20 Ways to Build Trust Online (Nearly…)

I was chatting with a friend, Niall, during the week about selling online and when I asked him what the number one decision-making factor was for people purchasing online he said “confidence”. Now this was interesting as just a few hours later Piaras and his colleagues in Edelman were releasing their annual Trust Barometer. Have a quick flick through this and you’ll see that trust in business is at an all time low:

This is not surprising given the perceived lack of accountability in Irish public and corporate life; but there is perhaps a strong collateral effect on other businesses as a result of the banking sector’s failures. Trust in all corporate messaging, including their websites, is at rock bottom. Confidence in online systems has probably also been affected of late as a result of the privacy and data protection issues associated with lost and stolen laptops and website breaches.

Here are some things that I believe can help to rebuild trust and confidence online, in particular when it comes to asking customers to submit their personal and payment details online:

UPDATE: You’ll find a completed version of this list over on Bloggertone – a collaborative blogging platform – click here to read the full list.

1. 3rd Party Security Seals or Certificates, such as the Verisign logo, are important in reassuring customers that any data input is securely protected by a recognised independent vendor. Make sure that the seals are visible, clickable and present from early on in the sales process.

2. Phone numbers and contact details should be clearly visible. Some websites actually hide these when all the research indicates that the majority of people won’t purchase on website they are not familiar with unless they can easily find and get a response from such contact details.

3. Make sure there are no surprises such as terms and conditions that were not visible up-front, hidden charges that don’t appear until the payment screen, or unclear delivery costs. We don’t like surprises and don’t trust websites that use them to get more cash sneakily out of our wallets.

4. Provide product ratings and reviews, since we are more likely to trust what other customers say more than what your literature says about the products you sell. We spend less than 1% of our time actually making the purchase, and the rest is spent researching and finding out what others think.

5. Get blogging. Employees are the most trusted source of information (in Ireland at least) on a company. Get your employees out in front of your customers by having them write company blogs with personality. They are believable and will help to provide a more human, and hence trustworthy, face to your business.

6. Rank well in Google. According to the Edelman survey, Google and other search engines are more trusted as sources of information than company websites. Searchers use Google results to help inform their decision-making process. If a website appears on the first page of a search results then there is an assumption that if “independent” Google rates it, it must be okay.

7. Implement a professional and functional design. Don’t scrimp on the graphic design. Think about it. Would you be less likely to purchase from a salesman in a shabby suit with stains on his tie? Don’t make it too “slick” either as very few of us are sold on hyperbole (except Apple customers of course!).

8. Eliminate errors as there is nothing that will undermine confidence in a site more than technical errors. If these guys cannot get some basics right, how do they expect me to give them my credit card? I’m including spelling mistakes in here – a pet hate of mine, but smacks of lack of attention to detail on the smaller issues, so once again why would I trust you with the bigger things?

9. Clearly display the returns policy. No one likes the hassle of having to return items, but there is an inevitability about it that all online sellers need to be clear about. It will give me lots of confidence if you highlight to me what the steps are in case I need to send an item back.

10. Provide comprehensive product information. This is especially relevant for clothing and used goods. The more information – including descriptions, specifications, imagery, video and even 360 degree views –  that you provide the more likely I will be able to decide that this is the right product for me. Scant information doesn’t help me make a decision and at worst could lead me to think that you’re trying to hide something.

11. Engage with negative feedback on social media and discussion forums. We are all using these as sources of information and there are opportunities for businesses to address customer complaints and turn them into positives by being seen to be responsive. Damien has an excellent post on how transparency and responsiveness can really help to rebuild trust when an online crisis happens.

12. Build offline awareness since customers increasingly rely on multiple sources of information to support purchase decisions. While we are certainly less trusting of traditional advertising; features and articles in traditional media are still seen as reliable. Advertising is not dead and, together with general awareness in the media, can help to both build visitor numbers to your website and increase conversion rates.


Okay. I’ve run out of steam. Blame the “Non Drowsy” Sudafed that kept me up all night. What else should I include in this list? Help me get to 20, leave a comment and I’ll update the list.

5 thoughts on “20 Ways to Build Trust Online (Nearly…)

  1. Just follow everything that Amazon does and you won’t go wrong! I strongly believe in user reviews and detailed blog reviews


  2. Hi Brendan,
    This is a great list. There’s a couple of things I might add from my own experience that are important for building and maintaining trust.

    Prompt and accurate feedback of transactions (by e-mail for example) is crucial for any customer engaging in your service. Order numbers, details of the transaction and easy ways to cancel or modify transactions all give the customer peace of mind and, if they are missing, may lead the customer to do their very best to cancel the order!
    Proper phone numbers (i.e. standard landlines) that can be phoned from overseas also will help maintain those customers who happen to reside outside your country.

    The title and definition of your service is also important so that the customer does not get frustrated to find they have spent an hour on your site trying to find something that is not there. Transparency about the range of products and services is important. When was the last time you logged on to “cheapflights.com” expecting to find a cheap flight?

    I like your comment about hidden costs etc. Small print really gets me down and is usually a sign that as a consumer I am not properly protected. Independent reviews by customers and links to review sites is a real plus and I find this a very useful feature on amazon for example.

    Something else to consider… Your customers are all going to have different budgets. When you offer the basic level of service, make sure the quality is sufficient that it will not reflect badly on you, while when you are offering a “gold star” product, make sure you are absolutely sure why it has added value, and be able to back it up with hard evidence.

    Cheers Bren!


  3. Ciaran, thanks for leaving the comment, and yes indeed Amazon has got practically everything when it comes to building confidence. Reviews from others are very instrumental in making those decisions, but sometimes it can be difficult to decide which of those to trust.

    Mahon, thanks for the comment. Interesting point about the post-sale feedback and supports. While you don’t get that till after you’ve committed your payment, it does help to reinforce your purchase decision and will also help to bring people back to you as a trusted provider. In terms of basic level of service, it should always be fit for purpose – people are still paying money and for that they deserve products and services that actually do what they’re supposed to.


  4. SEO hat on here 😉 For Point (6) perhaps that should be “Search Engine Ranking”. Don’t forget or discount Bing. A double first page position wih organic results and an ad placement can make all the difference.

    Testing. User testing to iron out any bugs.

    Conversion Optimisation. A/B split testing, button placement size and colour etc. Analytics reports – utilise top content, improve weak exit pages etc.

    Competitor Analysis. What are the competition doing right? What are they doing wrong? What are people saying about them?

    Reputation Management. Use Google Alerts, Twitter and even searches to ensure you’re addressing your target audience.

    About Us page. Ensure you use plain English. Outline who you are. Make it personal. Use pictures. Include contact info. Show your human side. Demonstrate your passion. Tell you story.


Comments are closed.