Trust Through the Internet? Start off the right way.

Everyone is skeptical of almost everything they see on the internet.  There’s a good reason for that, it’s full of scams and dishonest material.  So how does an honest organization or business show that they are above board.  Simply saying “I’m for real” doesn’t cut it.  Especially because the scammers and spammers are saying that already in a convincing way.  A large part of trust is doing what you say and being honest about who visitors are dealing with.  The more personal the information can be the more relaxed a visitor is.  Making a site people can trust often comes down to how willing the site owner is to divulge information and writing that material well.

Most people claim, “I’m honest on my site”.  In most cases they don’t lie, but make a few omissions, or cleverly word things to reflect a skewed perspective.  Some typical forms of this happen in how an organization is described and who they work with.  A common ploy by smaller businesses is to inflate testimonials or client lists.  They want to show some big name clients and make sure to get them on the list, even if the working relationship was a little less than direct client.  It’s an attempt to show that the big guys work with me, so you should to.  Editing a resume for a friend of a friend employed at Sony* turns into “content consulting for Sony”.  These things usually stick out and beg for skepticism.  Worse yet, if they still want to have a conversation the site owner has left themselves open to start off on the wrong foot.  Be honest about what you’ve done and for who.  Specifics remove doubts.  So rather than putting Sony on a client list.  Give a description of what was done “Report layout consulting for Sony’s Boston Finance Office”.  Now that I can believe and will be inclined to want to hear more.  Making it sound like the person just had lunch with the CEO only makes me think they are completely lying or are ashamed of whatever project they actually did. 

Another copy-writing feint is the spreading “we”.  We do this, we did that.  In some cases we is fine, when describing what a group of people work on.  The goal should be to get to the individual behind the we as quickly as possible.  Who did what and how did they do it.  The most successful companies use teamwork, everyone is doing their unique and valuable part.  Showcase that.  Be proud of the I’s behind the “we” and look to take advantage.  Profiles are a good way to break out who is who. Project details or roles throughout the site are helpful as well.  If you’re a very small company or sole proprietor, lose the we’s.  People automatically assume that everyone wants to work with a big company.  There are many one  or two person shows (myself included) out there that are very successful and bring unique benefits to their clients by interacting on a one-to-one basis.  Dan Kennedy is a well known direct mail writer and consultant that has done very well for himself.  In many of his presentations he states that he intentionally keeps his staff small and has no intention of managing large groups of people.  Small is not bad, if you have a valuable product or service, don’t assume that potential clients will hate the idea of working with a small group or single person.  If they do, it’s probably better to get started on an honest note rather than trying to weasel into an opportunity.  Remember, part of leads is finding the ones that are a fit.  Not everyone that comes to your website is a good client for you.

The challenge with this is getting the right mix.  Obviously saying, I just started the business, work out of my basement, and am barely feeding myself is a poor reflection and overkill. You wouldn’t give out bank accounts or credit cards to verify you’re a real honest business.  It’s still a professional site and needs to be well written and show the benefits of becoming a client.  This isn’t an exercise in true confessions.  It’s an exercise in giving enough information that people need or want to take the next step.  Do they know who they are dealing with?  Do they know how to reach this person?  Do they have some idea of what the person/people do and how they work?  Most importantly is it believable.  Does it make sense?  When it comes to getting trust (and then leads) people need to see the pros and cons.  Every organization has them.  Some like to pretend they don’t and others make outlandish promises.  Both breed skepticism.  Trust comes from honesty.  Be specific about who you are and what you do and visitors are likely to believe it.

* The Sony example is purely hypothetical, I do not work with Sony nor have I heard of the story presented as an actual event.