In recent years, the world of conversion rate optimization has become somewhat obsessed with trust badges. Love them or hate them, the fact is that a lot of studies have been done regarding their potential impact on a website’s conversion uplift – or lack thereof. Precisely because of the limited consensus on their general effectiveness, trust seals have become a topic of hot debate.
While it’s good that so much attention is being devoted to trust as one of the most important pillars of conversion optimization, the discussion has arguably been at the expense of other important factors contributing to a website’s credibility in the eyes of a user.
The reasons for this are manifold. For one thing, these little pieces of virtual reassurance (usually of a circular shape with some text that may or may not be made up) are only too easy to design and leave on any given page in a set-and-forget fashion. Even if these are genuine certificates obtained from actual industry authorities such as Norton and McAfee, it is all too tempting to just slap them onto any poorly designed experience hoping that they somehow magically increase the perceived trustworthiness of your site or online store.
The latter point might explain some of the inconclusive results regarding trust badges and their impact on conversions; it almost seems as if such page elements have become a synonym for “trust” itself in many corners of the internet.
Rather than offering you yet another list of the most important badges to implement on your store’s checkout page, the aim of this article is to remind the readers that instilling trust in your visitors should be more than just an afterthought. Instead of using shortcuts to trick users into trusting your online brand, remember that credibility lies at the heart of branding as such – for what is a brand if not a promise to be fulfilled?
And while this is in no way a tirade against using trust seals as part of your marketing toolkit, never lose sight of the fact that establishing credibility is all about building a long-term relationship with your customers – and that takes way more time and effort than could ever be achieved by relying on any badges alone. Put simply, trust is something that should be woven into the very fabric of your online presence.
That said, below you will find a well-rounded (though by no means exhaustive) list of factors to consider when crafting a holistic and enduring trust-building strategy for your website or ecommerce store. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Steve Jobs once famously said that “design is not how it looks, it’s how it works”. In industries such as online retail, this could not be any more true; if your site takes ten seconds to load or the Add to Cart button isn’t working, you can be almost sure that not many visitors will end up spending their hard-earned money on your site. Nonetheless, even Jobs himself would have probably agreed that the aesthetically pleasing visual appearance of Apple’s products and interfaces had at least something to do with their consequent success.
The point being made here is that products and services that look the part in addition to working properly make us feel good – and more importantly, secure – on a more subliminal level. Moreover, making visitors feel safe becomes even more important if you handle any financial transactions directly on your site.
Make It Look Legitimate
The Baymard Institute, one of the world’s foremost authorities on ecommerce user experience, emphasizes an investment in design as the very first step towards creating a trustworthy online experience for your customers. Making your site appear legitimate and professional should also be your top priority according to Nielsen Norman Group, another renowned UX consultancy.
Their argument that a business is perceived as being more credible when customers find the site delightful in terms of both form and function makes intuitive as well as commercial sense. If shoppers can tell right away that time and effort have been put into making the shopping experience easy and pleasant for them, then that’s a sign of a company that cares about its customers. This realization on their part then leads to higher levels of mutual trust and over time such accumulated goodwill between your brand and your customers ultimately translates into better conversions and a healthier bottom line – and what store owner wouldn’t want that?
In essence, we tend to trust those who care about us more than those who don’t. For that reason, it is all the more important for online brands to provide experiences that address their users’ deeper psychological needs in addition to fulfilling their functional needs.
Having a decent product range and reliable site performance is considered a given nowadays, not a bonus or a nice-to-have. In order to make visitors feel secure and comfortable enough to actually part with their money on your site, your business will have to go beyond the basics and demonstrate a level of customer empathy unmatched by that of your competition. In other words, a good design is one that also speaks the language of a store’s target audience in addition to working seamlessly and looking great.
Developing a thorough understanding of your customer base thus becomes the essential first step towards establishing long-term trust between them and your brand.
Before thinking about trust badges and similar tactics, another factor you should consider is the overall transparency of your website. Nielsen Norman Group defines transparency in terms of “upfront disclosure of all information that relates to the customer experience”. Even though such a definition could mean a lot of different things depending on the specific niche you operate in, there are some general principles that apply to most online businesses, especially ecommerce ones.
Avoid Dark Patterns
For instance, hidden shipping costs are often a significant pain point for customers, so much so that many abandon their purchases if they are notified of added shipping fees just before payment. Another example would be estimated arrival times for businesses that deliver goods ordered online, or using login walls and gated content to obtain users’ contact information before they’ve even had a chance to browse your site.
