The Four Pillars of Building Instant Trust Online

Trust by Terry Johnston

Human beings crave trust. Even with total strangers in the “real world” we assign trust based on appearance and body language. But how do you build trust online, without any face-to-face contact?  The following pillars of trust can be employed with great effectiveness.


First impressions matter. We try to put our best foot forward on first dates and job interviews. The same should be done online.

  • Professionalism of design – Fonts, colors, and graphical elements must combine into a single visual “look”.
  • Sparseness & neatness – Less is more. Ruthlessly edit everything on the page until it is pared to its essence.
  • Organization & clarity - Too many choices of what to do on the page can be paralyzing, forcing your visitors to spend time trying to figure out what to read first.

Transactional Assurances

“Will I be spammed if I enter our email in a form?” “Will I receive what I buy?”  “Will my identity be stolen?” Such questions are always in the background when visitors navigate your site. Provide your visitors reassurance before you ask for the conversion action.

  • Forms of payment and delivery – Forms of payment, return policies and shipping methods should be prominently displayed above the fold on every page.
  • Data security and privacy –  Display privacy policies and computer security trustmarks from well-known vendors.
  • Policies & guarantees – Prominently feature your warranties, return policies, and guarantees to relieve visitor anxieties about the post-purchase experience.

Experts & Media

Your visitors may not be familiar with your brand promise. Borrow trust by displaying your association with better known brands.

  • Reviews & awards – Use award seals or “Reviewed by” language if your product/service has received third-party recognition or praise.
  • Paid endorsements & spokespeople – Paid endorsements can transfer the trust, or at least the celebrity, of the spokesperson.
  • Marquee clients – Use client logos with permission, or prominently feature a written list of clients.
  • Media Mentions – Display any association with media outlets to add legitimacy to you landing page.

These techniques are only effective when logos or mentions appear above the fold and can be seen at the same time as the call to action (not below or after it). However, they should be displayed subtly, so they do not dominate the visual conversation. De-emphasize their impact by decreasing color saturation (possibly using grayscale), and reducing contrast with the background color.

Consensus of Peers

Visitors often follow the lead of people like themselves. Incorporating social proof into your site can support your visitors’ tendency to buy.

  • Objective numbers – Display how many people have bought, downloaded, or started a free trial. Spell out the digits of each number (e.g. “Over 1,000,000 downloads”), and use larger fonts to draw additional attention.
  • Likeness – Create affinity by adopting colors, editorial tone, and graphics that make your visitors feel at home and providing detailed testimonials that discuss common situations faced by similar people.

If you build on the four pillars of trust above, you should have a solid foundation for improved conversions.

Photo (cc) Terry Johnston.