple way to boost your site’s credibility is by making your contact information clear: phone number, physical address, and email address.

 

All blogs and sites should have a contact page or similar. You can also improve your visibility by linking to contact form on your main site from your Social Media accounts.

 

6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).

‘We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM.com. The visual design should match the site’s purpose.’

Systems like WordPress and Joomla take much of the hard work out of creating a website, but whether your are using a content management system, a more basic template or building a site from nothing, it is key to understand the basics of design in order to make that crucial first impression. A useful tip is to employ the Rule of Thirds. At its simplest, divide your page into three and you get the same result from the more purist approach. The BBC’s website is a good example of the Rule of Thirds. Each page is divided into three vertical columns, with some elements spanning two columns to give an approximate Golden Ration of two-thirds to one-third. The colour scheme is fairly analogous and uses tints of one colour for a gentle feel, but some elements are colour coded with other hues.

 

7. Make your site easy to use-and useful

‘We’re squeezing two guidelines into one here. Our research shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use and useful. Some site operators forget about users when they cater to their own company’s ego or try to show the dazzling things they can do with web technology’.

 

8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).

‘People assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed’.

 

 Posting very regularly is not only good from a search point of view but it demonstrates your commitment to giving your customers ongoing information that feeds their needs. An outdated blog is worse than no blog at all. Services such as Posterous make it so easy to update your blog by email. 

 

 

 

9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).

‘If possible avoid having ads on your site. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your won. Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct and sincere.’

 

Blogging should be sincere and authentic. Choose a writing style that works for your audience. If possible, write as if you were writing to an individual and present an accessible style. Be open to feedback too, it will endear you to your readers.

 

 

 10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

 

 

 

 

‘Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site's credibility more than most people imagine. It's also important to keep your site up and running’.

 

 If you have a WordPress blog there are plugins such as the Broken Link Checker which can help you identify broken links and are easy to install. There also excellent spellcheckers to ensure you make the minimum of errors in your copy.

Consider employing a copy editor to check for any typographical errors too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ihubbusiness is an information hub for small businesses who wish to learn about internet marketing. The site was founded by Lola Bailey in 2010. Lola is a member of the Institute of Digital Marketing and has over 20 years sales and marketing experience. She is also a full-time copywriter at www.write-upcommunications.co.uk, a copywriter consultancy which she founded. Email: editor@ihubbusiness.co.uk

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