When visitors see your website for the first time, they make snap-judgments about your brand’s credibility.
That’s why it’s common practice for websites to include credibility boosters such as customer testimonials, ratings, awards, logos of companies that use the product and so on.
Presence of credibility boosters is not enough
The problem is that most marketers think that the mere presence of these credibility-boosting elements is enough to convince visitors that their product will do what the website claims it will.
These marketers believe that slapping a few testimonials and a 4.5-star rating on their homepage is enough to convince visitors that the product claims are credible.
In a moment, you’ll see how you can go beyond the basics of credibility and, in doing so, make your website a far more persuasive online salesperson.
But first, we need to talk about the relationship between credibility and claims.
A bold claim proves nothing
Picture yourself walking down the street in New York City. You see a basic pizza place with a sign that reads “Best Pizza in New York.”
What does the sign make you think?
I posed this question to family and friends to get their take. Here are their reactions:
- “That’s what they all say”
- “I’d probably think it’s not very good and targeting tourists”
- “No positive or negative implication… something I just ignore.”
Though this research lacks scientific rigor, it’s safe to say that a pizza place that claims to have the best slice in the city isn’t fooling many people.
Anyone can make big claims. The work is in actually proving them.
But building credibility isn’t just about proving claims. It’s about understanding the psychological obstacles that prevent your visitors from saying “yes” to your offers.
What’s stopping your prospects from saying “yes”?
If your website is going to generate leads and sales, your visitors must take action on your website. Sometimes that means punching in a credit card number. Other times that means filling out a form.
Either way, your prospects perceive risk in following your calls to action.
Whether those risks are real or imagined is besides the point, because it’s your prospect alone who decides whether to act.
Sometimes the risk is obvious: If you spend $1,500 on a temperature-controlled mattress cover, you risk wasting money on something that you’re ultimately unhappy with.
And besides the financial loss, there could be a social penalty as well: what if your spouse thinks less of you for making a bad purchase?
Often the risk is more subtle
If you start a free trial for software that doesn’t work the way the website claimed it would, there’s no financial loss.
But now you’ve lost time, given away your data, and perhaps most importantly, you feel that you’ve been played by scheming, snivelling marketers.
That last point is not to be understated.
Whenever your visitors are deciding whether to take action, they are subconsciously afraid of being played for a fool.
It's not just about losing time or losing money. It's about that uncomfortable feeling that you were tricked, and what that might say about you.
Fighting back against fear
Your prospects’ fear of accepting your offer is a force that always works against you.
Their minds are trying to protect them from accepting your offer only to be let down because your website wrote a check that the product itself could not cash.
This is why building credibility is so critical in copywriting. Your prospects will only act if they perceive the risk:benefit ratio to work in their favor.
Establishing strong credibility on your website reduces perceived risk, which in turn leads to more prospects saying “Yes”.
How to build a persuasive argument
The solution to your prospect’s skepticism is to make a specific claim, then back it up with evidence.
This doesn’t just apply to copywriting — it’s the foundation of any persuasive argument: make a claim, then support the claim with evidence, then make another claim, support it, and so on.
On your website, you may need to make several claims before prospects are willing to become customers. And that means you need evidence to make each claim credible.
3 principles of credibility
When it comes to building credibility, there are three key psychological principles at play:
- Social Proof: we are more likely to do something if other people are already doing it
- Authority: we are more likely to believe people who have established relevant authority than those who haven’t
- Specificity: we are more likely to believe specific claims than we
Some keys to understanding social proof
There’s no shortage of information about the impact of social proof in influencing behavior.
The key to understand right now is that social proof tends to work best when the herd — the people who have already done the behavior, such as buying a product — are similar to the person who is deciding if they want to do that same behavior.
Seth Godin put it simply when he said that one of the most powerful determinants of behavior is the idea that “people like me do things like this.”
Some keys to understanding authority
Like social proof, the concept of authority was well-covered in Robert Cialdini’s must-read book, Influence.
The catch is that this principle works best when the person in question has authority relevant to the topic at hand.
For example, if my doctor gives me advice about how to treat my shoulder injury, I'm probably going to listen to her. But if she tells me who I should vote for in the next election, she would have little to no influence.
Some keys to understanding authority
When a pizza joint claims to have “the best pizza in the city”, are they lying?
Their claim is too vague to qualify as a lie. There’s no official criteria for the best pizza in the city. It would be more apt to call their claim hyperbole — an exaggeration. It’s like a mug that says “World’s best dad”.
But if that pizza place claims to be the “#1 rated pizza in Brooklyn on TripAdvisor in 2021”…
...they’re either telling the truth, or they’re lying. And as advertising legend Claude Hopkins wrote nearly 100 years ago, “people do not expect an advertiser to lie.”
They expect the advertiser to exaggerate, yes. But not to tell a straight-up lie.
That’s why specificity is so powerful in proving your claims. Specificity convinces your audience that it’s more likely you’re telling than truth than telling a full-blown lie.
Classic website credibility boosters
Many websites rely on classic features to enhance trustworthiness. You’re probably accustomed to seeing the following:
- Logo bars
- Reviews, ratings, and badges
These are all useful for improving website credibility, but some websites use them more effectively than others.
