OWNER'S MANUAL

Simple Tips to Make Your Website Look More Credible

Credibility makes--and breaks--online businesses. Here's how a newcomer in a competitive industry can build trust with customers.
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Dear Jeff,

I am starting a new website to offer Gran Fondo travel packages for events in France, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, and the U.K. My goal is for my site to serve as the gateway to European gran fondos.

As a potential customer, would you consider booking a package--one that includes event entry, hotels, food, and other amenities--through an overseas firm based largely on the credibility of its website?

Or would you be more likely to book if you knew me as Robert from the MarmotteCyclo.nl website, the guy who gives you free advice about riding gran fondos?

 --Robert Bernaerts

Since you'll be a new player in a field with established competition, the answer is both.

(For those who don't know, a gran fondo, which roughly translates to "big ride," is a mass participation cycling event, kind of the cycling version of a marathon except with awesome scenery, well-stocked aid stations, and a post-event party. Popular events draw thousands of participants from around the world, so Robert hopes to provide packages to the premier European gran fondos.)

In your industry, establishing credibility is everything.

Take La Marmotte, the gran fondo featured on your current website. If I want to ride La Marmotte next year I can choose to handle all the details myself: register for the event, book my flight, book my hotels, find my own restaurants, etc.

But it won't be easy. Last year the event filled up in one day, so I may not even get a slot. Hotels are booked well in advance, so I may not find decent lodging anywhere nearby. I may struggle with transportation and food and last-minute bike details... so I might decide it makes better sense to book a package for what in effect is a cycling vacation.

But I won't book through you unless I feel that you're skilled at providing that experience--and that you're credible.

Establishing that credibility starts with your website. It doesn't have to be super-slick; clean and simple is fine. I will never decide to book simply because your website is design award worthy, but I will definitely decide not to book if your website is amateurish and relatively unpolished.

Then explain exactly what I will receive and how I will receive it. Remember, as a new firm you have no laurels to rest on. FedEx doesn't need to explain what they do because I know them. I don't know you, so too much information is never enough.

Then I need to know who will provide what I get. Since I don't know you, you absolutely must win me over. If I've visited your advice website and signed up for your newsletter then you're halfway home, but while I may trust your training advice I don't know if you are a skilled travel planner, guide, and host.

And don't go all corporate on me; in this case, "you" is personal.  "We" doesn't cut it when you're a start-up in your industry. Why should I trust you with my cycling vacation? What have you done? What do you know?

Why can you do a better job than I can making sure my trip to France is awesome?

Keep in mind all the "you" stuff doesn't have to be stuffy and formal; in fact, it shouldn't be. Here's a great example of an "About Us" page from Amber Road Tours, a firm that provides small group tours in Italy. It's informal yet comprehensive, and most importantly gives a great feel for the personalities behind the company--which is key since travel is inherently personal.

So you have to do both: Use your website to establish credibility for the services you offer and to establish you as a credible source for those services.

Then where overall marketing efforts are concerned, don't just market your company--also market you. Be the guy who provides advice. Be the guy who answers questions and gives answers and volunteers his expertise.

So don't be, to make up a company name, "The Gateway to European Gran Fondos," owned by Robert. Instead be Robert, the skilled, experienced, and super friendly owner of "The Gateway to European Gran Fondos."

Why? You are the company, especially early on, so do everything you can on your website and elsewhere to help me feel comfortable that not just your company but that you are the right choice for me.

Last updated: Oct 5, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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