A website home page is a map of the world for that site - or at least it should be. Its purpose is to let site visitors know the range of things that can be done within the site or the scope of products, services or information that can be found. To accomplish this, visitors first need to think that your company or organization is worthy of their business and they need to trust that you can give them what they need.
I have previously written about the 4 pillars of building trust online:
The following two-step process will show you how to use these 4 pillars to optimize the trust-building power of the most important page on your site - your homepage.
Step 1: Present a Great First Impression
When you were growing up, how many times did your mother warn you, "Don't judge a book by its cover?" As it turns out, that's pretty hard advice to follow. As much as we'd like to think we're not superficial beings, the truth is that people will judge your site within fifty milliseconds and their opinion is based solely on appearance. In fact, this first impression is created so quickly in the mind that it's impossible for visitors to consider your value proposition, your offer, or anything else on the homepage. No matter who your audience is - young or old, rich or poor, sophisticated or simple - appearance matters.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that the other three pillars of building trust online are unimportant. However, you need to understand that if you don't pass the appearance test, there's a good chance your visitors won't stick around long enough to evaluate you further.
So how do you present the best possible first impression? The answer lies in the production quality of your site. Are you using a WordPress theme, or have you developed a page template that uniquely reflects your brand? Do you look like a "Mom and Pop" company, or does your website make your company look bigger than it actually is?
When it comes to establishing instant trust through a good first impression, choosing the right colors, shades, images and fonts, and arranging them in a professional and logical way, can go a long way. Simple tactics like reducing the number of links on the homepage and paying attention to design details will make your site visually inviting, drawing visitors in so they can begin to consciously pay attention to the content on your page.
Step 2: Show Proof That You're Trustworthy
Making a good first impression is critical, but it's not enough to convince a new visitor to do business with you. Now is when you need to put the other three pillars to work: transactional assurances, external endorsements and consensus of peers.
Your homepage is the most important place to do this, because it is the entry way for many of your new visitors. They've made their way to your site and decided to see what you have to offer, so now they are wondering, "Who is this company? I wonder who their customers are? Do people like working with them? How do I know I can believe what they say on their website?" The job of your homepage at this point is to put these concerns to rest.
What kind of transactions will people conduct on your site? Make a purchase? Subscribe to a newsletter? Fill out a "contact us" form? No matter what the transaction, visitors will have some level of anxiety. At a minimum, they may be concerned that your company will spam them or sell their email address to other companies that will spam them. At worst, visitors who may make a purchase will worry about the security of their credit card information and whether the item purchased will match its description and arrive as expected.
There's something reassuring about knowing a company has been featured in the news, or received awards for their business practices. When your homepage visually displays approval seals, logos of media outlets that have written about you, associations to which you belong, or any other kind of third party endorsements or awards, it immediately conveys to visitors, "Relax - you can trust us."
Even if you are a small company that has little brand awareness, if your local newspaper has written about you, or if the chamber of commerce has acknowledged your ethical business practices, your visitors will start to see that you are a reputable company they can trust. And don't hide external endorsements or awards on your About Us page - display them with pride, above the fold on your homepage.
Whether you know anything about this company or not, a quick glance of their homepage affirms that they work with many large insurance companies and are affiliated with reputable associations in their field.
Consensus of Peers
Social proof is a powerful motivator. Think about it: if a new restaurant opens in your neighborhood, you might not think much of it. But if a friend recommends the restaurant, you'll probably want to try it out. Just knowing that other people like you have trusted a company can go a long way in helping you trust the company too, even if you know very little about it.
Whether your website visitors are consumers or businesses, your homepage needs to convince new visitors that lots of people trust you. Do this objectively with numbers, i.e.: "More than 1,200,000 downloads worldwide."
Then, personalize the number with a testimonial or two. You can even accomplish this with the logos of prominent brands who have worked with your company. The point is, visitors coming to your homepage need to see that your company has experience successfully serving lots of customers so they can feel comfortable getting on the bandwagon. People are clearly influenced by the actions of others like them, and by seeing that past customers had a good experience, new visitors will gain the confidence to transact with you.
This quote serves a double purpose, as both a client testimonial and an outside endorsement (because the client is a well-known media outlet). Great prominence is also given to the logos of other brands who have been customers.
Give Trust Top Billing
Throughout this article, I've emphasized the term "above the fold," and by now, you may be wondering why. There's actually a very good reason.
It has been reported that 95 percent of the human decision making process is done on a subconscious level. Building trust with a person - whether in person or virtually - is no different. Very few visitors will come to your site consciously looking for indications that they can trust you, but they will be looking for reasons NOT to trust you.
It's not enough just to build the four pillars of trust into your website - you've got to make them immediately noticeable at first glance before the visitor even has to click or scroll once. Doing this can help quickly establish trust and powerfully enforces it, leading to big conversion wins.
Meet Your Favorite ClickZ Contributors
Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
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+.
March 19, 2014