Don’t think of credibility as a box to check. Instead, think about making your website or page as persuasive as possible.
Read on to see how you can do just that with upgraded versions of these classic credibility boosters.
How to upgrade your testimonials
Most marketers know that testimonials are a reliable way to build credibility and increase conversions.
But before you just slap a few customer quotes on your pages and call it a day, consider these tips to make your testimonials more persuasive.
Place testimonials in context
The first thing you should test is the placement of your testimonials: put them near the claims they support.
Then, place a testimonial that proves the claim directly under it.
Here’s an example from Intercom’s former homepage design:
Use testimonials to bust objections
You can also use testimonials to convince skeptical customers.
For example, many buyers worry that they may invest in software that their team doesn’t end up using.
A testimonial speaking to that exact fear can help to eliminate that worry.
This testimonial from Lattice shows visitors that people at their company do in fact use the software
The key is to take an objection that you know your audience has and let someone who represents your ideal prospect bust it for you.
Turn your testimonial into a case study
You can also turn a testimonial into a mini-case study by adding metrics.
This strengthens your proof point by adding another layer of specificity: the exact outcome another customer achieved.
You can display the mini case-study on your page and link to the full-length case study elsewhere on your site.
Add a headshot
Some conversion rate optimization specialists report that landing pages perform better when their testimonials are paired with headshots of the person quoted.
I’ve never tested this myself, but it makes perfect sense. The headshot makes the testimonial seem more authentic, and therefore more credible. Again, this is a form of specificity.
If I show you a quote, there’s the possibility I wrote it myself.
If I show you a quote and an image of the person who said it, I’m either showing you a genuine testimonial, or I’m a bold, shameless liar.
For example, I have a hard time believing that the testimonial below isn’t genuine — it would be too crazy for them to make this up:
Earlier I mentioned that one key principle of credibility is authority.
If you’re a new company and don’t yet have testimonials to feature on your website, authority may help build some of the credibility that you can’t establish with social proof.
In practice, this means taking quotes from authorities that support the same claims you’re making.
Choose the right people
Finally, you want to be intentional and strategic with the testimonials and authority figures you choose to feature on your website.
You may have a great testimonial from someone who doesn’t resemble your ideal prospects.
You want to make sure that the people who you put on your page accurately reflect the people you want to attract.
For example, if you're trying to attract CEOs, and a CEO lands on your website to see that all the testimonials on your homepage comes from a salesperson, that’s a mismatch. You’re signaling to them, “this isn’t for you.”
Upgraded logo bars
Logo bars are another credibility booster that marketers load onto a website without much thought.
Even if you’re featuring impressive companies, there is a bit more you can do here. To improve, you should:
- Connect the proof to the claim with your crosshead
- Dial up the specificity of the claim with your crosshead
Connect the proof to the claim
Let’s look again at an example from Lattice.
One of Lattice’s main claims is that they are going to help drive employee performance and engagement throughout their customer’s organization.
Rather than just saying “2,000 organizations trust Lattice” and planting a bunch of famous customer logos, Lattice tied the proof to the claim itself: that Lattice helps companies drive performance and engagement.
Dial up the specificity
You can also use your crosshead to enhance the specificity of your claim.
Instead of just saying that your company is trusted by the best in North America, you can say that you are trusted by 11 of the top 50 teams in North America.
This serves to dial up the specificity of your claim and make it more credible.
“We are the best at _____” is vague, and therefore, it doesn’t earn your prospect’s trust. It just goes in one ear out the other. When you say something specific, it sticks.
Many companies use metrics to add specificity to their claims.
Here’s my recommended “ABC” approach to adding metrics to your website:
- Audit your claims: make a list of every claim on your website or your landing page that doesn't have any supporting evidence.
- Brainstorm proof points: is there a way that you can get some sort of metric that proves the point?
- Collect the data: solicit reviews, run surveys, or compile case studies
The ABC formula can also be applied to other areas, not just upgrading metrics.
You can still use this idea of auditing your claims and brainstorming proof points — then you may decide “let’s not use a metric for this one, maybe we’ll use a testimonial or a Capterra badge.
Run user tests
Sometimes you think you have an impressive statistic, but it falls flat with your customers.
User tests can help you to determine if your metrics are proving the point that you think they are.
Maybe your metrics are impressive to you, but not to your ideal prospect.
Maybe they think the number is too good to be true.
User tests will help you see what your customers see.
Upgraded ratings and badges
Putting ratings and badges on your website is another powerful way to establish credibility.
Here are some of the best places to display these items on your page:
- Early on the page to establish credibility with a visual signal that you are a legitimate business.
- Late on the page to neutralize anxiety near the final call to action
When you don’t have any stars or badges, sites can seem less trustworthy at first glance.
These stars and badges tell prospects, “other people have clicked this button before and not only did they live to tell the tale, but they came back and left a decent review.
Get them to believe
In closing, we will leave you with an important reminder: Anyone can make a claim about anything. The hard part is getting users to believe you.
If you want to stand out from your pack of competitors, you need to actually prove your claims.
Watch me talk about the topic here.