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7 Things That Make Your Website Appear Untrustworthy

Blog / 7 Things That Make Your Website Appear Untrustworthy
by Tiffany Nix on


Recently, as I was dusting my bookshelves at home, I happened upon a book from my childhood—"The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader" by C.S. Lewis. It was one of my favorite stories! And my copy of the book is quite unique. It was printed in 1967, so it's well worn-in. The cover is made up of a faded red, textured fabric, and it doesn't even include a title. In fact, there's no text at all. There's simply a debossed image in the lower right-hand corner of the figurehead of a ship and a couple of the book's characters peering out at the sea.

To me, the book is lovely.

But, when I think about that book from a practical perspective, I have to admit: if you were trying to sell it, not putting anything on the cover would just be really stupid marketing.

Even though we've been told our whole lives not to "judge a book by its cover," we all still do. If the cover doesn't give us the information we need or isn't compelling, we have no reason to trust that it's going to be good, so we don't read it. The only reason I'm able to appreciate this title-less book is because I know what's inside. But without the right cover—without even a title—how would anyone else know that it's worth their time?

Now think about your company in the same terms. Potential customers don't know what's "inside" your business; they only know what they can find on the "cover"—your website. If you don't provide them with the information they need, they won't have any reason to trust you. And if they can't trust you, they won't give you their business.

Maybe your product or service is the best there is. Maybe your company has all the right intentions. And maybe you have a bunch of happy customers to back those things up.

But, much like leaving the title off a book you'd like to sell, there are some huge mistakes organizations make on their websites. And unfortunately, even though those mistakes may be unintentional, they can make your company appear to be untrustworthy. Worst of all, they can affect your bottom line.

So consider what you're presenting to your prospects on your website—are you making these costly mistakes?

1. Poor design.

Did you know it takes less than a tenth of a second for users to form an opinion about your website?

Were you aware that 94% of a website user's first impressions are design-related?

That's why "poor design" is first on this list.

When I asked our team at Nectafy what they thought made a website seem untrustworthy, I was overwhelmed with answers about poor design. Here are a few of their comments:

  • "Visually, if a website looks poorly designed, I am cautious."
  • "A cluttered design with a poor user interface makes me think that the company is inexperienced, and thus, not worth time doing business with."
  • "I think a lot of it boils down to clean design. If they’ve clearly worked with a company to design the website (or have an amazing designer on board) they look entirely more trustworthy than a company with an old-school website."
  • "If I'm going to a website to buy something and the checkout page(s) aren't really nice looking, I usually think my credit card information isn't going to be taken care of, and look elsewhere to buy."
  • "If a company doesn’t have a well-designed website, it comes across as unprofessional and incapable."

Have you ever heard the expression "you'll never get a second chance to make a first impression"? For some reason, it's easy for companies to understand that concept when it comes to the design and layout of a brick-and-mortar location, but some don't see how it translates to their website.

Your website isn't just a representation of your company—in this day and age, it's an integral part of your company. Make sure you're putting your best foot forward.

2. Keeping things a mystery.

When it comes to novels, mysteries can be fun. But when it comes to business, "mystery" is just frustrating. In order to show your potential customers you are the right company for them, you have to be an open book.

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Do you have an "About Us" page? Explaining the story of your company (in a way that's interesting to your target audience) and putting up bios and photos of your employees gives your prospects the opportunity to make a personal connection with your team. It's much easier to trust a company when there are faces to put with your company name.
  • Do you promote the cost of your products or services? If you're hesitant about including your prices on your company's website, don't be. If there is one thing that every buyer wants to know, it's “What is this going to cost me?” Don't frustrate your customers simply because you're trying to hide your pricing from competitors. (If your competitors really want to know what you charge, they can find out.)
  • Do your product and service pages offer enough information for a prospect to make a purchasing decision? Chances are, most of your website visitors will land on your site, scan through a few pages, and move along without initiating any kind of conversation with you. Do you provide your website visitors with enough information to actually make a decision about purchasing your products or services? If you don't describe what you offer in a compelling way, they'll move along to a competitor that gives them the information they need to know. Prospects won't do detective work—you need to lay it all out for them.

Think through all the information you would want or need to know before purchasing from a company, and use that as your guide as you expand your website's content.

3. Confusing copy.

Having too little information on your website (keeping things a mystery) can be detrimental, but if your website's copy isn't clear and succinct, it could make things even worse.

