It makes perfect sense that before someone will do business with you, they have to trust you, right? It follows, too, that trust is an even bigger issue if you’re asking for something of value from someone but you’re not even present; you’re some entity off in Cyberspace somewhere. And you want how much …?

Trust is a pillar of any e-commerce concern. Your business will not stand for long without it. If you’re hoping that you’ll eventually build a “reputation” and that will sustain you, then, yes, a good reputation creates trust, but you’ll lose money while waiting for ”eventually.”

Fortunately, several “trust signals” have developed around the practice of e-commerce. Some are in fact earned over time, but some are also relatively simple steps you can take to help yourself and your conversion rate.

In this blog post, I’m going to outline five steps you can take today to add trust signals to your e-commerce website and how to put the action behind them into practice. But first, let’s take a little bit of a closer look at what “trust” is and why trust signals are important to e-commerce.

The Value of Trust in Ecommerce

A Swedish academic’s 2004 dissertation on communicating trust in e-commerce relied on this definition of trust (from this paper) as it pertains to commerce:

“The willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other party will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to control or monitor that other party.”

As a consumer engaged in e-commerce, you proceed on the trust that a vendor (through a website, typically) will deliver the product you expect in a timely manner. E-commerce requires taking a risk, or being vulnerable. Trust is the willingness to take a risk.

As the vendor, it is up to you to create the consumer’s willingness to take that risk.

Now, e-commerce has come a long way since 2004, and today it’s SOP to buy goods online. In February, E-commerce Platforms and Forrester Research released a joint report predicting that e-commerce sales in the U.S., which totaled $176 billion in 2010, will rise to $279 billion by the end of 2015.

In August, the U.S. Department of Commerce said its e-commerce revenue estimate for the second quarter of 2015 increased 14.1 percent from the second quarter of 2014, while total retail sales increased 1.0 percent in the same period.

In short, e-commerce is where the action is. Your company is probably deriving a great share, if not a majority, of its revenue online. People are buying online, but they shop with e-commerce sites they trust. And given the choice – the web is all about choice – a consumer will abandon one seller in favor of one he trusts more.

You can keep this from happening to you by increasing trust signals on your website. Trust signals are features or qualities of your site that inspire trust in the mind of your potential customers.

But I mean trust signals beyond sound business practices. Please, please don’t say you need me to tell you to have a professionally designed, properly working website; describe your products well through text and images; clearly state prices and any additional S&H costs or other terms and conditions; and have an easy, clearly stated and consistently honored return policy.

No, I’m assuming you have a good business that offers a valuable product or service at a reasonable price online, and that you treat your customers fairly. What I want to do below is help you lead others to that conclusion.

Benefit From These Trust Signals Today

Here are 5 trust factors that you can add to your website and marketing practices almost immediately:

1. SSL certification.

You might think that few users recognize the difference between http:// and https:// or know anything about the SSL (Secure Socket Layer) / TLS (Transport Layer Security) certification process, and that would be accurate. But they do know that when they see a padlock and green bar in the browser window they can trust the website, according to the CA Security Council’s 2015 Consumer Trust Survey.

SSL Digital Certificate Authority - Encryption & Authentication 2015-11-11 17-02-23

The CASC says 53 percent of survey respondents “recognize the padlock means more trust” and 42 percent understand the green bar in the URL means safety. Without the padlock and the green bar, consumers “are left to trust the online merchant exclusively, and only 40 percent are comfortable with that,” the CASC report says.

A padlock and green bar in a browser’s URL window are an indication that the website has obtained Extended Validation SSL (EV SSL). Even that little “s” in a URL is a sign that the site is a trustworthy e-commerce site. HTTPS stands for “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.” It indicates that the site has obtained an SSL certificate, which means there is an encrypted link between the site’s server and the user’s browser. It ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remain private.

TLS is the industry standard for protecting online transactions. It was preceded by the less-secure SSL protocols, and the SSL name is still widely used though technically it’s incorrect. Regardless of what it’s called, it is a networking protocol that manages server authentication, client (browser) authentication and encrypted communication between servers and clients. There are many companies that sell varying levels of authentication and encryption service, and the certification and that goes with the service, for one or multiple domain names. EV SSL is the highest level.

