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How to Improve Your Website Trust Factor

Remove the Red Flags from Your Website

Is your website harming the trust and credibility of your business?

Are people worried or put off when they visit you online? Could your site be working against you rather than working as a business asset?

I’m sad to say that this is more common than we would like. It was certainly the case with John Corcoran’s site when he asked for a critique.

The GOOD news is, a lot of the problem areas that cause mistrust or unease in your visitors are easy to fix. Check out these factors and see if improvements can be made in your own site:

Dress for Success

First, you need to dress your site well.

Just like in real life, you need to dress your site appropriately taking into account your topic, the image you wish to portray, and according to the biases or pre-conceived notions of your market place.

While you don’t have to spend a fortune on design, you also do not want to look “spammy”.

Many people think that spammy sites just look cheap. That’s actually not the whole story. A site can be highly polished but still give off a whiff of  canned meat product.

If you look at the screen grab above, you can see some problem areas that are causing problems for John’s site.

  1. Keyword-stuffing – Look in the top of the web browser window and you can see the site title has all kinds of SEO keywords stuffed in there. This has gone beyond multiple ways to describe the site into SEO spam territory. This will harm you in the search rankings as well as obviously turn off human beings who are faced with it.
  2. Palm Tree? – Palm trees are not the first thing I expect to see when looking at a site called “Law Report”. OK, this one is a judgement call because it is cute, fun, and related to sunny Cali weather, but as part of the overall mix? Not the best.
  3. Negative Social Proof – Having zero comments is working against you, because it looks like nobody is around.
  4. Uncategorized” – Never have a category called Uncategorized – it makes it look like you don’t take care of your content. Categories should be based around the content your readers want to consume, make them appealing.
  5. Obvious Stock Photos – Images can be tricky, so need to be taken into the context of the rest of the site. Along with other red flags though this makes you look more spammy. Why are generic stock photos spammy? Because spammers use generic stock photos! Use photos that are high quality and either represent you, the product/service, or help make a point. Never just use “generic smiling business lady who obviously does not work for us” just to fill space.
  6. Confusion – Some of the content has no relation to your new focus and is therefore confusing (eg. content about real estate?). Confused people are seldom happy subscribers!

What’s In It For Me

If you look at the site, you will see a site name that conflicts with the tag Line.

The tag line is a bit generic, nothing stands out as unique or specifically beneficial, but it also conflicts with the site name. If the site is called “Law Report” then I expect benefits around legal advice, right?

When someone visits your site they need to immediately grasp what you are offering that is relevant to their wants and needs. Tell them what’s in it for them.

Use specific, benefit-lead language. Tell people the pain you remove, the problems you solve, the goals you help achieve, and what to expect.

Can you prove you are the person to help them? Do you have testimonials, case studies, certifications, badges, video demonstrations … anything that can support your argument is useful here.

People are much more willing to trust someone who seems like they might be able to help, providing at some point you back up your claims!

Just Like Me

Use the language of the market. How do they phrase things? What are they looking for? Is the industry using one language and the customer another? Do they call it a widget or a doodad?

If you can show you understand your audiences problems and goals, if you can tell stories that demonstrate you have “been there”, then you will get more audience connection because human beings are built with a need to find their tribe.

Your audience wants to associate with people who make them feel safe, they want to connect with people just like them (or people who were just like them and who have moved on, in the best possible way), people who understand them and their situation.

Avoid using phrases that make people think you are alien, speaking a different language, or some how speaking down to them. If you must use a strange term, explain it.

It’s also worth while generating positive “social proof” – evidence that other people are putting their trust in you. Therefore comments, subscriber counts and testimonials work well.

Consistency and Congruence

Once you have set up the best presentation of who you are and who you can help, then you need to keep your reputation that you are starting to build.

This means for a start, not acting “out of character”. It also means having a focus – don’t be scattered about who you help and how or the content you create.

There is something to be said for the element of surprise, but there are nice surprises and unpleasant surprises. Keep your behaviour, your communication, your language, and your customer service consistent.

If everything is in alignment then people will be comfortable with you, but the more you deviate from the consistent message and focus the more confused or put-off your audience will be.

Long Term Value Relationship

Finally, trust is not gained instantly but it can be lost very quickly. Warm people up steadily, earn their trust over time. Don’t take short cuts and certainly do not do anything to break trust once you have it.

Your content and auto responder should reward your subscribers for their attention. Wherever possible also give people an idea of your personality and back story. Show you are a real person, warts and all, and preferably a likeable one!

One of the key good things that John is doing is running webinars. They are awesome in that you convey a lot of valuable information, but also in a way that allows people to get an idea of who you are. Of course they are also a great way to build an email list! Just make sure they are 80 or 90% content so people really get a lot out of them.


First impressions online can be critical, make sure you are not doing anything to damage your perceived trustworthiness.

  • Work out who you want to attract and what you can do for them
  • Use a professional blog theme with good quality images that aligns with the image you want to portray and the audience you wish to attract
  • Reinforce your trust with evidence, testimonials, case studies, and social proof
  • Focus your content on who you can help and how, and avoid putting off humans in favor of search engines
  • Build a relationship with your audience over time

What do you think? Got any feedback for John and his website? Have you ever been put off by a supposedly legitimate site that made you worry they are spammy? Think I might have been unfair? Please share in the comments …

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  1. I’d definitely go with a header that’s a little more representative of the content on the page. The header that’s there now doesn’t seem to fit with the type of content on the site (at least not for me). I’m also having a hard time reading the tag-line (just below the header). The color blends in with the background color.

