Trust revisited

A few months ago I blogged about trust and how it relates to websites – both in the eyes of the search engines and the users. I’ve also written more recently about reputation, particularly that of our industry. Some recent occurrences have led me to think further on these subjects and on how trust is hard won but so easily lost.

Gaining the trust of users

To achieve trust in any sphere you need to have an overall air of reliability and integrity as well as demonstrating many small areas of competence and professionalism. Similarly on a website it’s not just about having a padlock symbol on your shopping cart – there are many factors at work to develop trust amongst your users. Some of the ways to ruin your chances of achieving trust are:

  • A badly built or maintained site
    I’ve seen sites with missing images, buttons which don’t work, internal links that are broken or pages missing. None of that gives an impression of a company that is taking due care.
  • Bad spelling or grammar
    Suggests a sloppy attitude and/or poor supervision. Will they treat orders the same way?
  • A tortuous or broken ordering system
    Suggests a lack of logic, thought, or consideration for customers.
  • Lack of contact details
    Raises a big red flag about what happens if things go wrong with an order, as well as suggesting the company is ignorant of the law.
  • Is anything demonstrably untrue?
    I’ve seen sites displaying a W3C HTML validity symbol that actually had over 180 validation errors. No matter how much I wanted their product there’s no way I’d give my credit card details to a company who is either stupid or dishonest.

You need all of these things (and many more) to be right in order to earn trust; only one needs to be wrong in order to lose it or at best to sow the first seeds of doubt. Only if you’ve already built up trust in your brand will mistakes be forgiven. But even then a serious mistake can blow years of work. Even organisations such as major long-established banks have suffered downturns after exposing customers’ details via an insecure site and it could be argued that this has contributed to the general lack of trust in banks that is apparent now.

Gaining the trust of business clients

The same principles apply in business-to-business practice. If you, as an SEO or web designer, are going to attract contracts and the long term trust of a client then you have to earn it by ensuring that you provide what you promise and act in a professional manner.

  • Be open about what you are going to do to a client’s site
    Using smoke and mirrors to convince a client you have expertise will rebound on you eventually because they’ll always worry that they aren’t in control.
  • Don’t try to baffle them with science
    If they ask questions then take the opportunity to gently educate them; time spent at the beginning should pay dividends later when you’re sorting out what keywords are working and what aren’t and want to make changes or refocus.
  • Don’t try to juggle too many jobs
    If you promise results by unrealistic dates you’ll simply end up missing deadlines.
  • Don’t rush to re-prioritise every time a client calls
    If a client is pressing for priority treatment you have to respond realistically – if you promise them a date then you have to deliver, but you also have to deliver on previous deadlines for other clients as well so there’s no point hoping you can fudge it. If it’s not possible then you have to tell them that. You may lose the odd client but you’ll gain the trust of the ones that are left and the lost ones would probably have been on your back all the time anyway.
  • Be clear about cost schedules and invoice on time
    A professional client will expect a professional payment regime. If you’re late in sending an invoice then it looks sloppy. And an unprofessional client will just take the opportunity to pay late.

Gaining the trust of search engines

And search engines? Just like the established brand, once you have an old and trusted site then you can probably get away with the odd mistake without any great damage. You’ve built up a track record and will be given the benefit of the doubt as long as it’s not too serious. If you’re a new site they have no initial reason to trust you so if you do anything dodgy then they’ll likely jump on it and it’ll take a lot longer to develop trust and good rankings. You need to be squeaky clean and give the right impressions.

  • Don’t try to take shortcuts
    Padding content with other people’s material to bulk up your site, or joining link schemes to boost your link profile is easily found and will hold you back.
  • Don’t stuff your content or meta content with too many keywords
    Your potential keywords should grow with the size and age of your site.
  • Get the links that a good site should have
    Do make sure that the links that would be expected from a professional site are in place – if you aren’t in the local council’s business directory or chamber of commerce site then make sure you join and get in there. One professional link source is worth a hundred cheap directories or blog comments.

The old joke goes “If you can fake sincerity you’ve got it made”. The fact is you can’t – you have to mean it and you have to show you mean it.

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