Yes, the The CA Security Council, which commissioned the study I cited, comprises Certificate Authorities that issue / sell SSL certificates. But another study, by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International, says 37 percent of users have stopped an online transaction halfway through because they felt unsure of the security. And 42 percent said they would use online payment systems more often if they felt better protected from cyber fraud.

What’s more, 75 percent of respondents said online stores, as well as banks and payment systems, should provide them with special solutions for secure transactions on their endpoints.

media.kaspersky.com_en_Kaspersky_Lab_Consumer_Security_Risks_Survey_2014_ENG.pdf 2015-11-09 12-06-20Yes, again, Kaspersky Lab sells Internet security systems. Everybody has an angle. But e-commerce security is a real issue and SSL protocols secure millions of people’s data on the Internet every day.

You should have at least basic SSL certification if you have an e-commerce site because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also the easiest thing to do.

comodo-ssl logoYou can make your site more secure and demonstrate this extra safety measure to your users by making a simple SSL purchase and adding the certification logo to your site. An SSL certification logo on your site is a trust signal. The green bar and padlock that you get with (more expensive) EV SSL are like a customer’s sigh of relief waiting to happen.

2. Customer contact and communication.

You have to provide a way for customers to contact you, and respond promptly when customers do reach out. If figuring out how to contact you requires a search, it looks like you’re hiding from your customers. People will suspect you have a reason to.

Contact points should be available on every page. It’s best to build them into header and/or footer templates so they recur automatically. In addition to being available online, you need to offer a phone number, too, if someone will be available to take the call. Even if yours is solely an online business, provide a physical address. It’s just comforting to a customer to know your company actually exists somewhere in the physical realm.

If there’s any reason a customer might visit, add a map and written directions. It shows that you mean to be available.

jeremysaid Google Maps

Ideally, you’ll have one or more people assigned as customer service reps whose job it is to respond to inquiries, complaints and other contact. If they can do this in live chats as well as over the phone, more’s the better.

But if you’re a one-woman show and it may take a few hours or more to get back to someone, just say so. It’s great if you can say you’ll respond within 24 hours or sooner. Regardless, acknowledging the customer’s valuable time to be spent waiting to hear from you and being open about how quickly you are likely to be able to respond creates a connection and builds trust.

In the end, though, you must be sure to respond to all inquiries in whatever form they are posed. Ignoring a customer destroys trust. And you won’t get their business, but you will get their anger, and these days, that means something. Which brings us to …

3. Active social media.

To an extent, this encomasses the previous tip, because social media is all about communication with customers.

Social media is today’s word-of-mouth marketing. Social networking strategist Ted Rubin calls social media the new networking. He advises developing your business’s brand by communicating and building relationships on social media platforms. People trust brands they know. Rubin and Steve Olinski write about the need for c-level suite folks to use social media to become the face of their brands and engage customers and prospects alike to earn their trust.

Conversion Optimization by ConversionXL 2015-11-09 12-12-37

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Google Plus, LinkedIn, etc., etc. Your customers use them and trust them. And, not only do they expect to see you there, they are comforted when they see you.

Not all social media are seen the same, though. Accenture Interactive’s Acquity Group’s 2015 Next Generation of Commerce Study found that Facebook is trusted more than all other social media, and even more than print newspapers, which rank second. Farther down the list are, in descending order of trust:

  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Snapchat.

If you need to budget how much attention you give to various social media platforms, you could do worse that prioritizing according to this list. There are all-at-once tools for using multiple platforms simultaneously, but a smarter marketer recognizes that the all function differently and each social media platform should be used to emphasize its strengths.

Keep in mind also that between newspapers and Instagram in this ranking of trusted platforms fall email, TV and “news or special interest websites.” Don’t forget our old friend email as a social marketing tool that people know and are comfortable with, i.e., trust.

