The first six building blocks in creating a Destination Website; expert information, usability, website design, unique value proposition, time and presence, and voice are all things that we, more or less, have direct control over. The exception is time. We don't control time but we do control how we build up our presence over time.
Trust and credibility are also partly in our control but also two of the most difficult things to achieve. We determine whether we move forward in a trustworthy way, and whether or not to act in a credible manner, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot wish those two things into existence. We cannot force someone else to trust us. We cannot tell someone to find us credible and expect them to do so on our word.
We can go about doing all we can to build both trust and credibility, but, in the end, whether we are trusted or not lies not with our own efforts but other people's perceptions. If you spend months and years showing you can be trusted and proving that you're credible, but one one knows or believes it to be true, then you just aren't. These are not physical things that can be touched, they simply must be understood to be true.
How to build trust and credibility
So while we cannot make a few tweaks here or there and suddenly expect to be deemed as credible, there are things that we an do to help build the perception of trust in the minds of our visitors.
Answer phone calls and return emails
I'm amazed at how often I run across businesses that don't do this. You would think that this is one of the basic no-brainers of doing business. Heck, if you can't return a call or reply to an email, what signals are you sending to the potential customer? First question: are you a legitimate business? Second question: if I have a problem, who's going to be there to help me out?
It's bad enough that potential customers call and get a voice mail during business hours. Worse when those calls are not returned. Rule of thumb, you have about 24 hours to respond to messages and emails before your credibility is questioned. However, if you really want the customer, you should respond much faster. Twenty-four hours is a long time on the web and if you wait too long, you just might have lost them to a competitor.
Keep information secure
Security is important to conveying trust. Whether you are selling products or just capturing leads, visitors need to know that their information is going to be kept secure and it won't be used for nefarious purposes. Using trust symbols such as Thawte, Better Business Bureau, and HackerSafe can all provide additional feelings of trust. Linking to privacy and security policies from your forms can help as well.
Keeping communication open between you and your customers is essential. This is more than just returning calls, but it's active participation. Both in meeting customers needs but also in anticipating them. It means finding where your audience is and engaging with them in forums, chat rooms, blogs and the like. Keeping communication open gives you opportunity to be honest with your shortfalls, own up to your mistakes, and to present yourself as you truly are, a real person who cares genuinely about the needs of your audience.
Put the customer first
We've all heard it said that "the customer is always right." Now I don't necessarily believe that's true in all situations, but the point is, to survive in a customer oriented business, we have to put the customer first. This means going out of your way to ensure the customer is satisfied with their purchase and transaction and if not, finding out what areas they are dissatisfied in and provide a solution to make them satisfied.
One of the best ways to build trust and credibility is to simply exceed the expectations of your audience. This can be both easy and difficult. It's easy to find little ways to go the extra mile. To provide a little extra service or extra benefit. It can be difficult, however, if you over-sell yourself. If you do that then you make it difficult enough just to meet expectations. Look for opportunities to do something your customers or prospects don't expect. Ways to prove to them that they are special to you.
Of course, all this isn't just about building perceptions, but proving those perceptions to be true. Creating a perception of trust, only to have it proven false is far worse then never having built the aura of trust to begin with. If you fool visitors into thinking you're credible, they'll soon find out you're not. Both are harder to rebuild than to build in the first place.
Putting them all together
When building a Destination Website, all six other building blocks can be in place, but without this seventh one the first six are meaningless. Usability, voice, design, expert information, etc., all just become part of the ruse. But, if you are truly building up trust that can be trusted and credibility that is credible, the first six building blocks all lend a hand to that end. They all play a role at helping to establish and prove your trustworthiness.
Very successful businesses, both on-and offline have been built on this last building block alone. In fact, only this last one is required for success, though all seven are required to build a Destination Website. Like any good foundation, all seven building blocks provide support for the other six, with trust and credibility being the most crucial piece of the pie.
Read more about Destination Search Engine Marketing:
Part I: Do you Deserve Top Search Rankings?
Part II: What Would Sudden Exposure Get You?
Part III: Standing Out in a Sea of Thousands
Part IV: It's Not Just Marketing as Usual
Seven Building Blocks of a Destination Website
#1: Expert Information
#1b: Seven Types of Expert Information
#3: Website Design
#4: Unique Value Proposition
#5: Time and Presence
#7: Trust and Credibility
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.
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