Entrepreneurs

Council Post: The Psychology Of Online Trust

By Matthew Capala, the Founder of Alphametic, a search marketing agency, keynote speaker, and author of “The Psychology of a Website.”

Say you meet someone at a networking event. After speaking for a couple of minutes, they launch into a hard sales pitch. Chances are, you find it hard to trust this person. It seems as though their only intention is to make money off of you. No matter how good the pitch is, you find it hard to really listen. You move on as soon as you can. The whole thing just doesn’t feel right.

Online encounters mirror their in-person counterparts. Without trust, it’s nearly impossible to hold anybody’s attention, let alone close the deal. As Zig Ziglar famously said, “If people like you they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.” Luckily, there are many ways to nurture relationships and build trust with website design and content. 

This article explores the psychological biases we have about trust, how to establish your authority as an expert and how to communicate your trustworthiness to both users and search engines.

A prominent display of unquestionable social proof, for example, is one of the most impactful ways to gain instant credibility on your website. You don’t need to be a large corporation to project trust through social proof. You can make small edits to your content today to start accelerating your growth. Small wins will compound into big wins if you stay consistent.

Consider the two headlines below:

1. Join my newsletter to learn marketing. Free access!

2. Join 45K active subscribers who generated millions of dollars from my weekly marketing hacks. Limited-time free offer. Don’t miss out!

Would you trust a brain surgeon who is just starting out or would you prefer a veteran surgeon who has performed thousands of successful brain surgeries with a reputation for diligence and patient care? Chances are the latter is in high demand, so you better grab your phone to secure your place in line.

Keep this in mind when crafting your next content headline. We generally trust and want the things that other people want and trust. We follow the advice of credible experts. We listen to recommendations from those we trust and respect. We assign authority to credentials and titles. We are in a constant state of uncertainty and unpredictability, so forming trusted relationships is essential for social order and survival.

Trust is an emotional brain state, not just an expectation of behavior. According to Psychology Today, trust involves “a feeling of confidence and security,” which is “much more plausible than behavioral, probabilistic, and philosophical views.” Nonetheless, at the most fundamental level, trust involves a positive expectation of future behavior.

This reminds me of this famous quote attributed to Sigmund Freud: “The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with 1/7 of its bulk above water.” The part of the iceberg that is underwater is not seen by the naked eye and could be compared to the subconscious part of the brain that is responsible for the emotional part of trust. Nonetheless, at the most fundamental level, trust involves a positive expectation of future behavior.

I like to think of trust in terms of a “trust score,” which your brain assigns subconsciously to new experiences, whether it’s meeting people or interacting with brands online. There are two major components of the trust score. First, there is a mathematical computation of expected probabilities of future outcomes. Second, there is an emotional dimension, a gut feeling. To trust people or brands, you need to feel good about them.

This does not mean you should manipulate people into trusting you. Quite the opposite; you want to earn their trust. But if you fail to learn how to capture attention and communicate your trustworthiness instantly, you will struggle on the internet. Most of the people who find and abandon your site will never come back, so you better be ready to make a great first impression that instills trust when you have a chance.

Social factors will continue to accelerate the importance of online trust. According to Glenn Ricart, an Internet Hall of Fame computer scientist who started using one of the original internet nodes in 1969, “Trust will be strengthened over the next decade because there is a strong generational shift to interacting online. The expectation of Millennials and others is that they can and should be able to trust online transactions. That expectation will provide fuel to efforts improving trust.”

Engineers at Google understood this trend long ago. From PageRank trust scores in the early days of Google to the latest E-A-T (Expertise-Authority-Trust) ratings, SEO practitioners were among the first to deliberately optimize for online trustworthiness since the early days of the internet. This was before the birth of Facebook and Twitter, when the concept of social media influence was coined, which essentially is a trustworthiness score measured by social popularity.

In my latest book, The Psychology of a Website, I proposed that the brain is your algorithm and that modern SEO is about understanding and predicting human psychology. The time-tested principles of trust psychology, such as the bandwagon bias or the framing effect, influence not only the behavior of your website visitors but also how modern algorithms score your content for its trustworthiness.

For most businesses and professionals, trust is an essential ingredient of their success. In human relations, trust is required to survive and prosper because it enables groups to form and cooperate. Don’t leave trust to chance.

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