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Are You Credible?

Since the advent of Google’s Authorship Markup, Internet marketing has become significantly more dependent on something that it lacked for about a decade: credibility. Now, Google has recently backed off a little bit on that by removing the author photograph and the ‘In X circles’ from their listings — but they still use authorship markup to attach credibility in an SEO sense to your content.

But that’s not really what we’re talking about here today — we’re talking about the credibility you have not with Google, but with the people who are looking at your site. It may seem as though there’s not much you can do to establish credibility if you’re not on the level of Dr. Oz, but the truth is quite different.

Establishing Credibility
Whether you realize it nor not, every time you arrive on a new website, you assess the page and make a snap decision about how much credibility that site has with you. (The same is true of literally everything: people you meet, businesses you walk into, cars you’re thinking about buying…for a very fascinating and in-depth look into the subject, go check out a book called Blink by Malcom Gladwell from your library.)

The good thing about this snap decision is that marketers have examined very carefully what makes people decide one way or the other, and they’ve done a pretty good job of establishing a list of “trust building factors.” Not all factors apply in to all surfers in all situations, but most of them are fairly broad-reaching.

  • Your URL should match your business name. This is one of the first clues any surfer will detect — if your business name is ‘Pearls Before Swine’ but your URL is ‘PearlsAndPigs.com’, every single surfer is going to wonder why you couldn’t be arsed to snag ‘pearlsbeforeswine.com’ or at least ‘pearlsbeforeswinejewelry.com’
  • The layout of your page needs to be professional. If your website is overcrowded, looks like a cheap blog template, or is otherwise unpolished, people will immediately assume that they’ve stumbled upon some solitary person’s personal project site and not a legitimate business.
  • Branding must be consistent. When you see a company that chose a purple rose over a gold crown as their logo, but their website is decked out in red and green (and it’s not Christmastime), something deep in your brain tells you it’s not right. Branding includes things like color scheme, business name, logo, and more — and it needs to be applied consistently throughout your site.
  • Typography must be clear. There was actually a time in the beginning of the Web when experts said that web design was 95% typography — before they came up with the idea of columns, sections, and other visual ways of organizing information. Today, that’s a lot less true, but it’s still somewhat true — if you build a website with hard-to-read letters, no one will put in the effort.

And those are just (a few of) the rules that apply to web design — once you start talking about content, you have an entirely new context for establishing credibility, and it has its own rules as well:

  • ‘Expert’ status comes from displaying knowledge that other people do not have about a situation. This can be done by creating content that showcases your in-depth understanding an opinions, by having accreditation from some broader (credible) authority, or by having a celebrity endorsement.
  • Offering insight is similar to creating ‘expert knowledge’ content, but focuses generally on analyzing existing and recognized facts and bringing new elements to light. For example, while an ‘expert status’ post might talk about a brand-new development in the area of family law, an ‘insight’ post would bring up something everything thinks they know about and offer a well-thought-out analysis of the phenomenon and why it doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it does.
  • Share passion: it shows people that you care enough to know what you’re talking about. People will acknowledge an expert who has a professional certification as relevant — but if that person shows that they genuinely care, they’ll judge him as not just relevant but important. (Just be careful not to let your passion draw you into a flame war, or you’ll lose all the credibility you’ve built up.)
  • Cite your sources. This is a huge factor in credibility, because it shows that you’ve done your research. Quoting facts off the cuff as though you’re certain of them might seem like it makes you more of an expert, but this is the Internet — 86% of all statistics here are made up on the spot. If you want to show your readers that you care about your subject matter enough to learn it, cite your sources.
  • Take responsibility for your content by not throwing out ‘weasel words’ like “many believe that” or “it’s been said that.” If you think something is important enough to tell your audience, tell is like (you firmly believe) it is, and don’t trying to weasel out of it.

Pair these in-content rules with the web design rules in the first list, and you’ve gone a long way toward establishing credibility with your audience, even if they’ve never heard of your before their first visit to your site.

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