If people like you, they’ll listen to you. But if they trust you, they’ll do business with you – Zig Ziglar

Why is building trust important?

Establishing trust in an online context is both crucial and difficult.
It’s common knowledge that people do business with those they like, know and trust. Although tricky, it’s by no means impossible.
Look at many of the popular brands out there. They are a popular proxy for trust – if a consumer believes that a specific brand produces quality products or services, they will buy into that brand. Anything with a big stamp of approval is likely to pass the basic trust test.

But why is establishing this trust important?

Perhaps most importantly, it helps brands build the foundation for a real, long-term relationship between themselves and the customer.
Secondly, it encourages conversion. According to Taylor Nelson Sofres’s survey, customers cancel 70% of their online purchases because of lack of trust. Since then, users have only become more aware of fraudulent practices and trust has become even more difficult to earn.

The pyramid of trust

Way back in the 1940s, Abraham Maslow proposed his famous hierarchy of needs. Simply put, he claimed that individuals must have basic needs such as food and safety covered before they will move on to desire higher needs like love, esteem, or self-actualisation.

Much like Maslow’s pyramid of needs, we can define a pyramid of trust, and also linked to that, commitment. In relationships, individuals must have basic trust needs met before being able to progress to more substantial interactions; this applies to relationships between two people, and can also be applied to the relationship between a site and a user.

Establishing trust, whether with a stranger or with a website, is a gradual process. As the relationship progresses, initial skepticism 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. It’s important to note that higher levels of commitment cannot be attained before the lower ones.

There are 5 levels of commitment in the pyramid of trust and at each level of commitment, people have different needs. Once they are met in a satisfactory way, they will be more likely to trust your site, honour your demands, and progress to the next level.

The Trust Pyramid

1) Winning basic trust: The first 7 seconds of someone visiting your website will make the difference and win your visitor’s initial trust, or lose it. To win that trust, you need to give a clear answer to the 3 questions people subconsciously ask themselves when they visit your website:

  • Where am I?
  • What can I do here?
  • Why would I do that?

2) Interest and preference over other options: Does your site allow the user to do the task intended and is it better than other options out there?

3) Trust with personal information: Is your site’s offering valuable enough to justify the time and effort to register? Does the user trust your site with their personal information? Do they want emails from you?

4) Trust with sensitive/financial information; Does the user trust your website to securely use and store their sensitive data (e.g. credit card number, street address)? Is it worth the risk to them?

5) Willingness to commit to an ongoing relationship: Is the user comfortable enough to establish a continuous connection with your site (e.g., recurring charge, linking with other accounts)

As with the pyramid of needs, this works from the bottom up – don’t ask commitment at higher levels before you’ve satisfied the levels of trust below that.

How do you build trust?

Make it personal

We, as humans, trust other humans much more than we trust algorithms and machines, as discussed in this article. There are many reasons for this, but it’s partly because humans are capable of empathy and feel safer with other humans than with machines.

Displaying an attractive ‘About Us’ page can tell the user more about your business and company culture. You’ll need to consider the industry context, but as mentioned before, people do business with those they like, know, and trust. It’s much easier to like, know, and trust a person behind the brand, rather than a brand itself. Words like ‘we’ and ‘family’ can be used to reduce an anxiety felt by the user as it implies a human presence behind the site.

An extensive and easy-to-locate contact information section also says that you have nothing to hide from the user. Displaying multiple ways for a user to get in contact in clear format (phone number, email, etc) gives a strong indication that there is a real person at the other end who can be approached should anything go wrong.

Professional design

These days, plenty of businesses and services exist entirely online. Because of this, sometimes a person will have had no prior, real-world experience to assist them in making that decision to trust and use a particular brand or business. Therefore, the brand’s website will be the sole point of contact, and the main source of information available to determine whether they are worthy of a person’s trust, custom, time and attention. Although a real-world presence might exist, it is very likely that the customer’s first experience with the brand was with their website. Once you come to realise this, it’s easy to see how important web design is in relation to trust.

It doesn’t matter how compelling your content is, unfortunately if your website looks like it’s something from the 90’s, there’s going to be concern about the legitimacy of your business. If your site design looks ugly and unprofessional, you’re likely to lose a substantial percentage of users and possibly experience a high bounce rate.
Cliché stock photography is an example of some of the mistakes companies make. Yes, the image of the attractive and read-to-help call centre person might have be acceptable at one point. However, modern online users are skeptical. They can often see right through them as they potentially scream dishonesty and give the impression there is something to hide.

However, if your site looks professional, with nice imagery and user-friendly navigation, visitors will stick around to explore the site further.

Reviews & testimonials

A BrightLocal consumer survey shows that 85% of consumers read up to 10 reviews before deciding whether to trust a site or not. It’s clearly evident that customer reviews matter, a lot. It’s true, what others say about you and your product, service, or business is so much more convincing that anything you could say.

And it’s not just the quantity, but the quality of them that matter. Fake reviews are an annoying nuisance that review sites have to constantly deal with. Amazon combat this issue head on. By displaying the reviewers’ identities, and providing a review rating system, they are able to promote the reviews that are found most useful by its customers.

All reviews are valuable, and a mix of positive and negative ones do help to improve consumer trust in the opinions they read. Actually, recent statistics from Reevoo suggests that the presence of bad reviews actually improve conversions by 67%, as consumers find it more authentic.

New reviews also generate fresh and unique content for SEO. While many sites just use the same standard descriptions and specifications, user-generated content can differentiate a product page in the search results.


Today’s online shoppers are clever folk. In a world where hacking and phishing scandals are commonplace, security i obviously a huge concern for users. Customers are trained to look for HTTPS addresses with the additional padlock symbol, indicating a secure website. It’s your responsibility to make sure the information you collect from customers is protected. An SSL certificate will ensure customer sensitive information is encrypted.

However, a number of people do not fully understand protocols such as SSL and levels of encryption, so you should make it obvious your site is secure. A 2005 study conducted by TNS, an independent research firm showed that 78% of online shoppers said that a seal indicates that their information is secure as it acts as a visual cue, an icon, logo or a badge, that verifies to the visitor that your website is legitimate.

Along with any security logos, if you offer customers the facility to pay online, you should clearly display the types of payments you accept. This will again reassure your visitors that it is safe for them to make a purchase from you.

It’s difficult to go wrong

Trust is incredibly important on the web. It’s often the limiting factor that determines whether a user will perform a desired action or not.

As long as you are transparent and have a genuine desire to help people, it’s difficult to go wrong.

In the end not every single person who visits your site is going to trust you, but if you do this right, trust will be established and customers are much more likely to convert and continue beyond that first purchase.