In e-commerce, everything hinges on trust. To be a successful marketer — whether in person or online — you have to be trusted. Something about you or your online presence must create a sense of trust in the buyer.

If they don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you.

We could essentially reframe the entire marketing question into one of trust — how do you make users trust you?

Why Trust is So Important

The only person who will convert is a person who has trust.

In e-commerce, trust is everything.

Trust is a huge marketing category, and one that branches out to dozens of subcategories. Just imagine the myriad ways that trust is required, cultivated and encouraged. Here are some of them:

  • Trust that the decision he or she is making is the right one.
  • Trust that the product or service is the right one.
  • Trust that the product will be of sufficient quality.
  • Trust that the pictures or description of the product or service on the website truthfully represent the product or service that is purchased and received.
  • Trust that the business or company is legitimate.
  • Trust that the merchant is ethical.
  • Trust that the delivery is ensured.
  • Trust that the money will be received.
  • Trust that the exchange will be fair.
  • Trust that the technology for payment processing is working.
  • Trust that the business’ profits will be used for good purposes.
  • Trust that the business will continue to exist after the purchase for returns/exchanges/service/warranty, etc.
  • Trust that if the product or services turns out to be a disappointment it can be returned or exchanged, or payment will be refunded.
  • Trust that there are real people who will be able to respond to inquiries.
  • Trust that those people will be reachable by phone, email or other means.
  • Trust that the people within that company will be able to speak in a language that the customer understands.
  • Trust that the people are nice.

Trust is important precisely because the entire purchase experience depends upon trust in order to be successful.

Every conversion is an indication that trust has been won. Every new customer represents a person whose trust has been earned. Every return customer represents a person whose trust continues to be held.

Without trust, there is no such thing as conversions, customers or revenue.

Trust is the functional center for all of conversion optimization.

I don’t want to blow this trust thing way out of proportion, but it’s a really big deal.

In order to encourage customers to buy, conversion optimization experts focus on three main areas:

  • Increasing motivation
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Reducing friction.

Here’s how trust plays a role in each of these:

  • Increasing motivation. Every user must have a degree of trust in order for motivation to be effective. Motivating factors include urgency, likability, consistency and incentives. Behind all of these is the need for trust.
  • Reducing anxiety. Anxiety is the antithesis of trust. The entire effort of reducing anxiety goes hand-in-hand in  creating trust.
  • Reducing friction. There are lots of different types of friction. Many of these friction elements are created by a lack of trust. The only way to reduce friction in such categories (copy, cognitive, design, etc.) is to increase trust.

That’s why trust is so important. Your livelihood as a marketer depends on trust, and it depends on understanding, earning and keeping that trust.

Thankfully, what we do (and write) impacts trust. As Reinhard Bachmann wrote in The Journal of Trust Research, “If trust could not be influenced and indeed be deliberately created and shaped, trust research would largely be a waste of time.”

The more skilled we become at creating and shaping trust, the more skilled we become as marketers.

Why Words are So Important

Everything I’ve written so far prompts the question — so how do I create trust?!

With words.

“Content is king” is one of the most agonizingly cliche phrases in the history of the Internet. But it’s a cliche precisely because it’s so true.

Content wins the day in conversion optimization as much as it does in search engine optimization. Content is one of the most important features in creating trust in your users. I’m not going to say it’s the only thing. But it is one of the most important things.

You need to create content that inspires trust.

Humans are Driven by Language

The use of language is rooted deep within our brains. Humans are wired for language and operate based on language. Beyond its primal origins, however, language also has profound cultural moorings. Mere phonetics and pronunciation have an impact on the perception and profitability of companies.

To cite just one example, George Eastman named his world-class company “Kodak” because the Ks made it a strong and pronounceable name.  Something about that voiceless velar plosive

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(Image source)

Stocks that hit the market with pronounceable and memorable names and ticker symbols actually perform demonstrably better.

When a landing page uses words successfully, it is inspiring trust with those words.

Even in the life-on-life interaction of trust building, words are important. The Wall Street Journal ran a piece about how leaders can inspire trust.

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In a revealing way, the five points the article expanded on each had something to do with language and words:

  1. Show that your interests are the same.
  2. Demonstrate concern for others.
  3. Deliver on your promises.
  4. Be consistent and honest.
  5. Communicate frequently, clearly and openly.

