I was talking with the president of the state Security Roundtable recently, and he told me “When you go online, you’re taking a chance. If you’re not at one of the big companies, that is.”
That struck me as interesting. The security expert and I went on to talk about how checks get stolen (and frankly, quite a few of my clients still send me checks) and local banks get robbed. “Low tech crime,” he assured me, “isn’t going away.” And it is in fact safer to use a secure internet connection to transmit information than to use the mail. It’s also not necessarily safer to work with a big company than with a small one.
But trust is one of the central issues for people whose business presence is primarily or entirely online. Many people are still nervous about connections made online, many people believe that they can tell from a face to face meeting how trustworthy a person is, and it is of course true that there are plenty of scam artists online.
Your website, especially if your customers don’t have the option of coming to you and shaking your hand, has to look trustworthy.
Part of looking trustworthy online is, of course, actually being trustworthy. Positive reviews and feedback from customers, years of operation, and stuff like that are signs of trustworthiness online and off.
There are, however, things you can do at your website to show how trustworthy you are:
- Have a professionally designed website at your own domain. This demonstrates that you are a serious businessperson, not someone who has quickly thrown together a site for the purpose of running some kind of scam.
- The same is true for your content. “The big companies” the security expert mentioned never have grammatical errors, typos, and sloppy writing on their websites, and neither should you.
- Display contact information, including a physical address and the name of an actual human being. It shouldn’t be hard to find out who owns the website or where they are. I have clients who want to withhold this information for innocent reasons, but it always looks very shady. It’s better to figure out a way
- Have an “About Us” page with credentials, company history, names and faces — elements that show that you exist as a company. If you have been in business for years or for generations, if you have licenses or certification, if you are a member of the organizations in your field, then mention those things.
- List your clients, share testimonials, link to trustworthy partners. The snide comment, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know” has another side: people feel more comfortable with someone who is known to them or connected to them. If you’ve worked with someone your prospective customers trust, they’ll find it easier to trust you.
- Strive for transparency. There are lots of factors influencing the appropriate degree of self-disclosure for a professional website, but attempts to seem like a bigger company than you are, for example, can backfire.
- If you take payments at your site, make sure that you have a secure connection for doing so. At a secure connection, customers’ information doesn’t go out into the internet at all. You can tell by looking at the address at the top of your screen. A secure connection will have “https” instead of “http.”
There’s an advantage to having a company name that’s a household word. But it doesn’t have to be a requirement for a trustworthy web presence.