Establishing trust with consumers is crucial to the success of any online business, especially those who are selling a product or service. This is oftentimes easier to do in the “real world” than it is on the Internet.

For example, you as a consumer are in a brick and mortar storefront looking to buy a particular product. You can be comfortable with the atmosphere, enjoy the selection of merchandise they have to offer, and even be assured of their stability as a business because they have been around for some time. The sales person can also put you at ease if they are friendly and helpful to you.

Web sites are a bit different in that they are not physical locations. Plus you are dealing with a digital medium as opposed to a real person.

What are some steps web sites and ecommerce shops can take to establish trust with their users and ultimately convert them into a paying customer?

1. Web Site Aesthetics and Usability

It is amazing to me how many web sites are first of all far from aesthetically pleasing but even worse, a usability nightmare. Most business owners who have a brick and mortar storefront go to great lengths to make sure that their stores are pleasing to the eye as well as laid out in a fashion that makes their patrons comfortable when shopping there. Even service companies can have attractive offices with friendly surroundings and personal that help the consumer to be comfortable enough to do business with them.

Why not take the same steps with a web site? Yet so many throw up a design they did themselves or use one of the cheesy FrontPage templates. Worse than that, the site has no usability. The user has to think to much in order to navigate through the site and most often ends up leaving in disgust rather than going through the painstaking process of actually trying to buy a product or service.

While it may cost a bit more to hire a good web designer, develop a well functioning ecommerce application and even hire a usability expert to consult on the site’s functionality, it will go a long way in not only making users feel at ease once they arrive at your site but in establishing enough trust so that they feel comfortable buying from you.

2. Disclose Your Physical Location

Consumers want to know that you have a physical location. They want to be assured that you are not some fly by night company that is going to take their money today but disappear into the thin air tomorrow. Therefore make sure you not only list a phone number where they can talk to a real person but a physical address so that they know you are a real company.

“But what if I work out of my home?” you ask. “I don’t want people coming over to my house.” Why not use a UPS Store mail box or similar service? If you are conducting business primarily online, the vast majority of people are not going to come to your location. They do however want to know that you have one.

So whether you list the physical location of your business, your home address or a UPS Store address, list one. This will go a long way in helping consumers to trust you because they are assured you physically exist somewhere.

3. Guarantees and Return Policies

Consumers want to be assured that if they do not like a product they can return it. Or if they don’t like your service, they can fire you and possibly even get a return on their investment.

To help establish trust in this area, offer a service guarantee or a return policy directly on your site. If you will not allow returns of merchandise, then plainly tell them so. Consumers would rather know where they stand than to be left in the dark. If you are selling product as is with no returns, spell it out for them. If you do allow returns and service guarantees, make these easy for them to find so that either way, they know their options if they are not satisfied with your products and/or services.

4. Affiliations (BBB, Trade Associations, etc.)

Joining the Better Business Bureau and displaying their seal on your site is probably one of the best things you can do to establish trust with your users. While I don’t agree with their current policy of charging extra to display the BBB seal online, it demonstrates to your users that if they are dissatisfied in any way, that you have agreed to work with them and the BBB to come to an acceptable solution. It also allows them to check your historical record as to whether you have had past complaints and if so, if they have been resolved.

Joining trade associations is also a good way of establishing trust. For example my company, SearchRank belongs to the Search Marketing Association of North America as well as the local Arizona Internet Professionals Association. Most industries have associations in existence to promote and support members who join them. Finding one that relates to your business will not only provide a system of support and networking opportunities for your business but allow you to display your affiliation with them on your web site – bragging rights.

5. Testimonials and Reviews

While all the other items I have pointed out are extremely important, I think testimonials and reviews by far are one of the best ways to establish trust. Most people demonstrate “herd behavior” or a herd mentality. This is where a group of individuals react coherently without there being any coordination between them. Such a group is called a herd. The term is used uncontentiously to describe the behavior of animals within herds and flocks, and more controversially to describe some kinds of human phenomena such as stock market bubbles, and behavior in political demonstrations.

In layman’s terms, people want to follow other people. This is where testimonies and even product reviews work so well. A visitor on your site sees that other people liked your product and/or service and they think, “If it is good enough for them, then by golly, it is good enough for me.” In fact I can’t remember how many times that the word of someone else has solidified my decision to buy a product or service. So if you can acquire testimonies from satisfied customers, by all means post those on your web site, with their permission of course. This tactic by far will be the most beneficial in establishing trust between you and your users.

Well there you have it. This is not an all inclusive list but some of the finer points of establishing trust in the online world. Have I missed any? Are there some additional ways that you the reader have used to establish trust for your online properties? Feel free to comment and let us know what has worked for you.

David Wallace

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses.

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