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Does your business look trustworthy online?

5 min read

Marketing Strategy

This post is by Brooke Howell, SmartBrief’s small-business editor.

In spite of billions of admonishments by well-meaning mothers and teachers, people stubbornly refuse to stop judging books by their covers.

A recent survey found that 75% of Web users admit to making judgments about the credibility of a company based on the appearance of its website, said Tiffany Jonas, president of Aio Design, during her presentation, “Building Online Credibility: Dos and Don’ts for Small Businesses,” on June 11 at the National Association of Women Business Owners2010 Women’s Business Conference in Washington, D.C.

Moreover, researchers have found that 50 milliseconds is the average amount of time it takes a Web user to judge a website’s visual design. That means it doesn’t matter how strong your content is — if your website looks shady, most people aren’t going to stick around long enough to read even one word of it.

If that’s not a reason to make sure your website looks trustworthy, then I don’t know what is.

The first step to looking trustworthy online, said Jonas, is being there in the first place. Nowadays, if people look for your company online and don’t find it, they will think it isn’t legitimate and won’t likely go any further.

Even if you have a site, plenty of design mistakes can send up red flags in the minds of Web users, explained Jonas:

  • Websites that aren’t professionally designed. It may save money to have your teenager design your business’ site, but people will know you didn’t pay to have it done. In particular, if you are in a business that is perceived to be a big moneymaker, such as accounting, consulting or medicine, people will wonder why you didn’t have the money to hire a professional to design your website, Jonas said.
  • Websites that aren’t updated regularly — or at all. 73% of Web users say that knowing a website is frequently updated with new information is a factor in their choice to visit it, said Jonas. If you don’t update regularly or haven’t updated your site design in years, people will notice.
  • Poor font choice. Huge fonts, tiny fonts or too many different fonts don’t make your site look good.
  • A visual mismatch with your target audience. Jonas gave the example of a business consultant whose website featured images of flowers. That just didn’t add up. If you aren’t a florist or landscape architect, flowers don’t make sense on your site. Likewise, a neon color scheme makes no more sense for a therapist than pink does for a hardware store.
  • Running pay-for-click ads. These can be OK on a blog, but for a business website, they just look shady.
  • Unprofessional images. This can include cliched images — think a calculator on an accounting site, do-it-yourself photographs, a logo that wasn’t professionally designed, and no images where they would make sense (if you’re running a bed and breakfast, people want to see the rooms).
  • A website that isn’t intuitive to navigate. 77% of Web users say they won’t stay at a website that they find it hard to navigate, said Jonas.
  • Lack of information about the company. People want to know the basics: physical address, mailing address, phone number, e-mail address and fax number.
  • Absence of policies. People want to know what you plan to do with any information they enter into your website. Of people who shop online, 54% report they have become more likely to read policies on privacy, returns and other matters, said Jonas. But, she warned, don’t go overboard. Short and sweet is better than long and detailed. When you get into too much detail, people will think you’re using all those words to cover something up.
  • Worrying language: This includes poor spelling and grammar, fake-sounding or overly emotional testimonials, and content that is packed with keywords but contains little or no information.

If those pitfalls are overwhelming, Jonas also provided some easy ways to make your company’s website look credible to Web users:

  • Use trust logos. If your business is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, post its logo on your site. Other logos that make you look legitimate include Verisign, the National Ethics Bureau for Financial Services, professional association logos and secure-purchase symbols.
  • Use customer testimonials. People trust fellow customers more than experts.
  • Include a thorough FAQ page. People like to have their questions answered in a straightforward way.
  • Cite respected sources. People want to know where the information you’re providing comes from and will trust information from sources that are well-known and respected.
  • Provide incredibly detailed product information. List any information people might want to know about the product you are selling.
  • If you’re a service provider, list your professional qualifications. This includes your memberships, speaking engagements and articles published, but keep your biography largely professional.  A few humanizing details are good, but you don’t want a bunch of nonwork information.

Image credit: JuSun via iStockphoto