Do your visitors trust you?

While running a focus group recently I was reminded of the importance of doing all you can to make sure visitors to your site aren’t made suspicious of your content. Not everyone believes in the infallibility of the internet. Your readers want to trust you, so how can you make it easier for them?

Positive trust factors

Authorship and ownership

Claim responsibility for what you put online.  This can mean posting a byline for every article or it can mean making your contact information easily available. One comment from our focus group: “I look for phone numbers—even if I don’t want to call anyone.”


I look for dates. I want to know how old an article is, especially on news, government, and educational sites. Change happens and I want to know that your organization can respond to it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have historical or archival content. It does mean that you need an originally posted date and even better is a reviewed or updated date. If you add a link to a more recent article on the same topic I feel like you understand me.

Here’s an example of adding a date (and responsible party) to archival or evergreen content:


If you run a medical site you will inspire trust differently than if you run a fan site. Some sites can perform well if they come across as stodgy and professorial as long as they are easily understood and relevant. Humor might be possible on a law site, but you better be sure you’re doing it respectfully and carefully.

You’ve probably read that you should always avoid jargon. I disagree, but only for some sites and some locations, and only for jargon that actually means something to your audience. Lazy and bloated speech is not welcome anywhere. But if you want to promote your site to armed services members, for example, using specialized terms like AARs and PMCSing will make you sound like you understand your visitor. If you’re selling video games, an esoteric reference to the movie Scott Pilgrim might make a sale for you. Even if it doesn’t, it will give your site some personality and that might make a visitor more interested in your site. Slang and jargon can be very useful when posting to forums and social media. You should speak whatever language the other forum or group members are using and that can be very specialized. Just be careful if you’re using shorthand speech and the abbreviation OB, for example, that your context makes it clear that you mean operational behavior rather than obstetrics, a star, or a football club.

Images of real people

You can humanize your site by including photos of the some of your staff. A video of someone using your product in a personal or real-life setting can inspire trust because the visitor can relate to the human image you use. It can feel more informative. It’s adding more content.

Privacy and accountability statements

Having a link to a privacy statement probably matters much more than what the page actually says. Few will read your Better Business Bureau page, but seeing the badge can give your visitor just that extra bit of confidence in your company. This is a case where sometimes you can get the A for effort.

Your return policy is one that will get read; so will statements about not selling a person’s email.

Social proof

Testimonials, Facebook likes or product reviews can urge your visitor towards more trust as long as the comments seem genuine. If all your reviews are stellar, people will begin to wonder if someone has manipulated the data.

Negative trust triggers

Exclamation points

Returning to the issue of tone, one person in our focus group responded this way to an accounting reference site: “Can I just say no to exclamation points? Just no. They look silly.” You might be excited about accounting principals but if you’re trying to education the general public or your employees, skip the exclamation points. They feel like false enthusiasm.

Smiling faces

People respond to faces; we can’t help it. But sometimes people respond negatively. I’ve seen this with the generic smiling white woman photo. People will discount an image unless you can make it relevant somehow. Thankfully I no longer see the photo of the CEO on many company home pages when what I want to see is an informative produce shot.

Don’t let the image get in the way of getting to the content that interests your visitors. Make sure your images are content. In the words of an interview subject “I’m annoyed by images getting in the way of information I need.”

Hot topics

Focus groups participants were looking for a link and were unable to locate it. When they found it under “Hot topics” they all laughed. They were immediately suspicious. Hot topics seems to be a signal that what’s there is hot only to the creators and is unable to prove itself without the label. “I wonder how long is it hot?”

Broken links and other errors

Stuff should work as expected. Enough said.


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