When doing business online your credibility will play a significant role in how much business you can get and how successful you can be. Just like any brick and mortar store, losing credibility can be disastrous for business.

In general, people are even more skeptical when it comes to doing business online. Perhaps it's because you don't have the face-to-face contact that shoppers are accustomed to when buying offline. Or it might be due to a distrust of what will happen once you punch in your credit card information and hit the "send" button.

There are a number of reasons why people are distrustful of stores offline and online, but that sense is often heightened when shopping on the web. That makes it ever more important to go out of your way to create a sense of trust and credibility to your online visitors.

Recently, Stanford published their top 10 guidelines to establishing web credibility. While the official lock of credibility won't occur in your visitors minds until they have successfully performed a business transaction, there are several things that you can do to bolster your credibility to get your visitors to take that first step at becoming a long-term customer.

Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.

You can build web site credibility by providing third-party support (citations, references, source material) for information you present, especially if you link to this evidence. Even if people don't follow these links, you've shown confidence in your material.

Aside from typical marketing jargon such as "We offer the most effective" or "We provide the highest quality...", which are often subjective, citing references and resources backing up any statistics or claims you're making is extremely important. If you can back up your marketing jargon with a third party source that confirms what you claim, all the better, but if you're going to cite a statistic or quote an authority, you'll enhance your credibility if you link to another published account of what it is you are referring to.

But be careful which sources you site or link to. Many times you'll find sources that are merely quoting other sources, who might also be two or three tiers away from the original source. By then, something might have gotten lost in the translation. Do your best to go back and find the original source of the material.

Short of finding that original source, find the one that is most credible. Don't link to some Joe's website that cited a source from someone else, when you can link to a more authoritative source, even if they are merely repeating information themselves.

Don't forget that often times you can be your own best source. If you are talking about how satisfied your customers are, link to a testimonial page on your site. If you make the point of how well your product or service does, link to another page that backs that up with your own research. Whatever you do, don't make up your testimonials or research. Most visitors can see right through that. It's also not a good idea to try to convince shoppers how good your product or service is without being able to provide actual references to back up your claims. Using the guise of confidentiality or anonymity is weak at best and transparent at worst. Again, you either have people and results that will back up your claims or you don't.

The more of this evidence you can provide the better and more credible you will be in the eyes of your visitors. But don't go overboard either, by thinking you have to link to every possible resource that you mention. This can lead to a convoluted site that loses its focus and ability to sell. Make sure your references help you make the sale, not hinder it.

Show that there's a real organization behind your site.

Showing that your web site is for a legitimate organization will boost the site's credibility. The easiest way to do this is by listing a physical address. Other features can also help, such as posting a photo of your offices or listing a membership with the chamber of commerce.

Showing that your organization is legitimate goes right to credibility. There are several things that you can do to establish the legitimacy of your company.

Posting Contact Information: Make sure your site contains as much contact information you can provide. Phone, email, physical address, fax, etc. Many businesses rely on contact forms and forgo the written contact information. This is a mistake. They more ways a visitor can contact you the better off you'll be in establishing that you are a legitimate company. On the flip side of that, don't post personal addresses, phone numbers or cell phone numbers, as that will give the impression that you're a mom and pop shop that might not be able to be reached during normal business hours. Even if you can't, you don't want to advertise that fact.

Professional Affiliations: Letting people know of the organizations you belong to such as Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau can go a long way to giving your visitors comfort about your business. If you're not a member of either, I recommend that you become one. The BBB in particular allows you to place a logo and link on your site so visitors can view your BBB profile. People trust the BBB, and while membership has its price, the credibility it provides your business is definitely worth the fee.

Articles: Writing and distributing articles about your industry on line (and including a link to your website) is a great confidence builder. If your visitors see that your information has been published in online ezines and other industry news or information sources, they can see that your accepted expertise extends to others in the industry, and is not just part of an on-site smoke and mirrors campaign.

Answering Phones and E-Mail: Nothing destroys credibility faster than phone messages or emails going un-returned. If you wait even a day to respond to a phone call or email chances are the inquiry has already been answered by a competitor and the sale decision already sealed. Having a live person answer the phone does wonders as well, rather than allowing the phone to go to voice mail. Even one-man, part time businesses can portray a significant amount of credibility along these lines by hiring an answering service to take messages. But again, every chance you get, return those calls. The first step to making a sale is to convey confidence in your organization. Let people know you are a legitimate business intent on meeting their every need quickly, efficiently and professionally.

Coming up in Part 2, learn why it's important to highlight your expertise and how to make it clear that your company is qualified to handle the business that you seek.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 8, 2006

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.

Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Establishing Web Credibility - Part 1