How the hierarchy of trust determines the varying levels of trust required for relationship building.
Trust is the pillar of all business relationships.
As buyers of products, we only need to look at our own browsing and buying behaviours to identify the factors that diminish trust. When our trust needs are not met, we often look elsewhere for other suppliers.
In the B2B sectors we operate within, the focus is generally on building trust offline via face-to-face conversations. But trust can also be earned online where it is often sought before a buying cycle begins; and it's now more important than ever to earn that trust on websites in such challenging environments.
THE PYRAMID OF TRUST
The Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) have developed a pyramid of trust, adapted from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, highlighting the basic trust needs that need to be met before being able to progress a relationship.
They state that “establishing trust, whether with a stranger or with a website, is gradual: as the relationship progresses, scepticism is overcome, the comfort level increases and new demands can be made. The relationship evolves through different stages of commitment, each built on top of the previous ones."
In the B2B pharma setting, where the purchase is often made offline, a visitor will make repeat website visits and consume various pieces of content over a period of time before this purchase. Specific trust cues will come into play during varying stages of this buyer's journey.
A HIERARCHY OF TRUST: THE FIVE LEVELS
NNG identify that website–visitor relationships progress through five levels of commitment, starting from the bottom, where each higher level requires the lower levels to be satisfied. The levels are as follows, along with the needs of the visitor at each level.
LEVEL 1. BASELINE RELEVANCE AND TRUST THAT NEEDS CAN BE MET
Could this site help me accomplish my goal? Is it credible and can I depend on this information? Does it seem to have my best interests at heart?
LEVEL 2. INTEREST AND PREFERENCE OVER OTHER OPTIONS
Do I choose to use this site for this task? Is it better than other options?
LEVEL 3. TRUST WITH PERSONAL INFORMATION
Is this site’s offering valuable enough to justify the time and effort to register? Do I trust the site with my personal information?
LEVEL 4. TRUST WITH SENSITIVE/FINANCIAL INFORMATION
Do I trust this site to securely use and store my sensitive data? Is it worth the risk?
LEVEL 5. WILLINGNESS TO COMMIT TO AN ONGOING RELATIONSHIP
Am I comfortable enough to establish a continuous connection with this site?
20 WAYS TO EARN TRUST ON WEBSITES
As digital marketers, to be able to progress a website visitor through to a conversion, it is imperative that we address each hierarchical level and reduce friction at each stage with trust cues.
Like every organisation, website, customer, buyer's journey and objectives are different, it's probable that the tips below appear within different levels of the pyramid of trust for different people. The tips could relate to the top levels of the pyramid on some websites, and on the bottom for others.
However, this list follows a linear order and will loosely follow the pyramid upwards as we move towards building basic trust and then building on that gained trust with a view of developing the website–visitor relationship further. Here are 20 ways to earn trust on a website.
1. ENSURE THE WEBSITE IS HTTPS SECURE
The first chance a website has to earn trust is within its URL. Regardless of the content on the website, a website visitor will want to ensure that the website is secure. Most website providers offer HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) websites, but some still fall short at this very first hurdle. This sign of site security comes in the form of a HTTPS rather than a HTTP URL and is made obvious by the padlock to the left of the URL. If your website isn’t HTTPS secure, consider switching over - 50% of the web is now encrypted with HTTPS sites.
2. USE HIGH-QUALITY IMAGES
Websites with low-quality, poorly sized or generic stock images do themselves disfavour. Almost instantly, the perception of the brand is lowered and the quality of the product or service then comes into question. High-quality imagery, however, is one of the easiest things you can include on your website. With the multitude of free stock images and image editing programs available, this can be achieved most of the time for virtually no cost.
3. AVOID COLLOQUIALISMS AND JARGON IN WEBSITE COPY
Technical and scientific websites are often at fault here, where content contains complex and confusing terminology. However, we work with complex topics given the very nature of the industry, therefore, sometimes complex topics and jargon are unavoidable. But if a simpler word or sentence works just as well as a complex one, consider using it. Do not forget that the industry is a global one, and although websites translate easily into other languages, it is always worth keeping things simple so your audiences spanning different continents can understand you at all times. In the bid for confidence and trust, as well as avoiding industry speak and jargon, if possible, also omit a colloquial and casual tone to stay professional.
