Online trust is developed without face-to-face contact, and in the first seconds someone visits your site. Build trust with appearance, transactional assurances, experts and media, and consensus of peers.
Human beings are social creatures that seek out companionship and relationships. Our map of reality can be viewed as a series of concentric circles which include the most trusted relationships and those who are in our hearts at the very center.
We crave trust. Without it, we would be consigned to a world where we must examine everyone's actions with suspicion and assume that they are working only for their purposes and not ours. Because of the sheer number of social interactions that we have with complete strangers, we must at least extend some trust. Otherwise, many acts, both small and momentous, simply could not happen at all.
Even with total strangers in the "real world," we at least have their appearance and body language to go by. But what do you do online? Almost anyone can quickly create a Web site or landing page and masquerade as a wide variety of businesses. Many of these enterprises are untrustworthy. We are often barraged in the media about various scams perpetrated online and have our guard up.
As an online marketer, your job is very difficult compared to your brick-and-mortar marketing counterpart. You must not only overcome anxieties, but do so in the most challenging of circumstances.
Online trust must be developed without any face-to-face contact, and it must be created instantly in the few precious seconds it takes a Web site visitor to evaluate your value proposition.
So how can you build instant trust online?
The following pillars of trust can be employed with great effectiveness.
First impressions matter. We do judge a book by its cover. Recent research indicates that people will form an initial impression of your landing page or Web site within 50 milliseconds. This is almost as fast as visual processing happens in the brain, and can be considered an instantaneous and automatic response. In other words, we subliminally decide where the page falls on our "cheesy" to "professional" continuum. And this initial reaction extends to a more considered review of the page, and will impact our likelihood of taking the desired conversion action.
We prefer well-dressed and groomed job candidates. We try to put our best foot forward on first dates. The same should be done online.
Will we be spammed if we enter our e-mail in a form? Will the goods promised ever be delivered after we order from an online catalog? Will our very identity be stolen? Such questions are always in the background when we navigate around the Web.
The mechanics of the conversion action matter. Whether you are trying to collect an e-mail for an online newsletter, or have someone purchase an expensive item from you, reassurances are needed about the transaction.
Experts and Media
Your visitors are not likely to have heard of you. Unless you represent a truly world-class consumer company, people are unlikely to know your brand promise. They do not know what you stand for.
There are several caveats when using expert and media logos. They must appear above the fold and be seen at the same time as the call to action (not below or after it) in order to provide the context for the content on the page. On the other hand, they must be displayed subtly, so they do not dominate the visual conversation. The logos are often well designed, distinctive, and instantly recognizable. So you may have to actually de-emphasize their impact by reducing size, decreasing color saturation (possibly using grayscale), and decreasing contrast with the background color chosen to display the logos.
Consensus of Peers
We often follow the lead of people like ourselves. If we see many friends driving a particular make of car, we are more apt to consider it. If our circle of acquaintances turns us on to a new musical group, we are more likely to pay attention. Regardless of the actual cultural "tribes" that we belong to, our peers exert a very strong influence on us.
There are two important preconditions for "social proof" to be effective: 1) there has to be many people who are taking similar action, and 2) they must be as much like us as possible.
If you build on the four pillars of trust above, you should have a solid foundation for improved conversions.
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Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.
Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."
Connect with Tim on Google+.
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