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Build Trust Through Credibility in 10 Steps

An older study is making the rounds again, but it is as important now as when it was first written.

Created as part of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab (at the time, it was the Standford Persuasive Technology Lab), the Standford Guidelines for Web Credibility are lessons that should never be set aside.

Credibility is important for the success of your website and your business.

Credibility leads to consumer confidence.

Consumer confidence leads to sales.

And continued consumer confidence through sales leads to customer ambassadors (i.e., those customers who like your company so much, they organically generate their own marketing through reviews, recommendations, and repeat business).

But we’re at a credibility crossroads, so to speak, as the last year has seen credibility drop across all major company sources by an average of 9%—sources such as academic experts, CEOs, regular employees, and company technical experts.

This is where the Standford Guidelines for Web Credibility come in. Let’s focus their ten guidelines through the powerful lens of AdsIntelligence Marketing and explain the things your website needs for improved credibility. To simplify the discussion, often we’ll be using “website” as a general catchall for your entire online presence (you’ll see why as you read on).

1. Accuracy

The information you present on your website should be accurate. And not only accurate, but also have named and easily verifiable sources. This information should be supplied freely because you never want your audience to wonder if your information is made up or old. This transparency of sources shows your audience that you trust in your interpretations to freely supply the origin of your data. They, in turn, will better trust your interpretations.

This guideline applies to every bit of content you create. If you use information (facts, figures, statistics, anything) to prove you point, include a link to your source. If you are making a graphic or video, include a list of your sources in the video or graphic. Right now, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, when compared to government, non-government offices, and media, business is the most trusted institution (and getting better YOY). It is also the only institution seen as both competent and ethical. Providing sources (like we just did) is one main component to this trust. [Note: Most of the links on Stanford’s Guidelines page are no longer working. Still credible, but definitely breaking their own rules.]

2. Organization

Stanford’s wording of this guideline is, “Show that there is a real organization behind your site.” Providing a street address and accurate contact information is key to demonstrating that your business is, in fact, real. Showcasing your senior management and employees also increases your site’s credibility by acting like a sum of its credible parts.

However, there is another meaning to this guideline, and all you have to do is leave out the “a.” Showing that there is organization behind your site is extremely important. An orderly website presents a picture of a business that is equally as structured. You want to present easy-to-find information and easily defined information. When customers can easily find everything on your website… well, stay tuned for guideline number 7.

3. Expertise

Customers are coming to your website to find an expert to solve their problem. They want the best and you want to show them you are the best. The way you do this is by highlighting your company’s expertise. This is the time to spotlight your certifications, your awards, and any SME work your team has done both in and outside the office (blogs are a great depository for showcasing the latter).

Just make sure any sites you link to in the process of spotlighting your expertise are equally credible. You don’t want to post an award or certification from a dubious and shady organization, as your company’s credibility will be tainted by association. Likewise, if you show off something from a company whose website is no longer online, it can make potential customers doubt your expertise.

4. Honesty

The Standford Guidelines for Web Credibility say you should “show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.” This time, it’s credibility by association. But that’s just one aspect of being an honest company. You need to, without all the marketing spin, show how your employees care, your company cares, and your customers care right back. [Note: We said without all the marketing spin, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use some!]

Employee bios or blog posts highlighting what they do when they aren’t working can add humanity and honesty to your site. Gently showcase your company’s altruistic endeavors like charitable work and green practices. We say gently, because you want the work to speak for itself and not appear to have been done just as a marketing tactic. Customer testimonials (properly cited to help your site’s accuracy) are a great way to show your current customers’ honest reactions to your products, services, and company.

Honesty will also go a long way to help your credibility when dealing with incidents. If your service experiences an outage or there are issues in delivery or something else, being honest about the problem and how you address it will definitely give you credibility points with your customers.

5. Ease of Contact

Don’t hide from your customers. Not only do they need to know your company’s street address and phone (as mentioned in number 1), but they also need to actually be able to reach you. If no one is answering the phones, your credibility will take a hit.

