How to Turn Your Website into an Automated Sales Machine (Part IV)

How to Turn Your Website into an Automated Sales Machine (Part IV)

Increase Trust and Increase Sales

(This is the fourth post in a series. For the other posts click here: Part I, Part II, Part III.)

You don’t need a scientific study (although there have been plenty) to tell you that your site’s visitors are not going to buy from you unless they trust you.

And so in Part IV of this ongoing series about turning your site into an automated sales machine, we’re going to go over ways you can increase trust and credibility in your website – which is the third condition that needs to be met in order for your potential buyers to convert to actual buyers.

We went over the other two conditions in previous posts:

  1. They need to feel sure you have exactly what they want (Part II – Be detailed about what you offer. Answer their questions.)
  2. They need to feel they know how everything is supposed to work (Part III – Have an effective FAQ section. Again, answer their questions.)

Nearly ten years ago now, in 2002, Stanford University authored a comprehensive ongoing study on website credibility. Of course the web has changed in ten years, but subsequent studies have found essentially what Stanford found about how users view what they find on the web and the strategies they use to determine how much trust they should place in what they find.

First we will go over what the Stanford studies found, and then we will look at a few more elements of a website that have become increasingly more important in the last decade. (Each of the headings found in the first ten points below are taken directly from the Stanford report.)

1. Design your website so it looks professional (or as appropriate for your site’s purpose)

Stanford found this ten years ago, and it’s even more true today. According to a recent study by OnePoll (on behalf of BaseKit), “70 per cent of people don’t trust badly designed websites.”  (Source: RealWire )

Another recent study by the University of Melbourne found that even as online scams have increased, web surfers were actually 20% more trusting of websites in general than they were five years ago. This, according to Dr. Brent Coker, the study’s author, is because more websites have a professional-looking design.

Says Coker, “We’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence.”  (source: StartUpSmart)

Another study by Northumbria University and Sheffield University in the UK tracked health-related websites (where trust is at premium). It found that participants comments about sites not deemed trustworthy focused overwhelmingly (94%) on elements related to design.

Reason for Rejecting a Website




Trustworthy Sites

Interesting enough, when a site was deemed trustworthy, participants pointed out content factors and not design factors as the deciding elements.


Content Can Make You, Design Can Break You

Obviously what’s happening here is that viewers make an initial judgment based on the site’s design, and then if that gets a pass, they move onto the content. In the end, it is your content that will make you. But in the beginning, it is your design that can break you.

As a WordPress user, there is no excuse for not having a professional-looking design. WordPress themes are getting better and better by the day. However, of course you will want to make sure your site’s theme is appropriate to your business. If there is one mistake I see on a regular basis it’s this one. Some site owners don’t seem to understand that certain types of designs are associated with certain types of sites. Consequently, they end up wearing a tuxedo to the beach or flip flops to a ball.

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

You can increase trust in your site by linking information in your site to trusted third-party sources. Many people will not follow these links, but simply having them there seems to increase credibility.

Of course some sites’ content may not naturally lead to a lot of linking out to sources in order to verify what you’re saying, but you might be surprised at the number of times you could do this if you simply started thinking about it more. And as it does seem to help, it might be something worth thinking about.

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

Perhaps the easiest way to show that you’re “real” (as Stanford suggests), is to list a physical address on your site. So maybe you’re working out of a tiny efficiency apartment. That’s OK. It’s still your address.

If you do happen to have a more elaborate office than the edge of your bed and a fold-up table, then you can post photos of your office. These days, many people have legitimate and completely trustworthy businesses that they run out of their homes, and so a picture of a home office could do well too. In the end it’s just a gesture to say, “I’m real. I’m here. I’m not going away. I’m not going to scam you.”

Listing associations with well-known and legitimate organizations can also help, places like your local chamber of commerce. Well-known charities could also work? Can you link to your name on their website, or even better, a picture of you with one of their officers?

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

Highlighting the experience and expertise that you and/or your staff have can go a long way in creating trust. Even if you have no discernable expertise or experience in your field, it can help to talk about why you have a passion for what you’re doing. A genuinely written About page may help you win over trust more than you know.

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

This idea is related to #3 above (show that there’s a real organization behind your site). The point here, however, is to show that you’re an actual human. This is typically done on your About page, but it may even done on the homepage. (See point #12 about photos below.) Photos of you, photos of others who work with you, and even photos of your family can help. If you put photos of your family up, people are more likely to think that you’re a straight-shooter because most people wouldn’t drag their family into something nefarious.