Nothing on your website should ever be "over your target audience's head." You may think using buzz words and industry language makes you sound intelligent, but in all actuality, it gives readers less reason to trust you, because they can't understand what you're saying! Even worse, they could interpret your elaborate language as you trying to trick them into buying your products.

If you want an interesting read, check out the article This Surprising Reading Level Analysis Will Change The Way You Write, by Shane Snow. (It lives up to its title!) After conducting an interesting study on the reading levels of popular authors and writers, Snow found that those we consider to be some of the "best" communicate at a lower reading grade level than what one might think—works from many of them were well under a 9th-grade reading level. Ernest Hemingway scored a 4th-grade reading level! In his article, Snow wrote:

I did an informal poll of some friends while writing this post. Every one of them told me that they assumed that higher reading level meant better writing. We’re trained to think that in school. But data shows the opposite: lower reading level often correlates with commercial popularity and in many cases, how good we think a writer is.

He went on to say:

...we should aim to reduce complexity in our writing as much as possible. We won’t lose credibility by doing so. Our readers will comprehend and retain our ideas more reliably. And we’ll have a higher likelihood of reaching more people.

Communicate to your readers honestly and clearly. It'll give them even more reason to trust you.

4. A lack of reviews or testimonials.

Whether you're a small business or a large corporation, you have to establish some credibility with your target audience. 90% of customers say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews, so why not make that information readily available on your website? If you don't have reviews or testimonials up, customers may be hesitant to purchase from you. A lack of reviews could unintentionally communicate to your potential buyers that you're inexperienced, or worse—that you don't have any happy customers.

By adding reviews or customer testimonials to your site, you're giving prospects a reason to trust you. If you've worked with well-known companies in the past, put that information out there! If you haven't, don't worry—talk to your best customers and ask them for their honest opinion about your company. A review from their perspective will speak volumes louder than anything you could write about yourself.

5. Old copyright dates or outdated information.

If I'm visiting a website and see an outdated copyright or dated information, I start to wonder if I can trust anything I read on the website. If the copyright date reads "2013," does that mean the site hasn't been updated in over two years?

Don't make your website visitors wonder if your content is accurate. Always make sure that your website has the most updated information possible on every page. (And update that copyright date at the bottom of your website. Hint: it's 2015.)

6. Misspellings and grammatical errors.

As an editor, I'm embarrassed for businesses that can't get the English language right. But it's not just me and the other "grammar snobs" out there—take a look at these staggering statistics presented in a 2014 Adweek article:

A study conducted late last year by U.K. firm Global Lingo found that 74 percent of consumers pay attention to the correctness of the prose on company Web sites, and 59 percent of respondents said they would avoid doing business with a company that’s made obvious errors.

A more recent survey—this one published in March by Standing Dog Interactive—revealed that 58 percent of consumers were either “somewhat” or “very” annoyed by the presence of copy errors, with one respondent volunteering: “If … I see a typo, I’ll leave without buying a thing.”

The worst thing about blatant spelling and grammatical errors? They make your company seem (at best) careless and (at worst) incompetent. Someone isn't going to trust you with their business or their money if you can't communicate to them in a careful, professional manner. 

7. Gimmicks and "interruptions."

There's been a shift in the marketing world over the past couple decades. Traditional marketing—or "interruption marketing" as marketing guru Seth Godin calls it—interrupts people's daily routine, and according to Godin in his book "Permission Marketing," people are inundated with so much of it that they just don't pay attention anymore.

Do you record your television shows just so you don't have to watch the commercials? I do. When was the last time you received a cold call? The last time I received one, I became immediately suspicious of the party on the other end, and said I wasn't interested before they even told me why they were calling.

It's plain and simple: interruption marketing is dead. It's time to say goodbye to gimmicky tricks. That means no more jumping up and down, yelling, "Hey, you! Over here!" No more "rah-rah" marketing crap. Nowadays, it's about making sure you have the right information out there when prospects come looking for it. Seth Godin calls it "permission marketing." HubSpot calls it "inbound marketing." We call it marketing that works.

So what does this mean for your company's online presence? It's a change in approach. Instead of thinking of your website as a "sales pitch," think of it as a valuable resource for your visitors. What are they looking for? How can you make it easy for them to find? What could you provide them that's truly useful (beyond your products or services)? This is the exemplification of trustworthiness.

What things make you hesitant to trust a company with your business? Tell us in a comment below.

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