Building Your Online Credibility

Are you trustworthy?
This is something we have to ask ourselves as web workers.  In fact, our clients are probably asking us this very question through subtext, we just aren’t aware of it.  Important as this question may be, there is another question that should be considered:
Do you appear trustworthy?
Online credibility is especially important for us, since it’s likely that our online presence is the only thing potential customers will see.  In this increasingly searchable world, we need to use every means possible to establish that we are worthy of a client’s trust. Here are some ways in which we can do this:

Make sure your website looks trustworthy. Unfair as it may seem, image matters – especially online.  A few years ago, Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab started The Web Credibility Project.  One of the studies they did was to find out what drove internet users to trust specific websites.  This study resulted in ten guidelines that, when followed, reinforces the credibility of one’s website.  Here are some of the guidelines:

  • Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.
  • Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
  • Make it easy to contact you.
  • Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).

Be consistent in your personal brand. Wherever you go online, as long as you can be found by potential clients, you need to carry a personal brand that reflects the quality of your work.  And that brand has to be consistent.
For example, if you want to be known as the go-to copywriter for Fortune 500 companies, it makes no sense to add slogans against “The Man” and big corporations on your Twitter account (regardless of how fun that might be).  Your clients need the assurance that you are exactly who they think you are.  Any deviation from that leaves room for doubt about your intentions and sincerity.
It also helps to go the extra mile with your personal branding, making your work ethic and values clear to the casual observer.  After all, you can never tell when a future client might get her first impression of you.  It could be via your blog, LinkedIn profile, or a website you created three years ago.
To help with your branding, you can create an online visual identity. You can also maximize your ability to customize your social networking tools.  I recall that Mike Gunderloy recently wrote about customizing your Twitter background to reflect your brand.  It’s a great idea, and I think I’m going to take his lead on this one and try it myself.
Give a timely response to everything. Potential clients and business partners tend to be finicky about communication, especially in the first months of working with you.  They need to know that you are reliable, and that you can respond to their every question as soon as possible.  Why is that?
I think it’s because with every day you spend not replying to an essential question or comment, your client’s trust in you falls a step lower.  The silence gives them the chance to think about certain questions such as “Has this contractor run off with my money?” and “Will she submit the deliverables on time?”  If we do our jobs well, they shouldn’t have to ask these questions.
Be aware of who talks about you online (and what they say). If you haven’t created a Google Alert for your name, whether it’s your own name or your business’ name, now is the time to do it.  If anyone makes unfair and negative comments about your business, you need to set the record straight and put out fires as soon as possible.  Otherwise, you might lose potential leads without your knowledge.
These are only a few things you can do to secure your credibility online, but there are definitely more ways to do it.  Have you tried any of them?  Are there other methods you’ve tried?  How did they work for you?