How to Build Trust on Your Website in the Age of Transparency

How to communicate transparency to earn the trust of your prospects

Trust. It’s tough to earn but easy to lose – especially in business.

Never has that become more true. Every time a bank changes its fee structure or a cable company bundles its services and makes it less than simple to understand, a cry rings out across social media. Someone will be complaining.

Like it or not, customers have higher expectations of the businesses they deal with these days. A 2012 global study from the Edelman Trust Barometer found that of the 11,000 people in 8 countries polled, 90% claimed that they want companies to be as transparent as possible. The reason: there’s more information that’s easier to access than ever before.

If you’re a company that’s being less than honest or simply appear to be, chances are good that the word will get out. All you have to do is read a few nasty Yelp reviews. True or false, they affect people’s perceptions and sometimes the bottom line.

Take care of your home base

Because transparency has become all but inevitable, building and keeping the trust of customers is vital. One of the best places to do that is a website.

Unlike profiles on any of the social networks, a self hosted website doesn’t live on rented land. You and your business control who sees the messaging and what that messaging will be.

How to build trust on your website

You don’t have to go to elaborate ends to develop a website that gives visitors a reason to trust using it and ultimately your business. You just need to start with an honest approach and implement good copy and design practices.

Here are just a few to get you started:

1) Storytelling with boundaries

According to Brené Brown, the acclaimed researcher in social work, “vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust and disengagement.” How many times have you met someone who seemed great until he decided to hit the “Too much information” button while crying in his soup?

Brené Brown

Developing an engaging storyline on a website, i.e. details about who works at the company, how it came into being, the values behind it, help visitors and customers better understand who they are dealing with while giving them a sense of belonging.

The challenge is being evocative without turning your audience off. Think tone. Is the tone of your copy in keeping with who your business serves along with your own values? It won’t be the same for every business. Take into account what your customers say about your business.

The best way? Online surveys, phone interviews, pop up polls, user testing services. (Check out SurveyMonkey, Qualaroo and UserTesting)

2) Respect customer confidentiality and give them a sense of security

When people feel safe, they’re more at ease. Giving people a sense of security while on your website is a sure way of keeping them motivated to stay.

Several different A/B tests of pages on websites in which security icons were added or verbiage to let people know that their email addresses would not be shared, increased conversion rates at checkouts and list sign ups.

A UK retailer of watches increased sales of one of its Seiko watches by 107% just by replacing it’s price guarantee with an authenticity badge. Clearly, customers had more anxiety about purchasing an imitation watch than paying more than necessary.

UK retailer of watches increased sales of one of its Seiko watches by 107%

3) Only over promise if you can over deliver

It’s tempting to tell your customers you’ll provide next day delivery or respond to requests for information within the hour. By all means, if you can follow through, make those promises.

Giving people additional reasons to believe in your business or product can make the difference between a sale and an abandoned cart.

Zappos has built its business on first rate customer service. And, it’s not afraid to tell it’s customers on the top of its website. The thing about Zappos is that if something goes wrong, it’s prepared to make it right (even if the customer is the one to blame.) They’ve got the infrastructure and the culture to back up their claims.

The result: customers who trust buying from them will continue to do so loyally.

Zappos has built its business on first rate customer service

4) Add real testimonials

Testimonials are extremely effective in providing social proof on a website. Few people like to be the first one to try something. Think about every time you go to a party with a buffet table. It’s not until the host pushes someone over to be the first to fill his plate that others will follow.

Not surprisingly, websites work in a similar way. Adding testimonials shows new visitors that your business is trustworthy.

Here’s the thing. Only add them if they are real, relevant and you can attach a name to them. Bidsketch, the proposal software company, does a good job of highlighting testimonials on their home page that give us a sense of why people are happy with their product. Plus, there are names of real people with links to where you can find them online.

Adding testimonials shows new visitors that your business is trustworthy

Testimonials from “Anonymous” or “Suzie Q.” are less than inspiring in giving people a reason to believe that “real” people have engaged in business with you.