Each of these five points are directly related to using words and language, and the article sums it up in the final point — “Communication is also the vehicle through which the other four elements of trustworthiness are delivered.”

Everything comes back to language, words and the message … content.

The question becomes: What words inspire trust?

Finally, I’ve settled on the entire point of this whole article — the specific words, phrases and type of message that can inspire trust.

The List of Trust-Inspiring Words and Phrases

How did I come up with this list of words?

This isn’t just based on gut, even though “gut feeling” is where a sense of trust often resides. The list you’ll see below is based on several factors:

Research

Believe it or not — trust me on this — there are entire organizations and branches of study that deal with trust. Some organizations even focus on specific areas of trust, such as organizational trust. Some journals deal exclusively with the academic research on trust. This research was instrumental in my developing this list. Other writers have developed similar lists of converting or trustworthy words.

Phonology

The very sound of words (phonology) has an effect on their usage, understanding and trustworthiness. As Cornell researchers recently discussed in an issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “The sounds of words contain information about their syntactic role. … Phonological typicality affects both the speed with which we access words in isolation as well as when we process them in the context of other words in a sentence.” This reality has a profound impact upon the trustworthiness of given words.

For a long time, researchers and linguists have concurred that “the sounds of some words fit the meanings particularly well” (Michael Wertheimer, The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 71, No. 2 [June 1958], pp. 412-415). The better the fit, the greater likelihood of a trust response.

Connotative Meaning

Words also have meaning. “Meaning” goes beyond dictionary referents to the associations that we make with certain words. This is an issue of semantic relationships, and is perhaps the greatest contributor to the trustworthiness of certain words. Let’s take an example of how we move from a given word to a connotative association.

  • Origin word: slither. This word’s very phonology has a sinister sound. Beyond that, however, we associate “slithering” with snakes.
  • Connotative word: snake. Snakes bite. They are creepy. Most members of the general population do not have strong feelings of affection or affinity toward snakes. According to the Bible, Satan appeared as a snake to Adam and Eve.
  • Conceptual connotation: Satan. Satan is the personification of evil, the antithesis of good, and the locus of all that is bad.
  • Connotative conclusion: The word slithering just feels bad or  negative.

Denotative Meaning

The straightforward dictionary meaning of a word is what originally classifies it as trustworthy. Words that inspire trust are words that are synonyms of trust. The meaning of a word stands as its own marker of trust.

Authentic — People love authenticity. We all crave something that is real.

Accurate — Accuracy can be very compelling. Since people are trained to be skeptical of information on the Internet, this word can tend to deepen the trustworthiness of copy.

Ask — If people feel the freedom to ask and inquire, it strengthens their feeling of trust. Even if they don’t ask anything, just knowing that they can will help to create trust.

Answer — The cognitive resolution to “asking” is answering, thus the word “answer” has a ring of trustworthiness.

Authoritative — We respect, admire, follow and respond to authority figures, authoritative research and authoritative information. The knowledge that someone or something is authoritative is enough to create a feeling of trust.

Backed — The idea that something is “backed” brings to mind fiduciary trust and a gold standard. We believe in it.

Best-selling — When someone or something is “best-selling” it means that a lot of people trust and respect that product or the person behind it.

Build — “Build” is a word that we think of in relationship to a good work ethic and strength. It’s definitely trustworthy.

Cancel Anytime — This is a safety net for people’s anticipation of buyer’s remorse. “Anytime” provides great flexibility; being always available inspires trust.

Certified — It really doesn’t matter what’s certified or where the certificate came from. Someone else trusted it.

Data — How we love our data! Just the word data, even if there are no charts to back it up, makes us feeling trusting.

Dependable — This is one of those words with compelling phonology. In addition, from a connotative standpoint, the word sounds like “deep,” “pensive,” “able.” These are words with trustworthy sensations running through them.

Endorsed — An endorsement, or more simply the use of the word, is reassuring. Again, someone or some organization already considered and thought highly of the recipient of the endorsement.

Earned — Another statement of work ethic and honesty. People feel good whenever they or someone else “earns” something.

Factual — Facts are stronger than opinions. Facts back up claims. And claims backed by facts can be trusted.

Faithful — Like Old Yeller or other iterations of man’s best friend, we all like something or someone who is faithful.

Guaranteed — A guarantee assuages doubt. The guarantee is the powerhouse that drives many successful e-commerce and retail establishments. This word is power.