This ease of contact needs to go both ways, though. That is, not only do you need to make sure your customers know how they can reach you, but you need to reply in an acceptable timeframe. This goes for all your social media accounts too. If possible, post active hours and average reply times. For maximum credibility, you want your customers to not only be able to contact you, but feel comfortable that you will, indeed, be listening and responding.

6. Professionalism

Your web presence needs to properly convey the tone and scope of your business, products, and services. But it always must remain professional. This is especially true with your company’s social media presence, where rules can feel different as the line between business and friend blurs.

Remember, Stanford’s Guidelines came out in 2002, one year before MySpace and two years before Facebook, so their rules didn’t extend to this new frontier of social business/customer interaction. While Stanford was picturing a more visual and static website as your sole online presence, the internet has evolved. So, we’re extending this professionalism to the quality of content and the voice of all your messaging. One thing to keep in mind, though: Professional isn’t the opposite of fun. You can be a professional business, while being honestly human.

7. Ease of Use & Usefulness

Since you’ve read down this list, you already know that good organization of information on your website is important. A well-organized website doesn’t just offer clarity of thought but also is actually easier to use. Your website is a marketing tool, and as any good tool should be, it needs to be able to be used without too much thought. This includes the visibility of your menu and navigation.

Not only do you want your site easy to use, but you also want it to be useful. A useful website provides your customers a reason to return. One way to be useful is to continuously provide new content through a blog. Blogs are a simple (but not easy—they take work) method to demonstrate your thought leadership. If you think about it, “thought leadership” is just another term for “massive amounts of credibility.” Doesn’t hurt that blogs will also give you an organic SEO boost!

8. Current

Sometimes old information is still as accurate as the day it was first presented. But statistics and science and research often change as they discover and uncover new things. To lag behind current facts, events, and trends is to lag behind in business success. Demonstrating you are on the cutting edge of your industry lends credibility to all you do.

This is especially important when you use any of those ever-evolving facts and figures in your marketing. You don’t want to base your whole business or any of your content, for that matter, on data that is years out of date. Nothing is more detrimental to your credibility that quoting a source that is so old the information is no longer applicable.

Oh, and one more thing: Date your blog posts and cite the prime sources for your facts. Dating your blogs lets your customers instantly know how current your information is and digging down in research until you find the prime (i.e., original) source shows your commitment to precision. Staying current combines guidelines 7 & 1, making it easier for your audience to see the usefulness and accuracy of your content.

9. Promotion & Ad Care

As already stated, the world of the Stanford Guidelines is in the past, but the lessons learned are still useful in the present. It was written two years before Google went public and, as noted, before social media was a thing. Pop-up ads were everywhere. Stanford was recommending limiting the use of ads (especially pop-ups) on your website to prevent them from stealing focus from your main business and message.

Today, the focus of guideline 9 is how you present yourself in your ads and further-reach marketing. Those ads and other marketing pieces need to be as professional, fun, and engaging as the rest of your content. They are an extension of your online presence and, therefore, will affect your company’s credibility.

10. Error Free

Typos and other grammatical errors are an instant way to destroy your online credibility. Language matters, and the rules of language help us express our thoughts with clarity and precision. Typos stand out like sore thumbs and instantly pull your audience out of the magic spell your marketing was creating. If you find any errors that slip through, just fix ‘em as fast as you can.

Pay extra attention to troublesome bits like they’re/there/their, its/it’s, your/you’re. Know how to properly use hyphens, colons, ellipses, and commas (serial comma for life!). Little slipups might cost you big business. Within the last two months, we’ve seen big names like Rolls Royce and Louis Vuitton use the wrong “complement” in their online marketing. Make sure your marketing gets a thorough review before publishing to make sure it’s as perfect as possible, without grammatical errors or typos. You know. . . so you won’t have any regerts.

As a study by the same team who put together the Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility formulated: Prominence x Interpretation = Credibility. Here at Ai, we help craft your messages and messaging so they stand out (prominence) and stay clear (interpretation). The result is the credibility your company needs and deserves. And with that credibility will come customer trust and all the bounties that follow.

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