Think about embedding tweets from others directly on your site. They include a picture and are clickable. They provide a quick and easy way of adding testimonials to a site.

What types of things have you done on your website to add that trust factor?

  • Jen – I like your approach to only promising what you can over-deliver. I think testimonials and social proof on the site is an easy thing for ALL websites to be able to include and should be a must do!

  • Jen,

    Great, well-written article. I’ve been doing a whole bunch of research into landing page best practices for a new tool our business is creating and the whole ‘customer testimonial’ thing has come up time and again, as has the trust symbol. Something I don’t see often enough, I feel, is ‘don’t promise if you can’t over-deliver.’

    It’s easy to scavenge around for a unique selling proposition and come up with something that you’re not sure you can actually accomplish but sounds good enough you use it anyway. This kind of stuff destroys brand loyalty!

    Anyway, I’m glad you included it as one of your main points. Thanks for writing!

  • Jen

    Thank you so much for the comment! Customer testimonials are so key. You just need to remember that they should be relevant to whatever you’re selling and actually say something meaningful. Also, if you can add in mini headlines that summarize each testimonial (especially if you have a lot) it really makes them pop. Good luck with your new tool.

  • Jen

    Yes, it’s funny how we’ve grown into a society that’s all about over delivering. I’m for it just as long as you can make good on your promises. Otherwise, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

  • Seriously, this is a kick-ass guide.

  • Jen

    Hey Maria! Many thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • miggy592

    great article… that’s why i like socialmouths

  • Thanks Miggy! I appreciate that.

  • miggy592

    Yup, SocialMouths helps me a lot with my website but can I ask how long after you launched this website that you began to see significant traffic?

  • Hey Dennis,

    Happy to answer that. I think I saw the first peak in traffic about 6 months after the launch when Guy Kawasaki published a couple of my posts on Holy Kaw. I kept growing after that.

    Of course I’m talking about maybe 4 years ago. At that time I felt the social media segment was already saturated, imagine today.

  • Thanks for stopping by Maria, and a happy New Year for you and your family!

  • Thanks for the info.. Much appreciated.

  • CuCo

    Thanks for this! Good hints and tips. We also find that having professional images (especially for our sector) builds trust. When people see professional / or good quality photographs they trust the brand and can see the company invests in their own products and services.

  • Ali Goodman

    Great advice! Sometimes I fear that I toe the line of “TMI” a bit too often, in my blog especially.

  • David John

    I believe respecting customer confidentiality and privacy is the key to success. That’s why anonymous social medias, like the startup Duvamis, have gained lots of fans recently.

  • Point on Testimonials adding social proof about a website is spot on. One interesting trend is to have a “Hero” customer right up there – on the homepage and above the fold. Take a look at the Google Analytics page – and the first thing you see is a testimonial. That’s a real user talking about how GA has improved their website. For more such examples also see

  • joyce

    I very much agree with what you are saying.
    I hate how the Internet has given way to all these scams and I very much appreciate that it has taken a turn now to make everything a bit safer and more reliable.

  • Meg Cook

    This is a GREAT post, because the advice was so clear and actionable. Thanks Jen Havice! I really liked the example with the watches.

  • Colin

    Great article. Just a quick typo correction. In “replacing it’s price,” it should be “its” instead of “it’s.”
    Otherwise, great advice!

  • Hi Jen,

    Great article. I hadn’t seen your article until now
    but it is quite similar to our thoughts here:

    Some additional things that will help you build trust is:

    – Making sure whatever content you produce is of the highest quality and without any spelling/grammer mistakes.

    – Having a website that is well designed sets the right impression from the get go.

    – Finally,Trust signals and social proofing like testimonials are great.
    Including additional things like secure payments icons, share counts on
    social media etc. This is a big one coming in to 2015 and I suspect we
    will see alot more of this on successful websites.

    Its good to see socialmouths “practices what they preach” and tick these boxes.

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