All of these could be seen as examples of dark patterns that, while not necessarily exploitative in the traditional sense, still provide for a comparatively poorer customer experience. In order to prevent consumers’ trust in your brand from being eroded, you should display all such information prominently and at the right stage of the customer journey. Honesty really is the best policy in this particular case, and you will reap the benefits of this approach in the long run.
Buyers Are Afraid of Fraud
Transparency also pertains to the way you present your company’s contact details on the site. While this might sound like a trivial detail at first, it’s important to know that one of the biggest fears people have when visiting a new online store is the possibility of fraud due to the store itself potentially not being “real”. In other words, customers fear that they might be scammed or otherwise inconvenienced if there’s no way of contacting the business directly in case something goes wrong, especially if they’re a first-time visitor without any prior knowledge of your business.
Different Contact Methods
You should also bear in mind that different customer groups prefer different methods of getting in touch. Whereas some consumers might love using your live chat option, make sure not to neglect those that might prefer making a good, old-fashioned phone call (e.g. your older customers).
Therefore, a full list of contact details including your company’s email address, telephone number and physical location (ideally also showing it on a map) should be easy to find on your site, perhaps even included in your main navigation.
Even if your online business doesn’t have a physical location of its own and you’re running it from the comfort of your own home, you should still make sure to include some sort of contact info reassuring potential buyers that there is an actual person behind the screen that they can reach out to at all times. Naturally, how prominent these contact details also depends on the specific niche you occupy; health-related and financial services are two examples of industries where trust plays an even bigger role than in some others.
Introduce Your Team
Finally, make sure to introduce potential customers to your team; most often this should be found on your About Us page or a similar one. This is especially true for (but not limited to) businesses providing services either in the B2C or B2B space. If a prospective customer needs plumbing services, for example, they’ll likely want to know the people they’d be letting into their home prior to the service provider’s arrival.
Showing your people – and even bragging about them where appropriate – also makes sense in a B2B environment, e.g. if you’re an agency selling very specialized or knowledge-intensive services at a high price point to other businesses. Typically, potential leads will appreciate getting to know the people they might end up working with on a project, even if only virtually.
To that end, a short description of each employee’s role in your team as well as their past results could go a long way in reassuring your clients that they are indeed making the right choice.
3. Content quality
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of having great, engaging content on your site. In fact, if you consider trust seals to be the icing on your “credibility cake”, then content is the foundation that holds all the other ingredients together. We’ve already established that a big part of how people come to perceive your site as trustworthy happens on a subconscious level. For this reason, it is important to take care of basics such as content quality first before moving onto SSL certificates and similar tactics. Because while the latter may sound sexier, they won’t get you far in the long run if your visitors can’t find enough value in whatever content you’re presenting on your site.
It’s a crucial thing to remember that earning your customers’ trust can only ever be a long-term game if sustainable conversion and retention rate growth is what you’re after.
As with many of the factors described so far, the definition of great content and what kind of value it should provide to customers will also heavily depend on the industry or niche your business operates in. However, the gist of it is that visitors need to be able to find all the information that they’re looking for on your site easily and in a way that answers all (or most) of their questions.
For example, the CXL blog has become one of the most credible information sources in the CRO niche through an intense focus on making each blog post the best on the internet for a particular topic being covered. While this may sound like a lofty goal, the reason why having such aspirations is important ties into one of the earlier points worth reiterating – a company that focuses on users’ needs first and foremost is a company that cares, and caring breeds trust.
Detailed Product Descriptions
All of the above principles can also be applied to the world of ecommerce and online stores, albeit with a different twist. In this scenario, content quality might be more pertinent to a specific stage of the buying funnel rather than an entire site section.
For instance, product detail pages are oftentimes the make-or-break stage in a customer’s buying journey. This makes them hugely important to optimize and one of the best ways you can do this is to add detailed product descriptions, particularly if you’re selling expensive items that people tend to research extensively before purchasing.
You’d be amazed at how many would-be customers drop off at this stage as a result of not being able to find enough detailed information on products they’re genuinely willing to spend money on. Invest time and effort into writing what each of your products does, and if you’re a reseller operating in a different geographical market, resist the temptation to just copy the manufacturer’s product descriptions. Instead, focus on writing your own descriptions that are even better than the original ones, and are in the language of your target market. Your customers will thank you (and trust you!) for it.
Product photography is another important content element to take into account on product detail pages. The reason why images are so important is because they are the very first thing we notice – some research even suggests that we can identify images within as little as 13 milliseconds!
A good first impression is therefore a must and nothing will deter your visitors as quickly as drab, lifeless stock photography or unclear images whose resolution isn’t even high enough for shoppers to make out what the product actually looks like. In order to prevent that, you should take product photos using good lighting, a high resolution camera and with models being shot from a multitude of angles.