Your About page is also a place where you can give a few personal details about hobbies, etc. You might also use this opportunity to talk in a more personal way about why you got into this business or started this site, etc.

How personal you are in this section will depend somewhat on what business you’re in. In some businesses it may be fairly common to see people revealing who they are in the their private lives. In others, it may not be.

A recent study published in Learning, Media and Technology found that professors who tweeted strictly personal tweets had a higher credibility rating than those who tweeted a mixture of personal tweets with professional tweets or those who tweeted strictly professional tweets. HOWEVER, those higher credibility numbers only occurred among younger students. Older students rated them lower in credibility after viewing their Twitter accounts. The students ranged in age from 18-23.  So the point here is to know who you’re dealing with. Different groups want different things. (source: ArsTechnica

6.  Make it easy to contact you

This is pretty straightforward, but it’s important to note that a physical address and phone number add to your credibility. It’s not just about having an email address.

7. Make your site easy to use – and useful

This is pretty much what Part II of this series was all about. Know that your site’s visitors have specific questions. Do your best to answer questions with specific, easy-to-find answers.

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

In general, visitors to your site are going to give more credibility to it if they feel it’s up to date. For some sites, however, there may not be much to update regularly. Of course you can add a blog to just about any type of site, and that can be updated regularly, but if not, then at the very least you can get a plugin that shows the current date on your pages. It’s a small “trick,” but it can have a large psychological impact.

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

Of course you want to monetize your site, but you need to strike a balance between monetization and content. This balance will be different for different sites, so a question to ask might be, “If I were visiting someone else’s site, what would be an acceptable balance?”

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

The Stanford study reports, “Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than most people imagine.”

This also includes design problems, of course.

Let’s face it, when you walk into a dodgy neighborhood, you usually know it even though you may have never been there before. And most people’s inclination is to get out more or less as soon as they can. When you walk into a pristine, well-kept neighborhood, you feel a sense of ease. You don’t want your visitors thinking of your site as being the rough neighborhood they’d rather steer clear of.

The following tips were not mentioned in the Stanford study; however, they have been found to also increase trust in your site.

11. Use Trust Badges from Respected Companies

The use of a trust badge or trust seal from a respected company can help build trust. In some cases, they may even help attract visitors via the search engines. VeriSign (from Symantec), for example, has something they call seal-in-search.

VeriSign explains, “Seal-in-Search is a feature where the VeriSign seal is displayed within search engine results next to links to VeriSign trusted sites. Seal-in-Search is enabled by browser plug-ins that detect VeriSign trusted links in popular search engines, and also by partnerships with comparison shopping, listings, and other web sites.”

Many of these seals, however, can be costly. You can often get a free trail for a few months, and so that should give you time to run an A/B test to see if it’s worth the cost.

Some of the more well know trust badges are from VeriSign, McAffee Secure, Trust Guard, ValidSafe, MerchantSafe, and Truste.

In addition to security badges, you might consider badges from organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and BizRate, etc.

12. Use photos of real people

Finally, the last tip that may help is to use photos of people—real people— on your site, not stock photos of models. Some tests have shown that this can increase credibility, and it’s easy to imagine why. However some tests have shown that it may hurt. It’s less clear why that might be, but that just goes to show that in the end you have to do your own testing to really nail down what works for you.

As an example of how this can help, reported on an A/B test done by an art site that sells Brazilian and Caribbean art online. They tested putting images of the art on the landing page versus putting actual photos of the artists. In one instance they saw an increase of the desired action (which was further interaction on the site) of 95% when they showed visitors photos of the artists as opposed to their art.

In another test they saw an increase of 48% more interaction with the site’s owner when he used a photo of himself instead of an telephone image for his Contact icon.

You can read about the test here.

Your Visitors MUST Trust You

Trust is obviously important if you want sales (or other types of interactions). And as you can see, the idea of trust or mistrust permeates every aspect of your website from the overall impression your design gives at a first glance all the way down to the punctuation in your sentences.

The good news, as one study mentioned above points out, is that more people than ever before are comfortable buying online.  In many cases, your customers will not feel the need to talk to you in person before they buy from you. However, they still will need to go through a process of coming to trust you. And with a little work here and there, you can automate that process and let your website handle your side of the relationship.

 (This is the fourth post in a series. For the other posts click here: Part I, Part II, Part III.)

>> Which trust signs do you look for when dealing with an unfamiliar site? Leave a comment below.

(Thanks to withassociates for the danger image.  Thanks to Joi for the trust image.  Thanks to Steve Polyak for the family image.)