Establishing Website Credibility

It is easy to take for granted how we subconsciously assess people for credibility every day. Think of your inner monologue when your phone rings and your caller ID identifies an unknown caller. You’re already on the defensive, and you hear something like this:

red-flag-50x50“Good morning Sir, this is Troy from American Financial Partners in Boca Raton…”

You’re probably not likely to listen to the next sentence. However, something like this next approach might trigger a completely different response.

green-flag-50x50“Good morning Mr Baier, this is Troy Stewart. Your accountant, Mel Weinberg, suggested I give you a call. I’m with American Financial Partners; we are a 90 year old wealth management firm owned by Warren Buffett…”

You’re probably going to give this person the benefit of the doubt, or at least continue to listen to what he has to say.

website credibility

What’s the difference? Credibility. The first caller sounds deceptive by omitting his last name. The name of the company – American Financial Partners – sounds conspicuously (maybe deceptively) generic. And Boca, for all its manicured beauty, is not famous for its business integrity.

But who is Simon Baier to speak authoritatively on the subject of credibility? Well, if you don’t believe me, I have some sources for third-party credibility of my own …The second call adds a few all-important credibility factors. Troy uses his last name, which, is not in itself a credibility indicator, but it keeps the listener listening. He immediately brings up a familiar name. Third-party endorsements are a powerful tool in establishing credibility. In essences he’s coat-tailing on the credibility of a trusted advisor, and implicitly saying “Mel trusts me to give me your number, so you should trust me” But Troy doesn’t end there; he also adds age credibility (We’re not a fly-by-night. We’ve withstood the test of time.) and for good measure, some additional credibility with the name of a known and respected personality who has attached their name to his company.

The Real Credibility Guru: BJ Fogg

The real expert on the subject of web credibility, B.J. Fogg (@bjfogg), Director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, and self described as “a psychologist who investigates how technology persuades people”. Fortune magazine profiled B.J. fog as one of the 10 New Gurus You Should Know, and “one of the most sought after thinkers in Silicon Valley”.

The Lab’s Web Credibility Project provides the following ten guidelines for establishing credibility on a web site.

Web Site Credibility Guidelines

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.

Do you have experts on your team? Are your contributors or service providers authorities? Be sure to give their credentials. Are you affiliated with a respected organization? Make that clear. Conversely, don’t link to outside sites that are not credible. Your site becomes less credible by association.

4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.

The first part of this guideline is to show there are real people behind the site and in the organization. Next, find a way to convey their trustworthiness through images or text. For example, some sites post employee bios that tell about family or hobbies.

5. Make it easy to contact you.

A simple way to boost your site’s credibility is by making your contact information clear: phone number, physical address, and email address.

6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).

We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM.com. The visual design should match the site’s purpose.

7. Make your site easy to use — and useful.

We’re squeezing two guidelines into one here. Our research shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use and useful. Some site operators forget about users when they cater to their own company’s ego or try to show the dazzling things they can do with web technology.

8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).

People assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed.

9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).

If possible, avoid having ads on your site. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your own. Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct, and sincere.

10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than most people imagine. It’s also important to keep your site up and running.

On-Page & Off-Page SEO Techniques

I recently started work for a client who has come to depend on his web site for 100% of new business. Whether it’s the economy, or increased competition, or other macro trends, his business is down about 25% from last year. The web site is simply not generating the leads it once did.

I saw that the site had recently been “optimized” by a dark hat firm with plenty of sparmy (spammy + smarmy) techniques. When asked, he told me how his efforts to increase traffic had been an experience akin to pushing a boulder up a hill. Lots of activity, and little to show for it.

Every web site I have worked on over the last ten plus years has had SEO squarely in mind during development. Most of my recent projects have used a content management system or ecommerce platform that is highly search-optimized structure out of the box. (WordPress and Magento are my respective favorites.)

I have learned that SEO is not about “tricking” search engines into giving you a high listing, but rather it’s about presenting yourself well, and adhering to a handful of best practices.

SEO can be sub categorized as on-page, and off-page. On-page is your internal page and site structure, and off page is gaining recognition (and almighty links) from every other site on the Internet.

On-Page SEO

Your on-page SEO strategy is all about presenting your company in bite sized chunks in a manner that is accurately and optimally indexed so as to directly address every conceivable customer search query.

Components of on-site and on-page strategy involves:

  • Site copy– content must be written first for human usability, and a close second for search engine algorithms. Keep an eye on length, concise subject scope, and keyword density.
  • Information architecture – subject matter silos with focused keyword sets
  • Navigational structure – internal text links that preserve and enhance page rank
  • Semantic structure – meaningful use of HTML markup tags
  • Landing pages – narrow topic, minimal distraction, clear call-to-action
  • Meta data – titles, description, keywords, alt text, titles, relationships, and micro formats are all critical elements to help effective indexing.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO strategy is all about demonstrating relevance, and search engines recognize ones relevance by what other sites are saying about you as indicated by their linking to your site.

An inbound link building strategy should seek well-formed links from a quantity of significant sites pointing to a wide breadth of pages in your site.

I typically start with paid and unpaid directories, then follow up with member associations and strategic partners. In addition, inbound links are one of many benefits to an ongoing social media campaign. And lastly, good old PR can go a long way to gaining valuable inbound links.

SEO is a Journey

Above all, remember that effective SEO is a journey and not a destination. Do not try to manipulate search engines into giving you high relevance and therefore a high ranking, instead, present yourself in a organized and “consumable” manner, engage in the online discussion, and actually be relevant.

Be relevant, and discover how much easier it is to roll that boulder down the hill.