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Essential Small Business Website Trust Indicators

October 24, 2009

By Lisa Barone
Trust is all you have as a small business. It’s your lifeblood. When you open your doors, you greet your customers and make a silent promise that you’ll do everything in your power to take care of them. You use your words, facial expressions and actions to make them feel safe. On the Web, you don’t have any of those visual cues. All you have to establish trust is your Web site. That becomes the face of your brand and what all emotional connections will be based on.

Your Web site should be crafted, designed and set up to clearly convey the information, values and trust signals that your customers are looking for. And here are nine trust indicators to help you do that.

Get a domain name that makes sense: Domains are as tricky as they are important. Get a good one and you’re almost set from the start. Get a dud and well…tough break. As a small business owner, you don’t need to worry too much about the competitive art of domain buying. You simply need to find the best domain that your budget will allow. This means finding something that accurately describes what you do, is short and has good branding potential. At the bare minimum, you want it to “make sense” for what you do. If you sell computers, you want a domain that suggests that on sight. You don’t want someone to land on your Web site and then immediately leave because they thought you were about beach balls, not Mac computers.

Use a branded email addresses: Think about it like a user. If you’re about to spend $500 on an entertainment system, which contact email do you trust more – seller@sellerdomain.com or joey324@sketchyfreeemail.com? It’s a lot easier to trust someone who has clearly invested in their business over someone who simply stumbled across a free Yahoo or Gmail account. When you go searching for a host for your Web site, you want to get a package that includes POP3 accounts and email aliases so that you’ll be able to send branded email. It’s a very simple trust cue that packs a big punch.

Competent design: There’s a whole world of professional-looking DIY design solutions out there if you know some HTML. If you don’t and you’re not even sure what HTML stands for, do yourself a favor and get someone to help you design your site. Even if it’s a college kid you’re bribing with pizza. Find someone who can help you build a credible looking Web site. Essentially, you want your site to be “invisible” with everything in its proper place and working as it should so people don’t even notice it. You don’t need to pay for a full Flash site with all the bells and whistles (in fact, you shouldn’t, they’re horrible for SEO), but you do need something that establishes you as a credible business.

Use a reliable host: Your Web site doesn’t do anyone any good if it your host can’t be trusted to be up and running at all times. Before you settle on a hosting company, do some Google research to see if they have any widespread customer service issues. Google the name of your host plus a few of your favorite “[host name] sucks” variations to see what comes up. If you see frequent mentions of downtime troubles, go elsewhere. If you’re going to be running extensive social media or viral campaigns, you’ll want to talk to your host about that, as well. You don’t want them to automatically take your site down should a flurry of traffic suddenly hit. To make sure your site is running at optimal level, also look for ways to speed up page response times.

Create an About Us Page: Help folks feel comfortable with your site by introducing them to the people behind it. Show them you’re not just some makeshift company that will take their money and be gone in the morning. Very often creating a company About Page that includes all the names, faces and personalities of your company can go a long way to establishing vital trust cues. Use your About Page to talk to customers. Include when the company was founded, what you’re an expert in, how excited you are to help them and all the ways they can contact you. If your Web site is the face of your company, the About Page is its heart.

…And a Contact Page: Sorry, but your About Page doesn’t erase your need for a contact page. You’ll still need a dedicated page on your site to show customers all the ways that they can contact you (it also acts as a great citation for the search engines’ local algorithms). Include your real business address, telephone number, a map of where you’re located, hours, and any other information someone would need to get a hold of you.

Use customer testimonials: Providing testimonials on your Web site does a couple of things for user trust. First, it helps show customers that you’re safe to do business with and gives them an idea of what they can expect from you. Second, people like to be associated with companies other people like. It makes us feel better about ourselves to be connected to popular things. If you can feed their vanity that buying your product makes them one of the in crowd you’ll go a long way toward helping them down the conversion path.

Keep a tidy site: Take as much pride in your Web site as you would a company newsletter or direct mailing. Your content should be grammatically correct and use an appropriate tone. Your links should work. Your pages should be neat. If there are a bunch of broken links, it’s a clear sign that you don’t care about your Web site. And if you don’t care about your site, why should they think you’d care about them? Or your product? That’s not the impression you want to give off.

List groups you belong to: People trust companies that go out of their way to be part of the community. If you’re part of the local chamber of commerce or Better Business Bureau, take the badge or logo they give you and proudly display it on your site. Again, it shows customers looking at your cold Web site that you’re real, that you care and that you’re part of your community. It will send the message that not only do you stand behind your products, but that you are aligned with others who share that same position.

Trust is everything, both on the Web and off. Take some time to make sure your Web site is giving off the right vibe and not turning off visitors before they even learn about you.

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