    The only other thing that immediately stuck out to me was the photo/widget on the upper right-hand side. When I saw the photo, at first I thought it was a photo of the blog author, and I expected the widget content to be info about the author. Except, well, it’s not. It’s a Call To Action to subscribe. I’d either get rid of the photo, or create a separate dedicated widget for information about the author. It just seemed a bit confusing to me is all.

  2. When I visited John’s site I struggled with the term “law”. The tagline and email sign up call to action read much more general than a law site. When I scrolled down there was some content that was relevant (settling disputes, etc) but the email marketing and cloud computing posts confused me.

    It was only when I went further down the “About” page that I understood John’s law connection. Perhaps it might be better to either focus on business law issues so the content is congruent as Chris said, or focus on business development content and advice for law companies – either way it would be good to see some more focus.

    Great critique Chris and best wishes with the site John!

  3. What I’ve quickly discovered about website owners is that we are all so deeply married to the site that it’s often difficult to gain perspective anymore.

    That’s why it’s so valuable to receive constructive criticism and feedback from a trusted source. Not family, not friends, not customers or clients.

    Good looking redesign here on, by the way.

    • Re: “What I’ve quickly discovered about website owners is that we are all so deeply married to the site that it’s often difficult to gain perspective anymore.”

      Totally agree! Always nice to get an outsiders perspective.

    • Indeed, and you can get feedback from your network, customers, readers – doesn’t have to necessarily be a consultant 🙂

  4. Kathy Feller says:

    I think the critique is good. Here are some simple changes that I think would help right away. I would suggest…

    Changing the first tag line (the yellow one) to something like “Down-to-earth Legal Advice for Business Success”. Just the addition of the word legal would make it clearer. Drop the second tag line, the one that’s hard to see anyway.

    Remove the picture of the woman. Or replace it with a picture indicating the goal or product.

    Remove the comment counter. If you have a decent number of subscribers or past/present customers, use that instead.

    Give the article a category.

    While I’m not sure how the color scheme works, it would be improved by changing the palm tree to something reflecting business or legal or both. Cutesy doesn’t really inspire a sense of legal competence.

    And that picture looks like the space shuttle to me. Which makes me think of tragic disasters and an ignoble ending of something that should have been a glorious success. Probably not the intent of using that image.

    The last thing is: which photo is of who? The heading lists Kevin first, but the first sentence (under the photos) lists John first.

    I hope this helps.

  5. You forgot to mention the size of the header image and the search box. The header image isn’t long enough to line up with the right side and the search box is hanging too far on the right. Both of these things just SCREAM bad template site!

  6. Some great pointers here, both in the article AND in the comments.

    Regarding social proof, they have 0 comments on all their articles but on the email opt-in form social proof is used well. It states that you’re joining “6,000 monthly readers.”

    If that’s true, maybe they could finish their posts being a little more thought provoking and inviting readers to comment at the end of their posts. With the kind of traffic they tout, a few tweaks should fix the comment problem.

  7. Hi Chris,

    I just pinned this on my pin board. Your points are excellent, especially the one about stock photos. When I worked at AT&T yellow pages we twice had competing customers choose the same stock photos for their ads that landed on the same page. Two competing companies who had the same customer?

    Hope to see you soon ;^D


  8. Some great points, in particular about the stock images. I don’t know why but badly related stock photos turn me off a website quicker than anything else.

  9. Thank you, everyone, for your feedback and helpful critiques. I think you all have been more than fair. This is exactly why I wanted to have Chris do a critique; it was a pleasant “bonus” to get helpful feedback in the comments as well.

    I have taken these suggestions very seriously, and I am going to make these changes as soon as I have time, including:
    — coming up with a new domain name. (The backstory here is my blogging has evolved to the point where clearly both “California” and “law” don’t belong in the URL. I am a lawyer but I am not specifically giving legal advice so I need to change the name. Clearly it’s long overdue.)
    — getting a new theme (Chris – thanks for the suggestion of Generate theme, which I noticed Chris Brogan is using).
    — I need to fix the comment counter. I got a suggestion to disable comments and/or remove it awhile ago, but my basic CSS knowledge left me with the worst of both worlds – a comment counter stuck at zero and no way for anyone to leave a comment! The new theme will fix that problem.
    — rewrite my email autoresponder sequence to make it more personal and match my site’s tone.
    — get a new logo
    — get rid of SEO-stuffing keywords

    That’s certainly not an exhaustive list of changes, but just where I will start. Thank you all. (By the way, I highly recommend getting a critique from Chris!)

  10. Chris,

    You talk about stock photo usage, but do you have recommendations for how to pick a photo for a website? Should you use photos from photo agencies that are not so often used? Is there a rule of thumb on this?


  11. Hello,

    I’ve seen many websites just stuffed there keywords in title to get rankings in search engines. and for me its quite annoying. I think they don’t know about trust factor, website authority, all they know is do black hat and get on top.

    But they forget about this, ” It take years to earn trust of people, but it take only a second to lose it. ”

    So avoid spamming if you really want to earn trust of people. feed people with quality not quantity its a simple rule to earn trust.. 🙂 Thanks for such awesome article..

    • Getting search rankings becomes more and more a game against Google, but the problem is they want to deliver the best content to people, and it is people who click our links when they search!

  12. Great information Chris. Thanks. I have taken a couple of these ideas and made a change already to my site. Still lots more to do but as long as guys like you keep posting this type of useful information, one day I’ll get there.

  13. Hello Chris very Informative and helpful thanks so much for sharing this article

  14. Your article made me realize just how important images really are, and making sure they are the appropriate ones. I often like to use photos to further illustrate my articles. The “uncategorized” section too, that’s a rule!

  15. Just checked their site again, it looks like they’re taking feedback to heart! Completely new design and it looks like they’re well on their way! 🙂

  16. Chris, great critique and thanks for giving us a framework to work to with the sites.