are social creatures
that seek out
We crave trust.
by WM Contributor Tim Ash, SiteTuners
Without trust, we would be consigned
to a world where we examine
everyone’s actions with
suspicion, and assume they are
working only for their own purposes.
But because of the sheer
number of social interactions we
have with complete strangers, we
must at least extend some trust on
a regular basis. Otherwise, many acts, both small and momentous,
simply could not happen.
Even with total strangers in the “real world”, we at least
have appearance and body language to discern some level of
trust. Online, we are at a disadvantage. Almost anyone can
quickly create a website or landing page and masquerade as a
wide variety of businesses. Additionally, we are often barraged
in the media about various scams perpetrated online. So, we
already have our guard up.
As an online marketer, your job is very difficult compared
to your bricks-and-mortar counterparts. You must not only
overcome anxieties, but do so in the most challenging of circumstances.
Online trust must be developed without face-to-face contact,
and it must be created instantly in the few precious seconds
it takes a website visitor to evaluate your value
So how can you build instant trust online?
First impressions matter. Recent research indicates that people
will form an initial impression of your landing page or
website within 50 milliseconds. This is almost as fast as visual
processing happens in the brain, and can be considered as an
instantaneous and automatic response. This initial reaction
then extends to a more considered review of the page and will
impact our likelihood of taking the desired conversion action.
Don’t get disqualified based solely on your
We prefer well-dressed and groomed job candidates. We try to
put our best foot forward on first dates. The same should be
• Professionalism of design: Regardless of the intended
audience or your business purpose, the visual design of
your website should be professionally executed. It must
hang together and function as a unified whole. Fonts, colors,
and graphical elements must combine into a single
• Sparseness and neatness: Clutter can be your worst
enemy — whether it is visual embellishments, or dense,
longwinded text. Less is more. Ruthlessly edit everything
on the page until it is pared to its essence and has a natural
and unforced feel. Give your page room to breathe.
• Organization & clarity: Too many choices on the page
can be paralyzing. Similarly, a disorganized page increases
the visitor’s cognitive load and forces them to spend time
simply trying to figure out how they should digest the information
that you have presented. As the title of Steve
Krug’s excellent book on Web usability so elegantly puts
it, “Don’t Make Me Think”.
Will we be spammed if we enter our e-mail into a form?
Will the goods promised ever be delivered after we order
from an online catalog? Will our identity be stolen? Such
questions are always in the background when we navigate
around the Web.
Relieve point-of-action anxieties before they arise
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, reassurances are
needed about the transaction.
• Forms of payment and delivery: Many e-commerce catalogs
only show acceptable forms of payment and return
policies after the checkout process has been started. In fact,
they must be seen before they are needed and prominently
displayed above the fold on every page. The same is true
of well-known delivery and shipping methods.
• Data security and privacy: The website must be certified
as “safe” by outside experts in terms of its ability to protect
data. Having privacy policies and computer security trustmarks
from well-known vendors will instantly show
someone that you have safeguarded their data properly.
• Policies and guarantees: Often, the transaction is not at
issue. It is what happens afterwards that concerns people.
By prominently featuring warranties, return policies and
guarantees, you can assuage these anxieties. A visual seal
can be created to draw the eye to these important elements.
Experts & Media
Your visitors are not likely to have heard of your brand. 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.
Borrow trust from better-known brands
• Reviews and awards: Many services and products have
won awards or at least been reviewed by relevant industry
publications. Using the award seals or “reviewed by” language
can be very effective.
• Paid endorsements and spokespeople: Paid endorsements
can convey trust or at least transfer the celebrity of the
spokesperson to the product or service in question.
• Marquee clients: Using client logos with permission or at
least prominently featuring a written list of clients (unless
specifically prohibited by contract language) will create
powerful visual proof of your legitimacy. They confer an
implicit halo effect — if you have worked with large companies,
you can handle smaller “regular” ones.
• Media Mentions: Media companies are experts at self-promotion.
Any association with them confers a sense of notoriety
to your landing page. Often, media outlets can be
broadly defined as bloggers or authoritative voices in your
Keep in mind that there are several caveats to 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 context for the content on the page. On the
other hand, they must be displayed subtly, as to not dominate
the visual conversation. The logos are often expertly designed,
distinctive and instantly recognizable in order to draw attention.
So, you may need 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. For example,
if our circle of acquaintances turn us on to a new musical
group, we are more likely to listen. Regardless of the actual
cultural tribes that we belong to, our peers exert a very strong
influence on us.
Support automatic compliance
by demonstrating “social proof”
There are two important preconditions for social proof to be
effective: 1) there must be many people who are taking a similar
action and, 2) they must be as close to our own personas
• Objective numbers: “The many” can be demonstrated by
showing how many people have bought, downloaded, or started a free trial. Numbers should be cumulative, starting
with the inception of the business or product. Spell
out the digits of each number (e.g. “Over 1,000,000 downloads”),
and use large fonts to draw additional attention.
• Likeness: Create affinity by demonstrating that the people
taking action are similar to your website visitors. This can
be done by picking appropriate colors, editorial tone and
graphics to make your visitors feel at home. You can also
have a large number of detailed testimonials that discuss
common situations faced by similar people.
Trust is a critical factor to transactional success, particularly
in an online environment. If you build on the four pillars
of trust outlined herein, you should have a solid
foundation for improved conversions.
About the Author: Tim Ash is CEO of
optimization firm that
tools to improve
Reviews of a landing
page can quickly
conversion issues. Ash
is a frequent speaker
at Internet marketing
conferences. He is a
to several industry
websites, and is also
the author of the bestselling