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Give — People who “give” are people who are good. They can be trusted.

Genuine — This word is synonymous with “authentic” and “true.”

Help — Helping implies that you are not just solving a problem; you are becoming a hard-working partner.

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Honest — “Can you be trusted?” can be asked in a different way: “Are you honest?” Honesty breeds trustworthiness every time.

Ironclad — Often paired with “guarantee” this word conveys a sense of strength and integrity.

Identify — Much of trustworthiness has to do with a sense of empathy or relatedness. If you can relate to something — identify with it — you are more likely to trust it.

Integrity — Integrity is a character quality that demands trust. When applied to products or services, is inspires similar feelings.

Lifetime — People are assured when they know something is for their “lifetime.” This word gets personal and assures us of what most of us expect to be a lengthy future.

Loyal — Many have bemoaned the lack of loyalty in today’s culture. If you can introduce this word, you will create an old-fashioned sense of honesty and integrity that helps to strengthen trust.

Money-back — It’s another form of guarantee, which demonstrates your trust in your product. People like the idea of getting their money back if they aren’t satisfied. Use this word.

No Obligation — People are afraid of obligation — financial or otherwise. Turn off this fear and turn up the trust with this phrase.

No Questions Asked — This phrase says that you’re not nosing into their business. No NSA stuff going down here!

No Risk — Risk aversion characterizes many unrealized purchases. This phrase helps to reduce fear of loss while ratcheting up the trust.

No Strings Attached — This phrase has a way of stripping away confusion, and wiping away the mumbo jumbo of legal agreements. It makes the idea of converting easier while assuring people that you’re straightforward and true.

Official — Something “official” is bound to be trustworthy.

Oven — Ovens have nothing to do with trust. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

Privacy — Since consumers value their privacy, so should you. Honoring privacy inspires trust.

Protected — When used in the context of a purchase, knowing that there’s some sort of protection makes skeptics become buyers through the conduit of trust.

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Proof/proven — We’re more likely to trust something if someone else has put it to the test and proven its value.

Recession-proof — Want to fend off people’s greatest economic fear? This phrase is for you.

Relate — Again, back to the connotative issue; people like something or someone with whom they can relate.

Respect — Respecting others helps them to trust you.

Refund — Like “money back,” the promise of a refund makes it easier to buy, since there’s no financial risk involved.

Research — If you’ve done research or if your product has been researched, knowing that it’s been “checked out” inspires trust.

Results — People crave results. More to the point, they trust results.

Science, scientific — People’s belief in science has led them to trust anything that is backed (that word!) by science.

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Secure — We all want security in every area of life. If people can gain a sense of security through their transaction with your product or service, it will help them trust you.

Satisfaction — Everyone wants satisfaction.

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Tested — People avoid things that are untested. Having the word “tested” indicates that your product or service has proven itself.

Trust/trusted/entrust — This is fairly obvious.

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True — If it’s true, it’s honest, real, something you can count on. It can be trusted.

Try — Assurance comes from experience. And experience is one of the greatest sources of trustworthiness.

Unconditional — Like “no strings attached,” this word implies that there’s nothing hidden; it is what it is. People trust simplicity.

Understand — The issue of empathy again comes into play with this word, introducing a sense of relatedness and assurance.

Verify/Veracity — Like “proven” and “tested,” the fact that your product or service has been verified indicates that a third party vouches for its trustworthiness.

Value — The word “value” reinforces the idea that someone is getting a good deal.

Warranty — This word signals that you stand behind your product or service. That you trust it is good. That you promise some relief if it fails lessens the risk of a purchase.

You (also I, me, my; i.e., use of first person and second person) — People trust people, and when you indicate that you are a person, you will be better able to create a sense of trust. It has been said that “you” is  the most powerful word in the English language. Copywriters attest to the powerful nature of the word “you” in headlines and advertising copy. Use of the first-person can also enhance trust. When first-person voice is used, as in testimonials, it creates a feeling of understanding and sympathy with the user.

A caveat

I want to end this article with a caveat.

You can’t fake trust. Trust either is or it isn’t. The very definition and reality of trust implies its genuine status. Words not backed by reality are meaningless. A message that sounds “trusting” but is not backed by the trustworthy action serves only to emphasize how untrustworthy the business really is.

You can use these words — and you should — to shape trust. But you can’t expect to build trust on words alone.

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