4. CONSISTENCY OF BRAND AND MESSAGE
Arguably the most important aspect of branded communications is consistency. Brand marketing requires a set of guidelines, that consists of the language style, tone of voice, image style, colour palettes and core messages which all need to be kept consistent throughout the website. Any discrepancies in these core elements signal a change in personality, and that is something marketers want to avoid when trust is the objective. Do not let your website and content stray from your brand guidelines.
5. PROMOTE TESTIMONIALS AND CASE STUDIES
One of the strongest ways of gaining trust, certainly from a B2B perspective, is to promote content highlighting current and/or past customers. They act as social proof that demonstrates that you can, have and will deliver on the promises made regarding your products or services. Third-party review sites, such as Trustpilot and Google Reviews, also play an important role in building trust – once reviews are gained on these platforms, they can also be used on the website.
6. CERTIFICATIONS AND AWARDS
Similarly, websites can also earn trust by showcasing industry partners, relevant accreditations, certifications and awards. Even if your organisation has been featured on a reputable third-party website, there will be opportunities and pages for you to demonstrate this. Any logo related to best practice or achievements can build trust in an instance.
7. MAKE YOUR SHORTCOMING AND LIMITATIONS KNOWN
As a supplier of a product or service, it is likely your offering isn’t perfect and falls short in some areas. A survey by G2 and Heinze Marketing established that as much as 40% of B2B buyers say negative reviews help build credibility for a product. Admitting your shortcomings portrays honesty and goes a long way in the quest to build trust with website audiences. If you feel that such a tactic is counter-intuitive, begin by simply excluding from your website anything that has been exaggerated or which is salesy in nature.
8. EDUCATE RATHER THAN SELL
Organisations and digital marketers have realised that website visitors engage more with educational content than they do with promotional content. Consider the website a hub of resources for your target audience to come and learn about a given topic – you will build huge trust in the process. Here’s where the inbound marketing methodology becomes important, creating helpful and useful content that pulls your visitors in, rather than pushing promotional content out.
9. INCLUDE YOUR CLIENTS OR YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE IN YOUR CONTENT
Sometimes, for a number of reasons, published content isn’t suitable for target audiences. For content to absolutely resonate with audiences, and build trust in the process, it's highly useful to include your target audiences within the content itself. This could mean that the narrative is centred around a character similar to the target audience, and therefore the website visitor, or it could mean that certain content is geared specifically for an individual or individual organisation. This sort of strategy can build huge trust with the visitor, albeit, one visitor at a time. For more on this approach, see our two-part ABM post.
10. PRESENT ADDITIONAL BUSINESS INFORMATION
Without being over-promotional, offer some content about your organisation so that visitors can develop an understanding about you. The “about” page can be invaluable in that it gives website visitors a snapshot of the business values, how long you've been operating, its stakeholders and how the organisation works, amongst plenty of other information you feel might build trust. By providing this information, in a concise way, website visitors are able to gauge what things are like in your organisation and can begin building that report that is essential for relationship building.
Personalisation is a growing area of interest for marketers. It has been proven to increase key site objectives, such as engagements and conversions. Personalisation achieves this because it increases trust between the website visitor and the website as content becomes more relevant for that visitor. Websites, just like email marketing, can address a visitor by name which achieves basic personalisation from an identity perspective. They can also, with a sophisticated CRM, become insight-driven and present content relative to the behaviours of the visitor and also predict future actions. Some will feel this is a little creepy, but others will see it as a genuine attempt to understand the website visitor and build a one-to-one relationship.
12. MAKE YOUR TEAM MEMBERS KNOWN
In the quest to make everything more personal to the visitor, it’s also a good idea to make your team members known to website visitors. In B2B pharma, where personal relationships are appreciated, there is no substitute for putting a face to an organisation. Ensure you have a "meet the team" page, regardless of your organisation size - populate the page with key and client facing people if your organisation is large. Also, consider using the faces of your staff on key pages for familiarity, with the blog, services and contact page all great locations.
13. KEEP THE DESIGN MODERN
This goes without saying in 2019, but it's surprising how many websites in the science industries fall short of a clean, modern and responsive website. A modern design looks professional and gives the website an air of legitimacy in the eyes of the visitor that can establish trust before the content is actually engaged with. If an organisation cares about the look and feel and user experience of its website, then it will also care about its products and services, and therefore, its customers. A streamlined, clear and well-signposted website that isn’t cluttered will immediately build trust at all levels of the hierarchy of trust.
