Ways to Build a Trustworthy Website

We've all visited websites with pop-up ads and flashing banners. Compare these to sites that are neat, informative, user-friendly and easy on the eyes. You're probably more apt to use — and trust — the latter, especially if you're buying something.

Now put yourself in your customer's position and think about how your company's site stacks up. Here are 14 ways to build a trust-inspiring, successful commercial site that benefits you and your customers:

1. Buy a domain. Having your own domain name not only builds trust but it also looks more professional. With your own domain, you can avoid annoying ads — except for products you sell or recommend. And use domain email addresses rather than free email services.

2. Skip the fluff. Customers want to get to the heart of the matter fast, so don't include enter pages and splash screens. Worse yet are enter pages that force visitors to download a Flash program. If you feel compelled to include Flash pages, give customers the option of viewing your pages without it.

3. Give contact info. Provide phone numbers, hours of operation, time zone, mailing address and email address. Try not to use a P.O. box — some companies won't deliver to them and many customers won't buy if you use one.

4. Keep contact links easy to find. No one wants to search all over a site looking for contact information. Include at least one way to contact you on every page. The home page should also include your Webmaster's email address.

5. Make it personal. Include an "About Us" page with the names and email addresses of the owner, president, executives and staff. Photos with small biographies help make the site friendlier to customers. You don't want to look anonymous —- it makes customers suspicious and less likely to buy.

6. Watch the spelling. Spell-check and then carefully proofread every page both for spelling errors and grammar. Remember, spell check programs look only for misspelled words. If you have correctly spelled a word but it is misused (for example, "to" instead of "two"), spell check won't catch it. Misspelled words make your site look unprofessional and undermine your credibility. Not to mention they are a pet peeve of many people.

7. Update often.The content on your site should be updated at least every six months. Include a "Last Updated on (date)" note. Even if you don't actually change the information, it lets customers know you're on top of things.

8. Cater to the world. Include tags with your images to help people with sight disabilities and the hundreds of thousands of computer users around the globe who use text-only software and Web browsers.

9. Think speed. Your pages should load quickly. Most people don't have the patience to stick around long and will simply move on. Fast-loading pages show you're a pro and boost customer confidence.

10. Post some kudos. Ask clients for testimonials and put them on the site. If possible, use their whole names — first-name-only testimonials seem less credible.

11. Check all links. Download a link checker and use it monthly to find any broken links within your site and links to other sites. Nothing sends a customer off to a competitor more quickly than the frustration of encountering links that don't work. Have your Webmaster design an "error" page that helps customers get back on track if a page they bookmarked no longer exists.

12. Simplify the purchase. Make sure your prices, shipping costs, discounts and return policy are clear and easily accessible. Keep order forms as simple as possible.

13. Make promises. Provide money-back guarantees as well as a privacy policy for your newsletter email list or other offers. Note these clearly on your site.

14. Keep it safe. This may be obvious, but the best cyber-stores have the most secure purchase programs available. Most customers are savvy about buying online and won't risk a stolen credit card number or, worse, identity theft.

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