This is essential if the items being sold cannot be tried on before buying (such as shoes and clothing), and you should do it too if you have the means. Even though there are relatively cheap ways of doing this, you might want to invest in more professional solutions such as 360 or 3D product photography equipment if you’re in the higher end of the market. You can even take this a step further by showing videos of your products being used in different use cases in practice; this could be particularly helpful if the products or services you’re selling are complex to use and need more visual explanation to be properly understood by prospective buyers.
Last but not least, make sure that all of your text content is proofread for any grammar and spelling mistakes. As the CRO agency The Good rightly points out, how can you trust an online store to get an order right if they can’t even be bothered to correct misspelled words on their site? Mistakes like this are not that uncommon and they definitely take away from the professional appearance of your online brand.
Keep Content Updated
Similarly, do your best to keep your content updated; there is nothing more frustrating from a shopper’s point of view than trying to buy a product you like only to find out that it hasn’t been available for weeks. Such omissions could be seen as signs of negligence and no one wants to feel like a third-rate customer.
If your business prides itself on its blog, make sure to actually update your posts and include title additions such as “Updated for [current year]”. This will also cost you some time but will eventually pay dividends in the form of an increase in your site’s perceived trustworthiness.
4. Social proof
The fourth key alternative – or rather, addition – to trust badges that you could use in order to boost the credibility of your site comes in various forms of social proof. BJ Fogg, a well-known researcher at Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, refers to this particular type as so-called reputed credibility. Reputed credibility entails all the different ways in which the trustworthiness of your brand can be vouched for and supported by customers, independent authorities, partner organizations and other unbiased parties.
One of the most common ways in which businesses aim to increase reputed credibility using social proof is through customer reviews. If you don’t have this functionality enabled already on your site or online store, you should really consider implementing it. As Shopify detail in one of their blog posts, this is because people tend to trust what others say about you way more than what you say yourself.
If customers are already leaving reviews on your site but you’re struggling to get more of them to do so, you might want to consider organizing a voucher contest of some kind in order to financially incentivize them. Alternatively, you could just kindly ask them – it often works!
You could also add a user-generated content (UGC) option to your reviews whereby customers could upload photos of themselves using the product. This has been proven to increase the number of visitors proceeding from the product page to checkout by as much as 29%, and is a great way to make the most of your existing review base in terms of boosting conversions.
However, there are two things you should absolutely avoid doing when it comes to customer reviews.
- The first is coming up with fake reviews of your own and disguising them as genuine, user-generated ones. Not only is this problematic from an ethical standpoint, but there are also tools out there that web-savvy visitors can use to catch you out.
- And secondly, never delete negative reviews, as tempting as it may seem. These have actually been shown to increase credibility over time rather than decrease it. In that sense, having a well-balanced mix of good and bad reviews could lead to a perception of your business as being less biased.
Negative Reviews and Bad Press
The reason why this is crucial is because users will see through your efforts to conceal “bad press” whether you like it or not. The sheer number of social media outlets and available review sites has made it increasingly difficult for brands to hide the truth from potential customers, and that is a good thing.
Why, you might ask?
For one thing, it might well force you to improve your customer service and focus on what matters most, namely customer satisfaction. The only thing lying to your customers can increase is distrust, not conversions. Instead, why not offer them services such as guarantees, free delivery and easy returns? And if you are already offering these, why not make them even more visually prominent? Chances are you aren’t emphasizing some of these benefits as much as you could be – companies like ASOS have even based entire value propositions around them.
Don’t shy away from clearly stating the number of your social media followers on your site, or any reliable product adoption statistics you might obtain from user research. As long as you can back up your claims with real data and not just some made up numbers, your credibility and conversion rate should remain intact – and hopefully much more than that if you take advantage of all the insights in this post.
To sum up, there are no shortcuts to earning trust from your customer base. As with any relationship, the one between your business and your customers requires careful nurturing over an extended period of time in order for both parties to reap the benefits. “Both parties” is the key phrase here, and you really have to understand trust as a two-way street before you can start implementing any hands-on tactics. Among these tactics, trust badges and certificates certainly have their place in your CRO arsenal.
The danger arises when you start substituting these for what should be a holistic strategy, a mindset even, all the while neglecting other important factors such as the quality of your site’s design, content, its overall transparency and the social proof to underpin all of the above. Only after taking care of these keystone elements should you move on to testing out different trust seals that might or might not work on your own specific site or online store.
Until then, feel free to use this article as a guide for your trust-building efforts and don’t hesitate to add any others that might have been omitted in the comments!