Not surprisingly, “Younger generations are more likely to trust social channels than their older counterparts,” Acquity Group says. “Twenty-nine percent of college-aged consumers (ages 18-22) and 32 percent of Millennials (ages 23-30) rank Facebook No. 1, while only 16 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 52-68) do the same. Older consumers are more likely to trust traditional media, such as print (27 percent) or online news (20 percent).

As you use social media, do it properly. Social media is thought of as a two-way conversation. But it’s more than that. Your social media contacts will eventually spread the word about you to their other contacts, for good or ill.

Rubin writes about looking people in the eye digitally and being “present” and attentive in your social media communications. “Introductions and ongoing relationships in social platforms require the same personal attention as (is provided by) human touch and eye contact in a physical relationship,” he says.

You can start new and additional social media accounts for your business in just a few minutes and begin the conversation. And adding each social media platform’s widget to your site, in addition to providing links to your feeds, shows that you are a trusted member of the community.

4. Informative content.

Of course, you need to have something relevant to say in social media, and in every marketing channel you employ. This is content marketing, “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.”

The Content Marketing Institute says further:

“Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it.”

“Owning, not renting” refers to creating original content. Sharing your own thoughts and ideas about the business or industry you are in with your customer base shows that you really are a part of that world. If you show that what you are doing really means something to you, people will trust that you are in it for the right reasons.

Smart, insightful and instructive content builds trust and can even help you to establish yourself as a “thought leader” with, you know, followers. And if you’re thinking you’re no expert, let me tell you that you know more than you think and, like in anything else, you getter better at it by doing it.

Roger Dooley - Influence Marketing and Persuasion 2015-11-09 12-23-09

rogerdooley.com

The Content Marketing Institute instructs beginners that “content should never be created for its own sake. Rather, it needs to support at least one core marketing or business goal.”

Distribute original content and build trust with it by posting to social media, writing for blogs on your site and as a guest with others, sending out newsletters, and alerting your customer base to useful information in reports, surveys, etc.

5. Testimonials and reviews.

You can also develop depth in your original content by using material others write for you. The easiest and most effective content you can publish for building trust is a testimonial or review by a satisfied customer.

I’ve previously written extensively about reviews and testimonials as trust signals, so I don’t want to get too far into the weeds here, but reviews are called a “must” here. And a 2014 survey says 88 percent of consumers have read online reviews to determine the quality of a local business, and 39 percent do so on a regular basis. That survey also shows that the trend for consumers’ reliance on online reviews is upward.

If you are active in social media, you are likely to be getting customer reviews and testimonials. You can also solicit them. Simply ask. Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch was famous while in office for regularly asking people he’d meet, “How and I doing?” This endeared him to people. You can do it, too. It’s a great way to open a new Facebook conversation: Ask people if they’ve ever used your product or dealt with your company and, if so, what did they think of you.

If you know you have satisfied a customer, ask if they can drop you a few lines by IM or in an email that you can post as a testimonial. In most cases, they’ll be flattered and happy to do so. Particularly someone who was at first unhappy about a problem you resolved to their satisfaction: tell them how glad you are that things worked out and that you think their experience, questions, persistence, etc., would be instructive for others.

Keep up with review sites, such as Yelp and others, and respond to reviews posted there. Thank those who love you, and respond honestly and helpfully to those who have problems with your product or service. When there’s something to crow about, post and link to it in other social media.

One important thing to keep in mind is that reviews and testimonials that you post or quote on your website, in social media or newsletters, etc., must be “signed” to be useful. You might use an first name and only a last initial, but the reviewer must have some kind of ID, the fuller the better. Anonymous comments do little to build trust.

Conclusion

Building trust boils down to adopting standard security measures, like SSL certification, and being open and above-board in how you deal with folks who come to your e-commerce site. Think about your friends and colleagues whom you consider trustworthy. They’re probably easy to approach and talk to, and they reply promptly with straight answers when you have a question or a problem.

In the online world, where what you say and do never truly disappears, you can and should be the same way, and tell people about it, as a signal that your e-commerce site can be trusted.

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