14. BRING SOCIAL MEDIA INTO THE FOLD
For B2B organisations, I think social media is underrated and sometimes underused. Generally, it gives business professionals another channel (usually a more relaxed one) to connect with stakeholders and can be one of the best trust-building tools available. Not only is it a channel that can offer direct support, but social content is also a great form of word of mouth PR. Social share buttons and social feeds let visitors know you are active on those social platforms and open for business, and it also gives them an indicator of others who engage with you.
15. KEEP THE SITE UP-TO-DATE
Abandoned news and blog pages, expired offers and out-of-date business information all signal that the organisation is closed or on the verge of being closed. This is one of the easiest elements to trip over as a busy marketing schedule can often push the task of updating a website down to the bottom of the list. In an age of trust, this isn't good. Aim to publish one new piece of content each week - monthly if you are really stretched - (not just for the search engine benefits) to show visitors you have real people on the other end of the site.
16. ELIMINATE BROKEN LINKS
Large scale websites will have hundreds of web pages but as the years go by, some content becomes outdated, irrelevant and sometimes incorrect. 404 pages usually replace those pages that are taken down but still found by website visitors, which although follows best practice, does little to build trust. Eliminate broken links with a link checker and set up redirects so that you are not wasting your website visitors’ time and jeopardising trust.
17. LIMIT THE NUMBER OF ADS (OR OTHER DISTRACTIONS)
Ads on websites are necessary for both the organisation and the visitor. They are present in all other walks of life and will always play a part in the digital communications mix. However, and as Google has identified which will lead to a significant algorithm change in the next few months, websites have abused digital ads to the point where ad blockers have been adopted by users to stop them. Websites should limit the number of ads on a site and avoid overwhelming the visitor with disrupting content – it will do the opposite of building trust. Always keep ads, whether they are your own or for a third party, to a minimum.
18. MAKE IT EASY TO GET IN TOUCH
It’s common for website visitors to have a query regarding the content they have found, this is certainly the case if that visitor is in a buying cycle or moving into one following the browsing phase. The websites that make it easy to contact the organisation, often via a multitude of ways such as call or chat, will present itself as trustworthy and seemingly not shying away from enquiries. Make it easy to get in touch with you and offer multiple ways to do so.
19. DISPLAY OTHER GUARANTEES AND DISCLOSURES
Hidden terms are one of the biggest trust breakers off and on websites. Being open about all information, including what you will do with the information of others, is essential as it looks like you are hiding nothing. This is certainly the case when visitors sign up for newsletters and other email content. Costs and other specific “fine print” information should also be displayed prominently. If you can offer guarantees and other satisfaction assurances, do so. If you have an e-commerce website, include payment logos and other secure checkout accreditations on relevant pages. As the visitor progresses towards the top of the trust hierarchy, trust cues as such as very closely related to higher conversions.
20. IMPROVE LOAD TIME
Google suggests that 53% of mobile visitors leave the site if it takes longer than two seconds to load. The situation is the same for desktop. Improving the speed of your website might well be the most important tip on this list for two reasons: The first being that if a website is slow then users will get frustrated where trust is lost, and secondly, if the website is really slow then the content you present to build trust will not even be seen as the visitor will leave. Test the speed of your website and ensure trust isn't lost on your website because of slow load times.
TRUST IS YOUR GREATEST ASSET
In an industry where business decisions are often made because of personal relationships, trust can be an organisation’s greatest asset. The website, therefore, plays a large role in this trust-building journey. Once trust is gained, it usually results in more traffic, higher pages-per-session, lower bounce rate, more subscribers, higher conversations and more leads.
The tips above all help to building trust on your website to improve the above metrics at varying levels of the trust hierarchy. ACTION: Use NNG's trust hierarchy to identify the specific levels of trust on your website, identify which tip(s) sit at each level and then make the necessary changes for each.
The suggestions above all follow the same principle: They put the website visitor first. When we don’t trust an organisation or a person, it is generally because they put their own interests first. Don’t step into this trap. Helping website visitors builds trust, and if you can help your website visitors, you will put yourself in a great place to be considered as a trustworthy supplier to build a relationship with and to do business with.